Saturday, February 28, 2009

The answer is... Tequila!


Today, we had a lecture on alcohol and addiction. To get the ball rolling, the lecturer played the above mock tequila advert for us. Good times.

Addiction, however, is a serious problem. It's not just a choice, but a primary chronic disease, with an annual death rate of 4-5%. People drink for various reasons - social disinhibition, relaxation, peer pressure, etc. - but drinking too much too frequently modifies your brain to expect alcohol, and therefore depend on it for normal function. Some signs of problem drinking include:

Cutdown - You or others have felt concern about your level of drinking, and that you should cut down

Annoyance - Hearing others ask about/discuss your drinking habits elicits annoyance.

Guilt - You feel guilty about your level of drinking and behaviour.

Eye-opener - You need a drink just to get up in the morning.

The need for an "eye-opener" is a sign of alcohol dependence. Your body becomes so accustomed to a high level of alcohol that it goes into withdrawal during the 8 hours or so during which a you are sleeping. The speaker described one patient who had to keep a Mickey (13 oz. drink of hard liquor) under his bed every night. In the morning, before taking any other actions, he would reach under the bed and down the liquor. Then, he would lie for another 10-15 minutes before he could even get up.

It's worth noting that once you've reached the level of dependence, you can never recover entirely. As the speaker noted, "A cucumber can become a pickle, but once a pickle, it can never go back to being a cucumber."

Alcohol consumption, however, is deeply and culturally rooted in our society to a concerning level. I remember being particularly disgruntled during an Orientation Week overnight trip when several of my medical school colleagues trolloped into the men's cabin at around 4 AM in a drunken commotion which included vomiting and (apparently) peeing on the floor. Let's hear it for professionalism.

A survey of Canadian campuses in 2004 by the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, found 32 per cent of undergraduates drink at a dangerous level.

Ten per cent of those surveyed reported having experienced alcohol-related assault, 9.8 per cent reported alcohol-related sexual harassment and 14.1 per cent reported having unplanned sexual relations because of being inebriated.

[source]

Pervasive societal issues like these aren't going to be solved by rules and regulations, but rather require a concerted change in cultural norms. In the words of G.I. Joe: Now you know, and knowing is half the battle!

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Devil's in the E-Mails

Some befuddling e-mails have been making the rounds to Queen's University e-mail accounts, claiming to be from such reputable e-card vendors as Hallmark and American Greetings.

My spider-sense started tingling at the broken formatting, suspicious "postcard.zip" attachment, and lack of sender identification. None of these indicators, however, were unfathomable. It is not unheard of for Outlook to mangle legitimate e-mails by passing them through its often stringent security protocols, and thus content that was meant to appear in the body might well be relegated to an attachment.

What did throw me off kilter, however, was the legitimate looking domain - e-cards@hallmark.com. I am used to my spam coming from authentic looking addresses that collapse under the eye of scrutiny (e.g. hallmark-accounts@yahoo.ca) or blatantly illegitimate addresses (e.g. john- smith@abcxyz.org). In other words, I'm used to having spam addresses come with a tell, not look like the real thing.

I refrained from opening the attachment, however. Later that night, Evey informed me that the Queen's administration had sent out an e-mail notification about the aforementioned faux e-cards, warning that the attachments conveyed a viral infection that was challenging to remove. I'd like to note that Queen's didn't feel the need to pass the same information on to me, having likely excised me from all pertinent mailing lists in preparation for the termination of my barcode-like1 e-mail account.

This e-mail account will be removed on March 4, 2009, as university records show you are no longer a current student. All e-mail, forwarding, web pages, and files stored under this account will then be erased. Please retrieve and copy any e-mail and files you wish to retain, before that date.

I suppose I could consider the would-be infection a parting gift.

A quick Google search of the offending e-mail revealed the following information:

As with most spammers nowadays, you can tell that they went to some great lengths to ensure that the email looks as legitimate as possible.

In many previous e-card variants all of the links within the email would point directly to the malware hosting site. This trend has recently been shifting and this new Hallmark E-Card tactic improves upon that by only pointing the "here" link above to the malicious web site. All of the other links like Customer Service, Store Locator, etc actually point to the same locations that the real hallmark.com site point to. So, if a suspicious recipient of one of these messages clicks on any link in the email other than the malware download link they may be tricked into believing the message is legitimate since it will direct them to the Hallmark site. Seeing this, they may be more apt to click on the download link and become infected.

I have to admit, I was rather shocked at how sophisticated some of these spam letters are becoming. Certainly, I hadn't opened the attachment, but faced with the same circumstances, would my parents have been able to detect the scam? A likely answer is no.

(On the other hand, I have often been pleasantly surprised how easy it is to detect spam - I mean, is it really that difficult to run a spell check...? Maybe obvious signs of being fake are part of some Hackers' Code of Ethics.)

I was mostly curious as to how the hallmark.com domain had been synthesized. Was it a hacked Hallmark account? An inside job? I began to search for "how to send a viral e-mail from a legitimate domain", and Google immediately offered some likely suggestions:

Apparently, the most common "how do" questions out there include "how do you know if a girl likes you?", "how do you know if your you're pregnant?" (Ack! I hate misspelled homonyms!), and (for the pre-pubertal): "how do you get pregnant?"

But I digress. Deferring to Wikipedia (otherwise known as the all-source), I located a much more satisfactory answer:

Others engage in spoofing of e-mail addresses (much easier than IP address spoofing). The e-mail protocol (SMTP) has no authentication by default, so the spammer can pretend to originate a message apparently from any e-mail address. To prevent this, some ISPs and domains require the use of SMTP-AUTH, allowing positive identification of the specific account from which an e-mail originates.

In other fraudulent news, my friend Brutus recently encountered what is essentially a telephone scam originating from a US company targeting Canadian automobile owners.

The digital age is clearly a fortuitous time to be a cheating bastard.

