Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pearls of wisdom

A couple of years ago, my parents picked me up a Blackberry Pearl, the latest and greatest technological toy of the time. This was, of course, a pleasant surprise given that I had never before owned any but the cheapest of cellular gadgets. Apparently, they had scored an extremely solid deal at some kind of Chinese New Year banquet at which one of the benefactors was Rogers Wireless. While we never took the plunge and signed up for Blackberry's characteristic data plan, I appreciated the calendar synchronizing and multimedia features as well as the lovely QWERTY key layout.

Then, a few months ago, my Blackberry began to suffer some technical difficulties. The titular "pearl" trackball started to jam up when scrolling left and right, eventually giving up on these two cardinal directions altogether. I grew frustrated with my inability to play Brickbreaker and pondered taking the device in for repair (which would likely end up costing half of the phone's worth). I discussed this issue with many people in the course of casual complaining and smalltalk.

Recently, however, my friend Brutus offhandedly inquired, "How is the Pearl?" I replied dejectedly that my trackball was still broken. Not at all expecting any kind of solution, I was taken aback by the response. "I told you the Pearl is a bad system," Brutus replied. "It's like back when computer mice had trackballs - you always had to clean them. We should find out how to clean your Pearl." This had never occurred to me... was this the problem with my Pearl? Would Brickbreaker soon be making a comeback? Would I finally be able to scroll to my address book again without frantically thumbing my Pearl for five minutes?

Today, frustrated with studying for neurology (a course for which I have sworn off sleep for the last half-week and the next half-week to come), I randomly decided that today was the day that I would fix this bane of my technologically dependant life. So I Googled "How to clean your Blackberry trackball" and immediately arrived with an abundance of hits.

I selected the first YouTube video I saw on the list, and away I went. Pop out trackball. Check. Clean with lens solution and Q-Tip. Check. Air dry with compressed air. Check. Reassemble and enjoy. Having seen all the fuzzy-looking crud within the guts of my Blackberry Pearl, I was deeply satisfied with this cleansing experience. I fully expected an epic win and for my trackball to work like new.

Turn on. Scroll scroll scroll scroll. Nothing. The damn Pearl wouldn't move a nanometre! North, south, east, west... all were unresponsive. After disassembling my phone again, looking, poking, and prodding, I managed to restore it's original north-south functionality, but alas east and west appeared irrevocably MIA. My failure is only made all the more frustrating in light of the fact that every single comment under the video tutorial I followed expressed something along the lines of, "Thanks! That worked like a charm!"

Excuse me, sir. I think mine's a lemon.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Blog identity crisis

When I first started blogging this summer, it was a bit of an experiment. I had been making websites since Grade 10, pulling together crude HTML on Notepad which I had learned from coding my AsianAvenue page. While my layouts had gotten progressively more sophisticated, they were largely static. I would spend a day or a week designing and coding the site and generating the graphics, then I would upload it, send the link around to all my friends, and... that was it.

For me, my website was a bit like an art project. While it was rich with content about myself, once established, there was little left to add - the initial setup frenzy having passed. As a result, it received little consistent viewership. My friends would visit and admire the new layout, give a little "ooh" and a little "aah", pat me on the back and then never return (until the next website). There was no fresh content, and when I did add something new, it was so unexpected that nobody would be around too notice it.

I toyed with the idea of persistently updating content, like a blog. However, there were two major barriers. Firstly, coding daily entries into HTML on Notepad is a nightmare. All those clever little mechanisms like auto-archiving, time-stamping, comment boxes, etc. require much more sophisticated techniques than I am privy to. Secondly, the one time I had tried such an exercise it had ended in dismal failure. Because I was aware that my website had a readership of approximately one, my "blog" became a kind of indirect-and-whiny teenage channel of communication directed at my best friend. When that whole thing exploded in my face, I vowed never to tempt myself with "blogging" again.

Fast forward to 2008, the summer before entering medical school. Having completed two major websites since the last update of AndyLand (one for DDR Club and one for the lab I had worked in for my fourth-year thesis), I wanted to apply some of the tricks that I had learned to my personal webspace. I figured that I should do this before school started, as I might never have time again (if you're a consistent reader, then you've probably realized this is not true). So I embarked on a quest to make my website new and improved.

But my new layout was to be a more ambitious undertaking. I wanted something to pull people back again and again, so that when I made a major change, they would notice. Yet coding a blog was beyond my limited capacity. The solution? A return to frames. By embedding a Blogger page into one of the frames of my website, I could have access to an easy-to-update form on which I could post persistent content. Additionally, by anonymizing the blog, my identity would be safe from strangers who might stumble across the blog sans the website frame.

The blog quickly morphed into a beast of its own. I revelled in evolving my own style of content, adjusting the value-added features in the sidebar, and tweaking the formatting style of paragraphs and images. Entries began appearing everyday, consuming a larger and larger proportion of my time, and today have even achieved a (very) modest following.

One day, when I was discussing with Kushima my angst over a particular layout bug, he said to me something along the lines of, "You shouldn't worry so much about the appearance. It's the content that people care about."

I had never considered this. Layout and style to me had always been the primary purpose of my website. Content was there to provide an excuse for others to spend time viewing it. And the blog, more than anything, existed to provide an ongoing draw for people to return consistently to the website so that they would be around when real changes were made.

Here I was then, with a blog that had become an enormous part of my life outside of the website proper. I was spending hours chronicling my daily life and personal opinions, and it was captivating. But as I watched readership trend down and down, and as my time became increasingly squeezed, my motivation to blog began to sag.

So here I am, trying to figure out what the future is for this space. Obviously, it will continue to exist and continue to be updated, but the frequency and shape of this content remains in question. On the one hand, I desire for such time-consuming content to reach a wider reader base (though my schizophrenic lack of content focus prevents my blog from appealing to any particular target group). However, greater publicizing of my content would mean more strangers and more loose acquaintances reading my blog (the latter is probably more frightening than the former). On the other hand, leaving things the way they are means sinking hours a day into entries that will be viewed less times than the number of fingers I have on one hand.

I, of course, deeply appreciate each reader and each comment as is. I already feel lucky to have a readership that's greater than zero. But the questions have constantly dogged me, especially as of late, of what I expect my blog to be, how much time I'm willing to commit, and who I expect to be reading it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The antonym of finesse...

...is Kouichi.

Last week, when I began watching the anime Linebarrels of Iron, I raved about how cartoons were trending away from classic heroic-folk toward arrogant, unlikable pricks. Today, I return to expound further upon the many flaws of our would-be "hero of justice", Kouichi.

Kouichi fancies himself a real hero, and he makes it abundantly clear by declaring it confidently: "I want to be a hero of justice" or "I'm going to be a real hero of justice" or "I am a real hero of justice." Yet he's deeply lacking in any kind of self-reflection. Although his character does evolve over the course of the show, it's largely through brute force scenarios such as the death of his comrades. While he might be convinced of his nobility, Kouichi's fighting method largely consists of going berserk and charging full speed ahead, slashing randomly while he yelps like a rabid dog and screams, "I'll kill you! I'll kill you!" at the top of his lungs. But don't worry, all of the other cast members back him up by constantly reaffirming that Kouichi "really is great" or "really is cool", as if saying it enough times will make it true.

Kouichi is a blunt instrument, and while he's constantly put down and defeated by his martially skilled and infinitely cool-headed senior, Moritsugu, he's never seen even once during the show practicing to improve his combat technique or his control over his emotions. I could virtually hear Judi Dench shaking her head and chiding, "Any thug can kill. I need you to take your ego out of the equation." He's no Kira Yamato, that's for sure.

What only made the show more frustrating for me were all the misguided youth posting comments after each episode, such as "It's amazing how touching these characters are!" or "Wow, Kouichi really became cool!" They're not. He's not. Stop, stop stop!!!

"The Power is Yours!" I think I saw this scene in an episode of Captain Planet...

Linebarrels of Iron, while not as completely dismal as I make it sound, ends in a glorious blaze of schizophrenia. It seems the creators couldn't decide whether they wanted to be tragic or encouraging, and constantly oscillate between the two - frequently killing off characters to much fanfare and then bringing them back to life. And what the frak was that beach episode with the giant tentacle monster...??!!


This entry was
adopted by Brutus.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Oh, for the love of PhotoShop

Today, some sample pages of the upcoming Meds yearbook were circulating around as an incentive for people to pre-order today! I'm a good boy because I already did order mine, but I have to tell you, I wasn't impressed.

Let me begin with this disclaimer: I'm sure that everyone on the yearbook committee worked very hard on it, and that they're all very nice people. I respect them for putting in their time of energy into this very noble extracurricular pursuit. So it's not a personal attack when I stop to criticize their pages with my layout snobbery. With that said, here goes:

It's the twenty-first century people - there's a little thing called anti-aliasing. It's not 1992, those jaggies on your fonts are not acceptable! And what is the deal with that blurry grey thing? Do you have any idea what that is??? I'm fairly certain that it's the shadow the post-it is casting on whatever white background you stole that image from.