---

1Queen's assigns e-mail addresses with a two to three letter combination of your initials, prefixed by your entry year, and suffixed by additional digits depending on the frequency of your initials. For instance Joe Smith, entering in 2004 might have the e-mail address 4js15@queensu.ca (15 because of the commonality of the initials JS). Based on the unattractiveness of these addresses (rather than the typical joe.smith@university.ca), one might expect them to function forever (since their barcode like structure should, in theory, reduce the need to recycle them). This is not so.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

You're a slave to your blog when...

  1. You feel compelled to write an entry every day... sometimes twice a day. You feel guilty if you don't.

  2. You take photos of everything you eat, then post them afterwards.

  3. You make mental notes of interesting news, then ration them out so that you have something to write about when life slows down.

  4. You find yourself confusing your friends' names with their online pseudonyms.

  5. You begin measuring your self worth in the number of comments your blog entries get.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Rockets away!

After a long day of classes and (attempted) studying, I headed over to Toronto General for a clinical skills session with Stewie and Rociel. After two and a half hours of Ballottment tests, Trendelenburg signs, and flexion contractures, Stewie and I decided to stop for some much deserved food.

Back in January, I stopped by Stewie's ghetto apartment to borrow a sleeping bag. On the way there, I passed by a retro-looking diner called Johnny Rockets. With Stewie planning to move out of his apartment in a few days (in light of his discovery of bedbugs and subsequent fumigation), it seemed like an opportune time to check it out.

Johnny Rockets felt unique from the moment we walked in. In place of the "Please Wait to be Seated" sign we are so used to seeing was a "Please Seat Yourself" board adjacent to some scrumptious looking cakes.

The restaurant did a terrific job of replicating vintage diner-style decor, but it was presented with a gleaming, classy approach. It was markedly nicer than Nickels Restaurant in Montreal.

Food was expensive, with $8 hamburgers, $6 fries, and $5 milkshakes - all sold separately. Stewie told me to consider it a typical $20 dinner. I suppose we were paying for the unique old-fashioned character, similar to how people pay a premium to eat at the Rainforest Café.

I had to admit, though, the tone was set just right - right down to our cheerful waitress in 50's-style uniform and cap, who drew a smiley face with our ketchup. It's unfortunate that the food itself was rather average.

I ordered a "Route 66" burger and a strawberry-banana milkshake. How could I resist a burger with a name like Route 66? The food arrived while I was in the washroom. Instead of a typical "mens room" and "ladies room", Johnny Rockets had several individual non-gender specific washrooms, similar to what you likely have at home, except smaller... much smaller. In fact, with a miniature sink tucked neatly into the corner of the room, I could almost be led to believe that I was using the bathroom on an aeroplane. It was so petite that when I turned to close the door, I turned on the hands dryer.


I returned to my seat and began laying waste to my burger and milkshake. Stewie informed me that the metal tin contained extra shake. He had ordered a mocha milkshake, and having emptied half his glass already, had poured extra from the tin and begun sipping on it. As I too consumed my shake, I began pouring from my tin, only to have the colour change from pink to yellow midway. I gawked in confusion.

"Oh yeah!" exclaimed Stewie. "She said that the tin was for leftovers... I forgot." His facial expression suddenly went sour as he realized that he may very well have been drinking refuse from other people's discarded drinks. The sweet taste had suddenly become as unpalatable as vomit. I, having not yet drank from the tin's contents, quickly spooned the top layer of my milkshake back into the container.

Still, I considered, why would they give us a container for leftover milkshake? After all, if we were done with the milkshake, they would take it away, right? There's no need for us to discard the remainder ourselves. Stewie remained unconvinced.

Stewie: Why don't you try it, then?

Andy: No. I'm going to ask. None of this trial and error crap.

Andy: Excuse me, but is this container for leftovers from making the milkshake... or for, leftovers?

Waitress: Oh, it's from making the milkshake of course. No no, we wouldn't give you a container of garbage. [chuckles]

Stewie looked visibly relieved. I later realized that the dual colouration of my milkshake was likely from the strawberry vs. banana in strawberry-banana.

In addition to a classic jukebox off to one side of the restaurant, each table had it's own song selection console, from which you could make a choice for only a nickel. Stewie and I spent quite a bit of time examining it and arguing back and forth as to its functionality. I, for one, believed that it should work. While I had the waitress' attention (to ask about my milkshake), I also enquired about the jukebox.

Andy: I was just wondering... does that thing work?

Waitress: Sadly, it doesn't. It's supposed to... and it should by now, but it doesn't. I can do a dance to make up for it, though. [smiles]

Andy: [eyes wide] You're going to dance?

Waitress: [embarrassed] Well, the staff... [trailing off]

Andy: Sure!

Waitress: Okay!

Stewie had told me about the dancing girls at Johnny Rockets. It was one of the reasons that he had never tried the restaurant himself - he was afraid it would look unbecoming and desperate for a single male to come and eat alone at a diner with a troupe of pretty dancing waitresses. I was interested to see what the hype was about.


Alas, while we didn't leave for some time, there were no dancing girls. Perhaps they forgot or were too busy. Maybe the waitress had thought that I thought she was joking about the whole thing, and so didn't feel the need to embarrass herself and her colleagues. My personal opinion, however, is that since Stewie and I spent the majority of our meal giggling like school girls over our gag-worthy milkshake scenario, the waitress thought we were making fun of her, and decided to forgo our dance.

Don't worry, Johnny Rockets, I'll be back.

Above: My burger, the Route 66: Built Like No Other. I can't help but be reminded of Pixar's animated treasure, Cars, featuring John Mayer's cover of Nat King Cole's classic song by the same name.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Java Card OpenPlatform

The lovely lady above appeared as the Facebook profile picture for one of my male friends. I clicked curiously and found the following instructions:

1 - Go to Wikipedia and hit “random.” The first random Wikipedia article you get is the name of your band.

2 - Go to "random quotations." The last four or five words of the very last quote of the page is the title of your first album.