Which brings me to my next point. If you're going to try spruce up ye olde background with some overlayed graphical tidbits, make sure you cut them out properly. That semi-present leftover black outline is rather sloppy. Plus, if you don't want all the objects on this page to look like stickers, you might consider dropping some shadows of your own - preferably ones that match your wooden background, and not the white one of the source image. /rant

I apologize for my jerkish display of snobbery, but this yearbook could use a little Ruru-rescue.

Friday, April 24, 2009

My city is gangster

No, it's not Toronto that I'm referring to (although it's been feeling a bit sketchier lately too). I'm talking about that marvellous urban metropolis and former colony of her majesty, the Queen - Hong Kong.

It wasn't until high school that I took a concerted interest in my family's Hong Kong heritage. Flopping about in a new school, I reached out for people with which I shared some commonality, and superficially the most detectable were other East Asians... and I began to change.

Suddenly, I was trying to improve my broken Cantonese. I paid more attention and respect to Hong Kong cinema, and occasionally, Hong Kong pop stars. I visited Hong Kong with my family. I marvelled at its sophisticated subway network, the MTR. I was hypnotized by the dense and unending sea of skyscrapers and people. I was energized by the sleepless streets of Mong Kok, the bargain frenzies of Lui Yun Gai, and the electronics bonanza of Ap Lui Gai. I even took to wearing enormous, shoe-enveloping FOB jeans.

I was proud. Proud to have links to such a modern, international, and affluent metropolis. I knew there were triads than ran amok here and there, and that Macau was rife with casinos and knife-wielding gangsters, but there is organized crime everywhere... right? I didn't think twice.

Then there was Edison Chen, Vancouver-born Hong Kong superstar extraordinaire. Actor. Singer. Clothes designer. Playboy. Still in his twenties, he had everything going for him - fame, fortune, and a burgeoning career.

But then, in 2007, naked sex photos of Edison with various Hong Kong divas began appearing on the Internet. These were apparently stolen from Edison's recently serviced laptop computer and released to the public by some twerp with a misdirected god-complex and unhealthy admiration for Light Yagami. The scandal made ripples around the world, but nowhere more than in Hong Kong. Reputations were destroyed, and Edison had little choice but to retire from the entertainment scene with as much dignity as he could muster.

Even by this point in the story, I felt sympathy. Sure, taking naked sex photos of all your love conquests isn't the classiest thing to do, but Edison was a superstar with playboy tendencies. Had the same incident occurred in the West, the hype would have blown over in a week. Had Justin Timberlake pulled the same stunt, his career would likely have accelerated rather than imploded (whilst a million fangirls swooned over how hot he was in the nude). In fact, other stars have made their claim to fame on similar incidents with little to no talent whatsoever.

Yet Edison, being of Hong Kong pedigree, was toast.

But that's not all! Also flying around were rumours of underworld contracts on Edison's life or for his severed hands. Usually, such rumours would be bollocks. However, in Hong Kong, this is likely not so. In Hong Kong, the entire entertainment industry is tied to the triad - from the top down. Everyone is connected. Celebrities have been beaten to near death for speaking out against the triads, and popular comedy actor Stephen Chow was denied immigration to Canada because of his alleged ties to organized crime.

Hong Kong is a distinguished, modern, and successful city, yet a major and very public industry remains in the hands of gangsters. It was the first time this had occurred to me, and it was shocking. Disturbing. How did things become like this?

The answer is they had always been like this. As the triad bosses became more successful, they cleaned up, but they never really cleaned up. With no public will to change the status quo, they made their ascendancy up the societal ladder and parked themselves at the top.

Several months after the scandal, Edison crawled out of hiding. His Hong Kong career might be over, but he could still be successful elsewhere, right? So he took his act over to Singapore. The reaction was immediate. A golden bullet was mailed over to a Hong Kong TV station with a letter warning Edison not to make any further media appearances after April 4th.

"We hope Edison Chen will take this warning seriously, otherwise his personal safety will be threatened," it said. That sent a chill down my spine.

So while I still marvel at the enterprising spirit of the Cantonese and swoon and pine over Hong Kong, I pause every now and then to feel nauseous and revolted in the knowledge that.... my city is gangster.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Growl if you love Loki

I'm not entirely sure why it is, but I love Ragnarok - the cutesy, level-grinding Korean MMORPG loosely based upon Norse mythology. I say loosely because Ragnarok has virtually no story and no character development. The leveling rate is so low that you can spend hours crushing the same monster before you progress, and the drop rate is so pathetic that you could easily farm the same creature for days before finding any worthwhile equipment. Oh yes, and it's pay-to-play.

With all these restrictions, it's difficult to understand why anyone would play Ragnarok Online. So off I go to pursue truly genre-defining pastimes like Mass Effect, only to return to Ragnarok several months later. Is it the unbearably cute chibi characters? (Probably) Is it the fond memories I have of playing private servers, where the leveling rates were high enough for me to achieve some level of proficiency? (That too) Somehow, somewhere, this game grew on me. It's just inexplicably lovable. Try it. You'll see.

I recently returned to International Ragnarok Online's (iRO) Loki server after nearly a year MIA. My stalwart Knight was still there (truly, one of the benefits of the official game servers are their consistency over time), and he was still a paltry level 76. And as I got back into the swing of things, I attempted to recruit some of my friends to play along. Ragnarok is not a game to be visited solo. I achieved some mild success wooing my male peers to the cause, all of whom balked once they realized that they would actually have to pay to play. As I discussed the game with J-Rock one day, one of our colleagues overheard our conversation...

K: Level 80? What are you guys talking about? Some kind of video game?

J-Rock: Yeah, that's right.

K: What's it called?

J-Rock: Rwarwarwarwarwarwar...

K: What?!

J-Rock (already bolting for the stairs): That's what it's called!

K: That's not a name, you just growled!
Apparently the name Rag-na-rok (3 syllables) was a bit too complicated for J-Rock, despite my incessant hounding.

Now for the past week, I've been struggling with a relative lack of success in essay writing for my Community Health course. This may shock you, since I unload a veritable verbal diarrhea upon this blog virtually everyday - but writing a comprehensive essay with literature citations is a much more deliberative (and less attractive) exercise. In order to distract me from my attempts at productivity, Ruru (the same Ruru that plugged me into iRO to begin with) introduced me to Restaurant City, a time-consuming Facebook game... and countless man-hours have been lost as a result. Since then, I've been on a massive recruitment drive in order to get free ingredients for my own restaurant that are available upon visiting a friend's restaurant for the first time. Like Ragnarok, this recruitment drive eventually found its way to J-Rock:

Andy: You should play Restaurant City... I've killed so much time on it.

J-Rock: Oh yeah, that's the game you were telling me about!

Andy: You mean Ragnarok?

J-Rock: Oh right, that's the one. They're all too similar.

Andy: You mean they all sound like Rwarwarwarwarwar...?

The moral of the story? Play iRO Loki and Restaurant City with me, pl0x.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Linebarrels in two dimensions

What the heck is wrong with cartoons today?

The other day I began watching an anime called Linebarrels of Iron on the new-and-improved Crunchyroll (which now has legitimate authority to stream anime and drama in HD for the North American audience). It's a relatively recent anime from the well-known animation studio Gonzo.

Playing out like a prepubescent male fantasy, Linebarrels begins with fourteen year-old protagonist Kouichi, a dismal failure of a character. He's a useless, uncool, self-pitying wreck of a child. Enter Linebarrel, a giant mecha robot from another dimension that drops on Kouichi from out of the sky along with a DD-chested naked girl - instantly killing him.

By the advanced, quasi-magical technology of the Linebarrel, Kouichi is brought back to life, but at the cost of being tied to the Linebarrel as its pilot as well as being endowed with super strength... wait, that's a cost? Kouichi takes the opportunity to play out his self-indulgent dreams of being a "hero of justice" without realizing that he's a few screws short of a full set. Kouichi turns into a vengeful, destructive, nonsensical monster drunk on power.

Kouichi overcomes his initial idiocy through the death of his best friend and a little bit of prompting by his less inane colleagues; yet he remains a brash, cocky, crude little shadow of a man. I began to consider this new trend in cartoons - having arrogant, whiny, misdirected little jerks as protagonists. This line of thinking instantly conjured thoughts of Bleach's overzealous Kurosaki Ichigo and Gundam Seed Destiny's most hated Shinn Asuka. I presented this conundrum to Evey:

Andy: I was thinking about this new plot thing, with jerkish little kids being heroes. And I was thinking, it's kind of common now - like Bleach and whatnot. It's changed a lot since we were little I think. Used to be like Captain Planet and Power Rangers...

Evey: Yeah...

Andy: Spider-man. Sailor Moon. Teenagers get power, and they're all good and righteous.

Evey: They say they're 2D - they need more depth and all. Except it's not really depth in their character, so they make them mean so that they're not all goodie goodie, but I say those are just as flat as good old Captain Planet.