3 - Go to Flickr and click on “explore the last seven days.” Third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

4 - Use PhotoShop or similar to put it all together.

5 - Post it to FB with this text in the "caption" and tag the friends you want to join in (You can untag yourself if you don't want this photo up).

Though I hadn't been tagged, it was so damn cool that I just had to try it for myself. Behold the result.

Presenting Java Card OpenPlatform's debut album: Lessens the Frictions of Social Contacts. Rock on.


This entry was
adopted by Brutus.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Being Canobamanian

Welcome to the United States of Obama, otherwise known as The World.

If you've had anything resembling contact with the outside world this month, you know that Obama's first international visit since taking office was to Canada, and took place last week. Canadians travelled from all over the nation just hoping to catch a glimpse of the inspirational figure, and many were satisfied having just been within several hundred metres of him.

Should we be concerned that Canadians go shrill with glee at the mere mention of the name Obama, yet several months ago barely blinked at the names Stephane Dion, Stephen Harper, Jack Layton, and Gilles Duceppe? Should we be worried that they follow Obama's movements with rabid attention, but pay no more than a cursory glance to a Canadian budget that is huge on spending (boasting an $84 billion deficit) but small on vision?

They are understandably moved. Obama is a political rock star - a beacon for change, a uniquely gifted orator, a racial revolution. He is the leader of the world's most influential nation and only superpower. His actions will change the world - and that is not hyperbole.

Nonetheless, it is troubling how apathetic we are to the concerns of our own nation. We let our politicians run amok, yet many haven't the faintest inkling (nor interest) as to what they are doing. Meanwhile, Stephen Harper is busy polishing his image by carefully latching onto Obama with pretty-looking photo ops and press conferences. No doubt his public approval ratings have already risen several percentage points as a result.

A poignant illustration of Canada's position lies in Obama's visit to a local Ottawa bakery, Le Moulin de Provence, to buy some cookies for his daughters. He selected maple leaf-shaped shortbread cookies with red glaze and white icing, spelling the word "Canada" across them.

It didn't take long for the cookies to be dubbed "Obama cookies." Several minutes after the president left, they were sold out. The bakery has been swamped with calls for them ever since. It speaks to the nature of our identity when we can take a red, maple-leaf cookie with the words "Canada" emblazoned across and christen them "Obama cookies."

While I certainly hope that Obama will usher in a new age of recovery, reconciliation, and cooperativity - we ought to remember that we are Canadian, not American. If we want to play a role in Obama's new world, we should pay attention to our own house. There's nothing wrong with looking outwards (on the contrary, one ought to be aware of what's going on around them). But that doesn't mean we should indifferently watch the ground crumbling underneath our own two feet, as we covetously gaze at the green grass on the other side (which until a few months ago looked brown).

These days, Canadians seem to be stricken with a little manifest destiny - or perhaps they'd prefer to be known as Canobamanians.


This entry was
adopted by Brutus.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Facebook ownz joo!

English to 1337-speak translator: Facebook owns you

On Friday, I went to see the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine's annual play, Daffydil - written, produced, and directed by students for 98 years. This year's iteration, titled Internuts, follows a cast of unlikely heroes through a comedic near-future dystopia.

Take it to the LIMIT!!! One... last... time!!!

The year is 20XX. The invention of the "wireless Internet brain chip" has allowed humankind to be permanently connected to the Internet with every depolarization of their neurons. Information access is free-flowing and instantaneous, ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity. But the Internet is a far from reliable source of information, and with errors and misinformation shunted directly to people's brains, erratic behaviour quickly ensues. Meanwhile, malicious, moustached, and trench-coat-wearing Internet zombies known as Creepers are appearing all over the world and wreaking havoc upon the citizenry.

It's up to the employees of the Internet regulator ANIS (Analytical Networking Internet Solutions: Pronounced "anus") and an impoverished duo of unwired brothers to shut the Internet down and restore sanity to an otherwise insane society. Their quest takes them through Jewish female-only graveyards, exchanges with Peter Parker and Michael Jackson, and sensual dreams about... cake?

Remember the words of my Uncle Ben: Rice ready in 15 minutes!

In an intense final showdown, the protagonists confront Facebook creator and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has morphed into a demonic monster (read: final boss) of Balrog-like proportions and characteristics. Many gunshot wounds and one severed arm later, Zuckerberg is vanquished, paving the way for a blissfully Internet-free society.

Daffydil 2009 was an amusing and innuendo-laden theatrical trip (kudos to J-Rock for his role in the band). Yet despite its comedic pop-culture intentions, its casting of Zuckerberg as the devil may not be as outrageous as it sounds.

I remember, some time ago, following the poetic blogging of my friend, "Kate." Her blog vanished after she realized that it was detectably public. I subsequently asked her why she didn't publish her poems on Facebook if she wanted to keep them between friends and acquaintances. She replied that Facebook's Terms of Service were arranged such that anything you post on Facebook belongs to Facebook, and that she didn't want her poems to fall out of her hands.

This was news to me. Facebook is ubiquitous - used compulsively by virtually every university-age individual in North America to share photos, links, and comments; plan events; and stalk their friends. Countless pieces of data change hands under its watchful eye everyday with nary a thought nor doubt. It was not the last time I would hear about Facebook's sneaky and insidious ways (I mean, who reads the Terms of Service anyways?).

You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof.

In an article appearing in the Consumerist last Sunday, Facebook's new-and-improved Terms of Service (TOS) were highlighted. The new TOS purposefully excludes a clause in the original, which expressed that Facebook's rights to the above content would expire if you chose to terminate your account. In other words, now if you pull out of Facebook, your content still belongs to them... forever.

While Facebook claims that its TOS are for logistical and legal reasons in the sharing of information between users (and certainly, they are providing a valuable service), the terms that we have all agreed to seem to grant quite broad and sweeping rights to the stewards of our information.

At least user content usage seems to be limited by strict privacy settings.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

It's coming...


Oh... em... gee... /nerdgasm


This entry was
adopted by Brutus.

Testosterone at Twilight

If you recall, I picked up the novel "Twilight" in December during a "stealing Santa" gift exchange. To my limited understanding, the book's plot revolves around a cast of benign male vampires with their female human love interests, and includes meticulous descriptions of their romances and hotness.

The book has become quite a phenomenon, spawning its own feature film - à la Harry Potter. I passed the book off to Evey, who is an avid reader (so I expected that she would be done shortly). She made it through about a chapter before getting bored with the mediocre use of language and repetitive descriptions. By her account, it sounded as though the author had thrown a bunch of words into a thesaurus and strung them together in consecutive sentences.

It was not the level of descriptiveness that distracted her, per se. J.R.R. Tolkien was notoriously descriptive, yet Evey had made it through (at least two of) the Lord of the Rings series. Rather, it was fluffy, pop-culture writing.

The topic of Twilight emerged again on Valentine's Day. In a flurry of organizational madness, I had collated a list of movies that we could potentially see at a variety of cinemas along with their show times. These included action movies (for me) like the International and Valkyrie, computer animated adventures like Bolt, the Tale of Despereaux, and Coraline (the winner), as well a couple of more romantic movies like He's Just Not That Into You and... yes, Twilight.

Andy: I put Twilight on the list, but I guess you said it's pretty stupid.

Evey: Maybe it's not so bad. My little brother seems to like it.

Andy: Really?

Evey: Yeah, actually I was talking to a friend and she said her little brother read the whole series. She said it was the first book set that he read without putting down, and her brother walked by and he was like, "No, what are you talking about? I don't like those books!"

Evey: And my brother read the first book and the second book. So I asked him, "You must really like those books, eh?" And he was like, "No...! That book was so boring." Then I asked him why he read the second book too if it was so boring and he was like, "Uh..."

Evey: So maybe that book secretly appeals to boys a lot.

Andy: Hmm... maybe I should get it back from you.

I have to admit, with its allegedly vivid romantic diatribes and disproportionately descriptive depictions of beauty, Twilight sounds awfully geared toward gushy teenage girls. That it's attracting so much (ardently denied) male attention perhaps demonstrates a missed marketing opportunity. Guilty pleasures?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

So-bad: In need of ramen

Yesterday, I popped out for lunch with Evey and her sister, who was interviewing for a spot at the Ontario College of Art & Design. We ate at a little Japanese restaurant called Konnichiwa (Japanese for "good afternoon" or "hello").

I ordered the lunch special, which consisted of tempura with my choice of udon, hot soba, or cold soba. I opted for the hot soba. Soba is a type of Japanese noodle made of buckwheat flour. It's a staple of Japanese food, and you'll often see people munching on it in Japanese manga, anime, and drama. They sure seem to enjoy it.

This was my first time eating soba, and I have to tell you... I did not at all like it. It had this grainy texture that I just could not get around. Evey did me the favour of swapping for her udon. She later chastised that soba should be eaten chilled, if possible with a bit of turnip. For my part, I just wished I had gone with my gut and ordered the Konnichiawa ramen.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Taking sex into your own hands

For our Problem-Based Learning exercise last week, we were required to research information on infertility. Infertility (the inability to conceive a child after one year of unprotected intercourse) is a problem that affects a whopping 15% of North American couples.

The most common investigation of the male side of infertility is a semen analysis, which tests male ejaculate for sperm count (number), morphology (shape), and motility (movement). This is usually collected in lab via masturbation, but the more shy may opt to collect their semen in a condom following frank intercourse (the disadvantage being that sperm is very temperature sensitive and needs to be shuttled over to the lab immediately or parameters may not be accurately measured). But how accurate is this method of data collection to begin with?

For my part of the discussion I contributed an article titled "Endocrinological, biophysical, and biochemical parameters of semen collected via masturbation versus sexual intercourse" published in the Journal of Andrology (1993). It found that:

the volume of seminal plasma, total sperm count, sperm motility, and percentage of morphologically normal spermatozoa were significantly higher in samples collected at intercourse than masturbation, as reported previously. In addition, the markers of the secretory function of the prostate and the outcome of sperm function tests (hypoosmotic swelling test, acrosin assay, and sperm penetration assay) were significantly higher for the samples collected at intercourse.

The moral of the story? Your body knows what you're doing to it.

While you might think it's the same, those boys may not want to come out if you take sex into your own hands...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Boys night out

On Sunday, Kushima, Kon, Stewie, Maximus, and J-Rock converged on the uptown suburbs of Toronto for some long-weekend antics.

Kushima arrived first, followed by Kon, Stewie, and Maximus. We jump started our night with dinner at a Shanghainese restaurant across from Pacific Mall. Most of my experience eating with Chinese people comes from those who share my background - products of the pre-takeover immigrant surge from Hong Kong. So it was actually quite interesting to discover that the Hong Kong/Mainland Chinese split in our group resulted in noticeably different trends in both food preferences and eating custom.

After dinner, we partook of a little SingStar - a karaoke-like game for the PlayStation 2. The attraction for the game lies in the fact that it uses the original track plus authentic music video for popular songs. On the other hand, microphone amplification is minimal... so at times it felt like we were just plain singing. At least, it would have were it not for the fact that the mics were carefully tracking our pitch throughout the song and grading us on our accuracy of performance. It added a little bit of amusement to our night to be scored on how horribly we sang.

We made the switch over to DDR, for which Kushima demonstrated a surprising affinity. At about that point, J-Rock arrived, providing us with sufficient voting power to make the leap to Rock Band (which Kushima had been vehemently resisting).

Rock band did not amuse my friends to the level that I expected. I think this is partially because we were not playing as a consistent band in World Tour mode. There is something inexplicably engaging about starting up a virtual band, customizing an avatar who is you (from their clothes, to their hair, to the tattoos on their bod), and fighting your way up from nothing - every instrument, every venue, every article of clothing unlocked by hard earned fans and cash and an expression of one's personal tastes. Surely the highlight of the experience, though, was Kon taking the helm as an impassioned lead singer for Blondie's One Way or Another.