It made a lot of sense. Characters today are jaded so that they're less predictable, but their brokenness doesn't make them less typical - it just makes them more detestable and less amenable as a role model to children. I realize that some of these characters are supposed to have redeeming qualities that make you sympathize with them, and in a brilliant story arc (i.e. Code Geass) this can work. But in most cases, my repugnance remains irrevocable. That's bad TV. Bring back our heroes!

As an aside, Linebarrels is also rife with sexual innuendo and half-naked DD women à la Love Hina. While that's all good and well, Kouichi is a middle school student, so the show is likely intended to target children of about the same age. That's kind of messed up. When I was Kouichi's age, the kinds of television characters that were in the same grade as me were people like Pepper Ann Pearson.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Colours of my life

Last week, I ran a survey. It asked, in no uncertain terms, whether gender-specific colours existed. The question was posed like this:

Are there definitive "boy" colours and "girl" colours?
  1. Blue is for boys, pink is for girls
  2. Cool colours (e.g. blue, black, purple) are for boys, warm colours (e.g. yellow, green, orange) are for girls
  3. Pink and purple are for girls, everything else is unisex
  4. Pink only is for girls, everything else is unisex
  5. Gender-specific colours do not exist
  6. Gender-specific colours do exist, but not in the categories above (please specify)
I left this survey open to my readers for a day or so, and then opened it up to my Facebook amigos (having realized that I have few enough readers to count on both hands, and only half of those are participatory enough to answer a survey).

When the results stopped rolling in, the tally came to 19 - not a horrific sample size for our little experiment. A total of four respondents (21.1%) voted that cool colours were for boys (no doubt at Evey's bidding). Another four (21.1%) voted that pink plus-or-minus purple were for girls, and everything else was unisex.

Two respondents (10.5%) said that gender-specific colours exist, but not in any of the stated categories. If I had to guess, I'd attribute this one to Yubin:

only for babies. i think boys wearing pink looks hot!

But perhaps the most surprising was that once I opened up the survey to Facebook, nine respondents (47.7%) voted that gender-specific colours do not exist.

In conclusion, Evey doesn't win and nearly half of you are liars. /wink

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Best of Chronicle: Seasons 1&2

200 Posts! Is it that time again already? It's been 100 posts since my effervescently brilliant but dishearteningly unappreciated 100 Post Anniversary montage. Based on how painstaking yet misunderstood that project was, I don't think I'll be doing it again.

I've been pondering how to make my older entries have some lasting impact beyond the five days on which they grace the front page. After all, some of them entailed significant time and consideration. I decided the best way to approach this conundrum was to compile a "Greatest Hits" listing à la Tammy. Since said fellow blogger cleverly followed a Friends-esque naming scheme for her listing (i.e. "The one with..."), and because I am suffering from a vapid lack of creativity, I decided to emulate Friends' lesser known and lesser loved little brother, Joey (of which I have not watched a single episode... not one). They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Let's begin.

...
Best of Season 1
  1. Andy and the Brent Spiner
  2. Andy and the Prime Minister
  3. Andy and the Missed Train
  4. Andy and the British Wrath
  5. Andy and the Palin Joke
  6. Andy and the Family Docs
  7. Andy and the Infamous FOOSH Poem
  8. Andy and the Japanese General
  9. Andy and the Colour Red
  10. Andy and the Opposition
  11. Andy and the Best of 2008
  12. Andy and the Sassy Girl
  13. Andy and the Band Breakup
Season 1 Special
  1. Andy and the Clip Show
Best of Season 2
  1. Andy and the Medgames
  2. Andy and the French
  3. Andy and the Korean Drama
  4. Andy and the TNA Jacket
  5. Andy and the Queen
  6. Andy and the Rules of the Road
  7. Andy and the Clever Sperm
  8. Andy and the Blog Slave
  9. Andy and the Horror Movie
  10. Andy and the Spaceship
  11. Andy and the Big Apple
  12. Andy and the Flower 4
  13. Andy and the Romantic Movies

Friday, April 17, 2009

Coffee: The new cigarettes

A man stands in the doorway. Leaning carelessly against the frame in a tailored Italian suit, he takes a puff from the cigarette held easily between his index and middle finger. He stares right into his lover's eyes, a boyish smirk on his face.

The female audience faints. Yes, we grew up in an era of smoking coolness. 2005's satirical film Thank You for Smoking, about a tobacco company spin doctor, put it this way:

We don't sell Tic Tacs for Christ's sake. We sell cigarettes. And they're cool and available and addictive. The job is almost done for us!