When the gaming wound down, we decided to head out for dessert. After bouncing from one jam packed dessert place to another, we ended up at Go For Tea, settling down for some brick toast, hot tea, and profound male bonding. Kushima ordered a taro milk black tea, which came with a little vial of sugar as sweetener.

Kushima: I dare you to drink that thing straight up.

Andy: Do it! He'll be so screwed afterwards... his drink will be so bland that he won't be able to drink it.

Kushima: No, I don't really like sweet stuff. The tea is sweet enough.

[After passing the sugar towards me]

Kushima: Here, screw me over, please.

We all glanced around the table. Kushima immediately recognized his error in choice of words.

I couldn't help but be reminded of another awkward, though not quite analogous slip of the tongue. Way back in ninth grade, there was one lad of particular social awkwardness. He was consistently teased by the "cool" crowd and more or less left to his devices by everyone else. Once, in a brazen act of defiance he lashed out verbally at his tormentor.

Presumably, he wanted to attack with a ghettoism such as, "Blow me" or "Suck my d*ck." But in the heat of anger, his tongue twisted around his brain, and what came out was one very embarrassing, "Shut up! I'll suck your d*ck!" It was a horrifying moment to witness...

After satisfying our need for food, drink, and merriment, the boys dispersed back to their respective homesteads; leaving the ladies to complain in retrospect that they had not been invited.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Days of our Love

This weekend had the distinct pleasure of being both Valentine's Day and the Family Day long weekend. I took the opportunity to go out and play!

----------

After getting out of school on Friday, I rang up some of my friends to see if they wanted to go shopping with me. I needed to pick up Evey's Valentine's-slash-birthday gift. I was not keen to go out by myself, and had more than half-a-mind to include dinner in the itinerary.

Most of my friends politely excused themselves as either being busy or living downtown. This included my friend Mei, who offered some pretext about having to prepare a lesson for the music class she was teaching the next day. About half an hour later...

Mei: Okie, I am getting sleepy. Nap time!

Andy: Oy man, you're sleeping instead of coming out with me?

Mei: Aww... Give me three reasons to come. (Wow... just looking at your blog, you write so much!) [Yes, I do.]

Andy: Geez, you need three reasons to go out with your friend?

Andy: Fine. One. It will be fun.

Mei: Haha...

Andy: Two. You work too much and need to get out.

Andy: Three. I'm driving, which means we can actually go places.

Mei: Wow... so tempting...

The rest, as they say, is history. Mei and I hit up First Markham Place (in... Markham, obviously) to try and find Evey's gift - a Sony Ericsson W200a mobile phone.

I typically don't buy gifts this pricey, but I felt that there was sufficient need to justify this one time splurge. Evey does not have a cell phone. She had a cell phone, but every time she returns to Kingston at the end of the summer, one of her siblings commandeers it for local use. At the same time, Evey studies music, and often feels uncomfortable walking the evening streets to and from practice. I too then feel uneasy knowing that my treasured girlfriend is without a lifeline.

The W200a was an obvious choice for a number of reasons. Firstly, there are only four or five phones to choose from for Pay as You Go service. This was key, because Evey does not use her phone much and saddling her with monthly cell phone plan expenditures would be about as thoughtful as buying a cat. I wanted this phone to be usable out of the box, with no extra cost to her.

Secondly, if I was to get her a cell phone, it ought to be a respectable model. It would be rather ungracious to trap her with a cheap and ugly device to use for the next couple of years. In this regard, the W200a seemed like it was custom-built. It was Sony Ericsson. Evey loves Sony and Sony Ericsson. It was white. Evey loves white phones. And it was orange - a very Evey colour combination. Plus, it was a Walkman phone, and Evey wanted an MP3 player. It was, in a word, sublime.

As it turned out, the Rogers outlet at First Markham Place not only didn't have the phone I wanted, but if they did, wanted to charge me $50 more than it was worth. Pass.

We switched gears to look for part 2 of the gift - matching cell phone dangles. I had been inspired by Mello and Lucky, who have similar accessories. Mello has a little metal dangle that reads "Boy" and Lucky has the corresponding "Girl." I thought they idea of carrying accessories representing each other instead of oneself (as in His and Hers towels) to be particularly cute. At the same time, I wasn't keen getting an accessory that actually looked like a girl; because to strangers who don't suspect that it is part of a pair, it likely appears quite awkward.

It was a challenge. Mei and I looked through tons of accessories ranging from Mario mushrooms, to giant ramen bowls, to Raving Rabbids. Mei advised me that with each subsequent idea, I was drifting farther and farther from romance. I countered that these accessories were cute, and that cute was romantic in its own way. Still, we kept looking.

What we found were little jade Chinese zodiac figurines. When I saw them, I knew instantly. They was cute but serious. They were not too feminine for the man to use. They were not too masculine to turn the girl off. They were, to quote Goldilocks, "Just right."

I had previously informed Mei that to make matching items outstanding, they should not be identical. This means that rather than buying two of the same accessory, there should be two accessories that are clearly distinct but clearly matching. Luckily, Evey's birthday cooperated. Though we are only a couple of months apart in age, differences in the lunar and solar calendars mean that our zodiacs were different. She is born in the year of the Ox; and I, the year of the Tiger.

Our next stop was Future Shop, where I picked up the mobile phone. My thrill at the purchase was only dampened by the store's dismal service. At the cell phone/camera counter, there were four or five employees huddled on the camera side. Twice I made direct eye contact with a salesperson and offered a salutatory, "Hey." Twice the salesperson quickly broke eye contact, turned their back to me, and started talking to the salesperson beside him. None of them were busy. I stood there for two or three minutes waiting in case they were. No dice.

At the time, I figured these innumerable employees were working the camera side rather than the mobile phone side. Even so, purposely avoiding me and instead chatting it up with other salespeople was immensely rude. They should have helped me to find the appropriate salesperson or at least provided a cursory, "Sorry, I don't work the cellular department." What is even more infuriating is that Evey, who once worked at Future Shop for the summer, informed me that the mobile phone and camera sections actually share the same salespeople. The salespeople were likely avoiding me, she said, because nobody wants to sell cellular phones which provide poor commission compared to cameras. /anger

Eventually, however, an employee finally took pity on me helplessly circling the mobile phone counter and asked, "You're doing okay...?" Which, if you've been paying attention, I was not. Take me to your leader!

Phone? Check. Pay as You Go minutes? Check. Matching accessories? Check.

With the shopping done, Mei and I caught dinner at Go For Tea. We had some excellent conversation, which I think was rather cathartic for both of us. I took a picture of the sexy Lamborghini parked outside.

I spent the rest of the evening working on my Valentine's Day card, which sported a particularly cherubic looking moogle. Kupo!

----------

Saturday was the main event. We had decided to make Valentine's a classic date. While that might sound boring to the more creative and adventurous among you, it's something we don't get to do often enough these days.

We began with lunch. Originally, we headed for Ten Ren's - my typical lunch default for all occasions. However, we made a last minute change of plans, opting instead for the Thai restaurant hidden at the corner of the same plaza: The Chef - Thai Fusion.

I opted for the Thai Coconut and Evey ordered a Pineapple Fried Rice. It was quite tasty. I particularly enjoyed the mango salad, which included real mango slices. Evey did take issue, however, with the fact that the mangoes were rather unripe (and hence, stiffer and more sour than one might want).

Evey: Your curry is not spicy enough.

Andy: Why would I want my curry to be spicy?

Evey: Curry is supposed to be spicy.

Andy: Nah, that's crazy-talk.

Hot food is one domain in which Evey's Korean and my Cantonese upbringing come into conflict.

After lunch, we exchanged gifts. Evey got me a trendy looking black and white tie. I love ties. In fact, people sometimes find it strange they I cling to the vaguely anachronistic practice of wearing ties to the hospital.

We took the afternoon to activate Evey's phone (which was a challenge because we made the mistake of attempting to do so online first) and play Rock Band. Our black and white phones match my black and white tie. Ebony and ivory. Monochromatic. Just the way I like it.

The only downer was that Rogers' version of the W200a was white and blue rather than the typical white and orange. Still, it's a pretty phone, and Evey seemed very happy with the gift.

We had an early dinner at Daikoku, a favourite of ours introduced to me in high school by my friend Brutus. At that time, it was a little restaurant called Yokozuna at Commerce Gate, which served that best sweet-curry-pork-chop ramen for just $4.99. It subsequently moved to a much less auspicious location off Woodbine. The prices went slightly up, the quality went slightly down, and the number of customers dropped off dramatically. Still, we love it, and it has a special place in our hearts. The restaurant tends to be rather empty, so I'm always scared that it will go out of business. I did see it advertising on Fairchild TV though, which is a good strategy.

As usual, I got the curry pork chop and Evey got the fried chicken. I think everybody should visit as part of Andy's unofficial Save Daikoku campaign.

After dinner, we headed over to a local AMC to watch Coraline in glorious 3D. To be honest though, wearing glasses over glasses kind of hurts my eyes. AMC Theatres are great date locations because of the "love seats" (i.e. the armrest between seats can be folded up). This makes things like holding hands and hugging much more feasible - just for future reference to you guys.

Coraline is a children's horror movie, following the exploits of the titular protagonist. Coraline is a little girl with busy parents and a boring life, who finds a secret doorway leading to an extraordinary new dimension. However, not everything is as it seems, as something sinister lies behind the wonder...

I have to admit, I was rather excited for this movie. The review in the Toronto Star made it sound genuinely terrifying. Because of the raving review, which described the movie as perhaps too scary for many children, I went in with rather high expectations for the level of drama and was thoroughly disappointed. It was legitimately a children's movie, with what Evey describes as "typical children's scary movie" level of fright... which by 22, doesn't quite cut it.

However, other than dashing my high hopes regarding fear factor, the movie was actually quite well done. It crafted a beautiful and compelling fantasy world with plenty of eye candy, excellent voice acting, and an interesting story. It was fun to watch from beginning to end. Evey did admit, however, to being distracted by Teri Hatcher's casting as the main villain. Teri Hatcher plays Evey's most loathed Susan Mayer in Desperate Housewives, and that association kept her from being properly immersed in the setting.

After the movie, we were both tired. We took some time to just relax and chat. Then, getting hungry again, we ran by a McDonald's Drive Thru for some McNuggets before I whisked Evey back home for the night.

Date accomplished!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lub-dub, lub-dub

While in North Carolina last weekend, my cousin's friend took note of my OMSW 2008 T-shirt, which I frequently wear indoors.

Cousin's friend: Hey, is that a stethoscope? That's so clever! Where did you get that?

Andy: Oh, I got it at the Medical Students' Weekend.

Cousin's friend: That can't be right. Medical students don't have weekends!

Andy: Sorry, you must be confusing us with real doctors.

["Lub-dub" is the sound of the heart through a stethoscope]

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Time well wasted

Fluttering in the wind as the rain beats down, my hand feels frigid against the stem of my umbrella. There is a cold in this warmth.

Yesterday morning, we had an hour of lecture on truth telling followed by a two hour seminar on the same topic. The lecture provided an insightful patient perspective from women with AIS (Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome). These are women that are born with the genotype 46XY (male), but because of their bodies lack of sensitivity to the hormone testosterone, they are unable to develop. Our body's default is female, so female they are. They are born with testicles inside their body, but have no male or female duct systems (no vas deferentia, no fallopian tubes, no ovaries, and no uterus). They have no pubic or armpit hair either. Other than that, they are physically and psychologically female. They have a normal (2/3 of a) vagina and sex drive; and are capable of both intercourse and orgasm.