Then people realized that smoking was associated with just about every major chronic illness on the planet (cancer, heart attack, and stroke to name a few) and cool turned to poison. (As an aside, did you know that Barack Obama smokes? That's so disappointing in a role model...)

What then, is today's vice? Coffee. Yes, that's right, a troupe of medical students and doctors swagger into a conference room, each holding a glistening, tall white Starbucks coffee cup. The aroma flutters by your nostrils...

Coffee brings with it an amicable scent, an air of professionalism, and the uncanny ability to keep people awake. It's cool and available and (modestly) addictive. Coffee is today's cigarettes.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

ConQuest by any means

As of Wednesday, Conquest Vacations, a Toronto-based tour operator ceased all operations - another victim of tough economic times. A reputable firm with a 37-year pedigree, Conquest's abrupt announcement left an estimated 1000 to 2000 travellers stranded in Mexico and the Caribbean.

While many other Conquest travellers (who did not fly with Conquest directly) are being taken care of, and others who have not yet travelled are being offered refunds, those who paid for service and who are now stuck seem to have been put in an unconscionable position. Having already received funds, does the company not have a responsibility to tie up its loose ends before vanishing into oblivion?

When I was a kid, I took swimming lessons at a private facility called FitKid. I only took lessons during the summer, but one year my mother observed as the owner made a big push to those who would be taking lessons during the upcoming school year to sign up and pay up. Then, after the summer was over, FitKid hastily closed down and disappeared.

How can people accept fees for service, take the money, and run? Shouldn't that be illegal? I've never truly understood bankruptcy.

On the one hand, it makes a lot of sense. Limited liability by separating the corporation and the owners is quite reasonable. Companies can accumulate a debt well beyond the capacity of a single person to pay, and the collapse of that business shouldn't leave employees with debt collectors kicking them out onto the street with just the clothes on their back.

Yet it's infuriating that company executives run away scat free with millions in their pocket, whilst shareholders, creditors, and customers are left holding the bag. Take, for instance, Flagship Studios - a game company founded by ex-Blizzard Entertainment employees. They produced the grossly unsuccessful role-playing game Hellgate: London, and as their ship sank, they sold off their intellectual properties and dissolved the company... then they went ahead, founded a new company, and started over with nary a concern over their recent fiscal woes.

Bankruptcy, it seems, has very little impact on those who precipitated the event. They retire to pensions, escape with millions, or develop amnesia and start over. Meanwhile, the everyman is often burned. It's this absurdity that has nurtured a growing resentment toward the corporate elite in the West.

I'm not saying that executives of failed companies should be abandoned as unemployable, dirt-poor scum; but surely they should at least share in the tribulations of their company, creditors, and employees... or maybe just experience a little trouble finding their way home.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A hands-on administration

Barack Obama, forty-fourth president of the United States, has been in office for a paltry three months, but he sure has a lot on his plate. I'm distressed at the sheer number of obstacles that Obama need overcome. These include a tanking economy, uncooperative allies (who offer conciliatory lip-service but little solid compromise), and of course, being president number forty-four (which is commensurate to being president number "double death").

Yet Obama has admirably jumped right into the fray, immediately tabling oodles of legislation and signing many an executive order into action. Having had months after his election victory to watch the country stumble in not-yet-inaugurated powerlessness, Obama planned furiously. And as soon as he was sworn in, he rushed out the starting gate to tackle a bevy of problems, leaving some pundits crying "too much too fast!"

Obama has quickly proved himself to be a resourceful, congenial, and hands-on president. His success at pushing through a $787 billion economic stimulus package where his predecessor failed is impressive. His administration also moved quickly to recoup monetary and public opinion losses over bonus payments made to AIG executives, a company that had been on the receiving end of the financial bailout. These stories of extraordinary government interference, including the recent ouster of General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner, make clear that Obama is determined to be the guiding hand that leads his country out of crisis... and that he's not afraid to push.

Nevertheless, while Obama oozes of learned charisma and trustworthiness - characteristics that the financial sector is heavily lacking at this point - his hands-on approach does raise some questions. Most importantly, is the government truly more competent and more qualified to fix corporate America than those executives who live and breathe in it?

It's one thing to legislate and regulate, it's quite another to start ripping out CEO's and blocking bonus payments. Interfering with the day-to-day operations of companies is more than just governing, it's commandeering. The American public, for its part, seems willing to accept this so long as it is successful.

Is Obama the genie we all hope he is? Only time will tell...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Blue is for boys, pink is for girls

Awhile back, I had the most unusual conversation with my girlfriend. Somehow we had stumbled onto the topic of gender-specific colours. Now it's common practice for new baby paraphernalia to be coloured blue for boys and pink for girls. I find that generally, as life goes on, blue becomes gender-neutral, and pink remains uniquely feminine.

Purple, once regarded as the colour of royalty, seems to have been misappropriated by the gay community ever since Tinky Winky... probably because of its proximity to pink.

With regards to these two colours, men generally tread a safe distance away, though the fashionably bold will sometimes buck the trend with pink (which, in turn, has become trendy). I myself pondered the logistics of wearing my (very nice) purple dress shirt earlier this year.

Other than these two ambiguous colours, in my opinion, all is fair. In other words, girls can wear any colour they want; boys can wear any colour (e.g. blue, yellow, red...) except pink or purple with unquestioned masculinity.

Evey had a contrary, albeit odd, interpretation. She expressed that warm colours (e.g. yellow, green, and red) are for girls and that cool colours (e.g. blue, purple, and grey) are for boys. As evidence, she offered that her father didn't want to buy a red car because it was a feminine colour. The only problem is... lots of guys like red cars. Ferrari's trademark colour is red. Red is sporty, and because men buy fast, sporty cars and then crash them, insurance rates for red cars are higher than for other colours.

I ran a Google search for "boys like red cars" and found the following Yahoo! Answer response to a lady asking the same question - "Isn't red a feminine colour?" The answer:

Red is hot and fast. Its also the most pulled over color car by the police (which is why I wouldn't buy it)

Okay, conceded Evey, her dad was confused. But cars are the exception to the rule, not the rule itself. The thing is, I see girls wearing blue and black all the time; and I see boys wearing yellow and red fairly often too. I call foul on this cool/warm theory.

Help me prove the point, or prove me wrong. Fill out the following one-question survey and help me settle this thing once and for all.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Eager Easter eating

Hope that your long-weekend celebration of the resurrection has been as tasty as mine. Happy Easter to everyone!

My sister cooked up these amazing desserts for our Easter dinner.

Meringue cake with strawberries and blackberries

Dark chocolate covered strawberries (for my lactose intolerant brother)

Meringue cake with strawberries, blackberries, and mango



Ugh... I can't believe I'm back to class tomorrow...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Life without romance

Following my Son Yeh Jin fanboyism, I began watching the first fifteen minutes of her 2003 drama entitled Summer Scent. Hye-won, the main character, has recently received a heart transplant to treat a chronic heart condition. However, when she encounters the boyfriend of her deceased heart donor, her heart begins inexplicably beating inside her chest. This occurs despite her already being romantically involved with another man. Stop!

That's horrible! Falling in love because your transplanted heart has some supernatural power over you? What about the love that you already have?

How in the world is that romantic? Yubin, already incensed by my relative spurning of Boys Over Flowers, had these words for me in response:

Andy, you shouldn't watch romantic things. It doesn't suit you.

Ouch... It's not the first time that my romantic sense has been thrown into question. A few weeks ago, two of my peers were discussing the Notebook on the hospital shuttle bus. I popped in and commented that the movie is not as mind-blowing as most girls make it sound. "That's because you're a boy," was the sardonic response.

I don't know quite how to respond to attacks like these. On the one hand, accepting a reputation as one who scorns romantic plot devices could bode well toward cultivating a testosterone-laden image of maleness. On the other hand, it's maliciously untrue.

You see, I appreciate a sappy romantic tragedy as much as the next bloke, regardless of whether they herald from Korea, Japan, or Hollywood. In fact, I deeply appreciate a strong drama because I secretly enjoy the captivating sensation of intense sadness. At the risk of damaging my masculinity, I will admit that I was deeply moved by Jun Ji-hyun's Il Mare, I was embarrassingly touched by Fuji TV's Zettai Kareshi, and I was unwittingly tickled by the cuteness of P.S. I Love You. Don't even get me started on Final Fantasy X.

The problem is not that I can't applaud a good romance, but a good romance is believable. A good tragedy is natural. Romance developed through tortuous contrivances and implausible mind-bending is not compelling. Neither is romance borne out of unnecessary pain dealt to others. It's difficult to cheer for a character who you hold in contempt. Similarly, tragedy borne out of self-stupidity feels deserved. While misunderstandings can indeed factor into great tragedies (one need only look to Othello and Desdemona), their reactions must seem organic, their situations uncontrollable. There can be no empathy for the masochist.