The truth telling aspect of these stores is that AIS is a highly stigmatized condition; and in both cases described, the physicians withheld knowledge of the condition - removing the potentially precancerous testes under the pretenses of another condition (e.g. cancer), an example of what is referred to as therapeutic privilege. But patients are often more perceptive than physicians give them credit for, and recognized that something was not right with them. They continued to seek answers until they stumbled upon the truth, at which point they were rightly angry with their physicians.

However, there is a stigma associated with AIS - one patient had their husband leave them upon discovering the condition. This led Evey to wonder aloud as to whether the physicians had actually done the patient a favour by not telling them. After all, despite being infertile, they could have lived a normal life in blissful ignorance. Certainly this was the doctor's intention at the time, though such paternalistic philosophies have subsequently fallen out of vogue.

The patient described how they found that it was quite unfortunate that society had come so far in accepting homosexual and transgendered peoples but was still uncomfortable with persons afflicted with AIS - we need things to be distinctly male or distinctly female, she said. I discussed this over lunch with my peers. In all honestly, I too would have difficulty finding out that my partner was actually 46XY, despite them being essentially female. But that is not to say that I would have less difficulty finding out that my partner was transgendered person who had once been an actual male. Thus, it is not entirely accurate that we've come farther in embracing transgendered people than AIS afflicted persons, though Evey pointed out that the real point is that a stigma exists at all.

Mind you, as a friend or a patient, I would have no trouble engaging a person with AIS. Certainly, I intellectually understand the immense challenges they face - they are female, but their chromosomes do not agree. From any practical standpoint, they are women; but their genetic makeup still retains a psychological punch. I agreed that it was unlikely that I would terminate a long-term relationship on the basis of a diagnosis of AIS, but that it would likely alter my outlook (though not voluntarily). As a result of not being able to see my partner in quite the same light, the relationship might ultimately come apart on its own. Who is to say, though?

The point is really that while we all empathized with the challenges of AIS patients, many of us perceived barriers in crossing the line between acquaintance and partner. I hope that is not too bigoted.

An interesting anecdote from this lunchtime discussion:

Mello: Did you know Lucky is allergic to apples?

Maximus: Thanks, what a meaningful piece of information.

On to the seminar. Truth telling is an important topic to be sure, but the seminar felt very proscribed and more than a little fluffy. Ethics seminars are usually this way - there are a lot of opinions expressed, but most people understand their own views on how to approach the situation and these do not change. All the while, the physician tutor usually pushes their own perspective and agenda, intentionally or not.

However, one case in particular grabbed my attention (due to its cultural implications). It was alleged that in Asian culture (Chinese and Korean) it is typical and culturally ingrained for children to withhold bad news from their elders (e.g. to not tell their mother of her diagnosis of cancer). In the provided case, a young Korean woman was having trouble with gastric ulcers. It appeared that these were due to stress related to her recent trip to Korea where she visited her sick mother. Asked about her father, she explained that he had passed away three years ago; but deeper probing revealed that her mother did not know. The woman and her brother had agreed to allow her frail mother to believe that her husband was instead very ill and being treated in the United States, but was not well enough to see or talk to anyone. In fact, his body had been flown back and buried in Korea. The children expressed worry that knowledge of their father's passing might be stressful enough to kill their mother.

To be honest, I thought that this case was completely insane. My own experience with Chinese culture had not included any such deceptions, and my family has seen its fair share of terminal illness - though Evey pointed out that Hong Kong culture, while still distinctly Asian, is different from that of mainland China. Similarly, Evey said she found it difficult to associate the above case as having anything to do with Korean culture. However, when I asked Yubin the same question, she said she could picture such a situation arising in real life.

While in my seminar, I was sitting beside a dripping faucet. Billie and I continually stopped to stare at it in irritation. Eventually, I reached out and tried to tighten it, only to turn it the wrong way and let out a loud whoosh of pouring water. All eyes turned towards me as I frantically reversed direction. "As long as it's not the gas," was the seminar leader's amused response. I later commented,

Andy: See, I fixed the faucet at great personal cost.

Billie: Yeah, I had the same problem in another room once, except that I asked someone which way to turn it first.

Andy: Oh... I guess that would have been a clever thing to do. Still, it was more dramatic this way, wasn't it?

Billie: It was. I think this was the best possible outcome.

The seminar was followed by another four hours of lecture. Like the seminar, the material was very fluffy and was extremely challenging to sit through. Kon spent majority of the time playing with the webcam on his laptop computer, and taking awkwardly candid photos and videos of our friends. The entire exercise felt like an enormous waste of time.

After lecture, I was planning to go home and be productive. I had a lot of things I needed to get done - my Clinical Skills case report, my Problem Based Learning research, and putting together Evey's Valentine's gift. But as I was preparing to leave, I overheard my friend Ting asking people if they wanted to take her spot at the clinical skills practice session.

Andy: "That's today??!"

Now I myself had signed up for this practice session. It was the second session, and the first session had filled up so fast that I didn't get a spot. Thus, I had quickly confirmed my attendance for the second. However, I didn't realize that it was this week - I had clumsily thought it was next week. If I skipped this one (on respiratory exam), because I had a confirmed spot, I would no longer be eligible to attend the sessions on examinations that I genuinely needed practice for (like musculoskeletal). I was in a pickle.

I ended up attending the session, which involved an hour of lecture and an hour of disjointed-feeling practice. I am already quite comfortable with the respiratory exam (unlike many subsequent teachings) and had only signed up because I did not anticipate having much other work to do. Instead, I had numerous pressing engagements and I was already deathly tired. While the session was of acceptable quality, it was still tough to get through it.

As a result of this unexpected disruption of my schedule, I didn't get home until 8:30 PM. By the time I got back up to the subway station, it was dark, foggy, and desolate. My car was one of the only ones left in the lot. Interestingly enough, though, I had been late in getting out the door in the morning, and thus had to park farther back than ever before. When I went to fetch my vehicle, I noticed an enormous pile of snow, the height of several cars. It was obviously the cumulative result of plowing such a sizable parking lot; and it was still colossal despite the increasingly warm temperatures, which had already melted almost all the snow elsewhere.

At home, I ate some dinner and caught up on this week's Boys Over Flowers. After that, it was already time to sleep. Productivity = Zero.

Time well wasted? Rather, it should read: Time? Well... Wasted.


This entry was
adopted by Brutus.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

So young, and so untender?

Cool, moist air greets my nose as I step out of the car. It feels light and sweet as it fills my lungs. Drink deeply of this - the vanguard of spring.

From my small-group seminar on endocrinology:

Girl: Question!

MD: Yes?

Girl: Are you an actual endocrinologist?

MD: [nervously] Yes... I am. Why, is there something wrong?

Girl: Oh, no... you just seem really... knowledgeable. I wanted to know if you were like a respirologist, because I don't think I would ever know as much as you do.

MD: [chuckles] Oh, you will by exam time. After you've gone through it a few times.

Boy: Thank God they didn't send us a family doc or something!

This conversation, while amusing, underscores that even at this very early level of education, there is already a bias against general practitioners. In response to this, Kushima commented: "If you decide to go into family, even if you work in the hospital, you'll have your own practice and won't really see those people and you'll have better hours, so who cares what they think?"

While this may be true once a person breaks through the activation energy of actually deciding to become a family physician, I do think that it discourages the brightest and most competitive students from considering family medicine due to its poor standing.

This, in my opinion, leads to many inexpert family docs (though there are excellent ones as well), which further damages the reputation of medicine. For instance, one patient who presented their story to us in lecture described how they were being treated for hypothyroidism but continued to lose weight. In hypothyroidism, weight gain is expected. Their family physician recommended they continue to take their medication for hypothyroidism, and that whatever symptoms they had were as a result of the meds not yet taking effect. It was not until many months later that they presented in hospital where they were diagnosed with Addision's disease in conjunction to their hypothyroidism. Misdiagnosis by family docs leads to a drop in their repute, which in turn leads more competitive students to avoid it. It is a vicious cycle of positive reinforcement which gradually whittles away the quality of primary health care.

[Read more about my views on family medicine: here]

The title of this post is from Shakespeare's King Lear: Act I, Scene I.


This entry was adopted by Brutus.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Rules of the road

I am what you might call a compulsive rule follower. I follow the rules both because I think it's important to go about things the right way (and not only to arrive at the right result), but also because I recognize how much tragedy could be avoided if we all followed the rules. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not perfect at it - I too break certain rules in hypocritical fits of selectivity. For instance, I seldom keep the speed limit (I usually maintain my pace at about 10 km/h in excess of it). But even so, I recognize that in most cases these failures are due to my own weakness. Rules do not exist merely to be broken (though humans from the time they are born quickly learn that they can be).

I bring this up because one of my pet peeves is disregard for the rules of the road. Now I realize that Ontario is already quite excellent in this regard - driving in Quebec is much more intimidating, and I've heard that traffic in China is chaos - yet it is far from perfect. Some things annoy me, but I forgive the perpetrators because... well, everyone does them. This has dual implications. Firstly, most people accept these actions as the norm, and so don't have any malicious intent when they break the rule. Secondly, if I despised every rule breaker... I probably wouldn't have any friends (or family).

What sorts of offenses can be overlooked (though they are still suboptimal)? The most glaring transgression is taking two lanes in a left turn. When making a left turn, you are supposed to turn into the leftmost lane. If you desire to be in the rightmost lane, you should subsequently change lanes (that's what they teach you at driving school). Making your left turn into the rightmost lane is both incorrect and can be hazardous (both to oncoming traffic and to those who are making their turns correctly). At certain intersections police will actually snag offenders, but this is about as rare as a blue moon.

I'd like to note that this minor offense can quickly become unforgivable. For instance, when I make a left turn, the car behind me will often swing (incorrectly) into the rightmost lane and then accelerate so as to try block my own lane change into the right lane. This is essentially trying to supersede the original order of traffic through inappropriate turning.

More serious offenses are rather more obvious, and most people recognize that these are wrong (and dangerous), though that seldom stops them from taking action. These include high risk behaviours such as tailgating (setting yourself up for a rear-end collision in an emergency), lack of signalling (improper communication, which can lead to collisions as people can't anticipate your moves), cutting off people who do communicate properly (which people use as an excuse for tailgating), and rolling stops (often an attempt to ignore right of way).

But what really has me irked today are aggressive, impatient, and selfish driving habits that take advantage of the goodwill of fellow drivers. The first is compulsive lane changing. My sister once told me that studies have shown that lane changing does not actually make a trip faster - people switch into the faster lane and subsequently slow it down, then try to switch back. However, we all have seen the hyper-aggressive drivers slipping precariously from one lane to the other (usually without signalling) and watched as the distance between our car and theirs widened. Clearly, while changing lanes may serve to slow down traffic as a whole, the more impulsive and thickheaded persons are getting ahead.

Equally irksome, however (and the inspiration for this post) are the people who drive solo in the bus lane. Bus lanes in Toronto are dedicated lanes which (during rush hour) are dedicated to buses, taxis, bicycles, and cars with three or more occupants. The idea is to keep public transit moving smoothly (which in turn should encourage more people to bus it).

For the most part, people respect the rules and stick to the normal traffic lanes, meaning that even during rush hour the bus lane is quite empty. However, it's not uncommon to see cars taking advantage of the rule abiding actions of their peers by zipping down the bus lane as the single occupant in their vehicle. It infuriates me to no end watching as these pricks advance where they should not.

What does this demonstrate? The best way to affect driving habits is through education and attitude adjustment. Barring that, regulations are the next logical step. However, rules without adequate enforcement are worthless - leaving law abiding folk disadvantaged and bitter.