I know how to savour a good love story. That's why I'm unsympathetic to narratives that are unsubstantial, distasteful, or incredulous.

...and by the way, I also any enjoy anything with space ships, explosions, or sword-fighting. My favourite movie is Top Gun. Phew! Close one...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Boys Over Flowers post-mortem

Boys Over Flowers, Korea's ever popular drama series, has finally rolled to an end after 25 lengthy episodes. The object of affection for many a swooning Korean fangirl, Boys Over Flowers is loosely based on the Japanese manga Hana Yori Dango, but more diligently follows the Japanese drama adaptation of the same name.

The series follows the exploits of Geum Jan Di (Koo Hye Sun) and is a rags to riches Cinderella story of her romance with Korea's most affluent prince, Goo Jun Pyo (Lee Min Ho). Goo Jun Pyo is the heir to the Shin Hwa corporation, South Korea's most prosperous and influential company. The entire nation is at the whim of the mighty Shin Hwa, which seem so to virtually determine the course of the country's prosperity.

Jun Pyo's grandfather and Shin Hwa founder asked the President of Korea for the go-ahead to build a high school that he could send his grandchildren to. Thus Shin Hwa High, the lap of luxury, was born - a school for only the rich and the affluent and from which admission to the choicest universities was guaranteed. By a stroke of fate, Geum Jan Di, the poor daughter of dry cleaner parents, finds her self admitted to this illustrious and unbelievable learning institution.

At Shin Hwa high, Jun Pyo is king. He does whatever he wants and is the idol of entire student population together with his infamous "Flower 4" or F4. The F4 are Jun Pyo's friends from childhood and include Yoon Ji Hoo (Kim Hun Joong), grandson of the former President of Korea and an aspiring musician; So Yi Jung (Kim Bum), a notorious playboy and renowned potter; and Song Woo Bin (Kim Joon), heir of a prominent construction firm with underworld connections.

Jan Di's fiery and defiant attitude quickly draws the ire of Jun Pyo and his F4, leading to her receipt of the infamous "red card" - a card that once put inside your locker signals the entire student population to prank, torment, and beat you... essentially to death. Yet the unyielding Jan Di quickly transforms Jun Pyo's hate to love, and so begins their twisted and tortuous path to happiness.

It's easy to see why Hana Yori Dango made such a smooth transition to a Korean drama. It's rife with shovelling, rivalry, and paradoxical sacrifice such that it is at many times frustrating to watch. But I did watch the entire series, and as with even the most exasperating drama, Boys Over Flowers has its pros and cons. Let's begin with the good news...

...

The Good

Boys Over Flowers offers a mesmerizing look at a life of comfort and opulence. Everything involves immaculately polished mansions, gourmet multi-course meals, and fleets of servants. Jun Pyo and his F4 are rather trendy and are fun to watch as they embark on their escapades, each driving a gorgeous Lotus Elise (except for Ji Hoo, who bucks the trend and drives a white Mini Cooper). Oh yes, and they play Soul Calibur... so they can't be all that bad.

Not long ago, I asked Jun something. Between friendship and love, if you were to pick only one, what would you choose? He said he wouldn’t give up either. They say people get as much as they are greedy for. Neither you nor I have enough greed.

While the series is rife with love rivals (and most of them are deceptive, evil schemers), the two key rivals, Ji Hoo for Jan Di and Jae Kyung (Lee Min Jung) for Jun Pyo, are quite likable. In fact, if there's anything frustrating about them, it's that they're much nicer and less difficult than the protagonists. As Ji Hoo slides into the "best friend" role while Jan Di remains a tortured soul over Jun Pyo, you realize that she must be some kind of masochist to be able to love the latter over the former. It's heartbreaking to watch these rivals' love go unrequited, but surely that is the intended response.

Let's see, what else did I enjoy about the show? Oh yes, every once in awhile, someone gets the living snot beat out of them. Some of these earlier fight scenes are really quite intense. There's a twisted but satisfying feeling of justice when Jun Pyo runs to the rescue of a suffering Jan Di who is being beat and tortured with a fire extinguisher (admittedly due to Jun Pyo's own red card), plucks the fire extinguisher from her tormentor's hands, and uses it to smack him a metre into the air. Maybe that's just the testosterone talking.

...

The Bad and the Ugly

For starters, Jun Pyo, while at times likable is often a barbarian. He's easily infuriated, overly physical, and frequently misinterprets the situation for the worse without clarification. He's brash, except when it comes to his witch of a mother - who contemptuous of Jan Di's commoner status does everything to uproot her (including buy her off, torture her family, and destroy her friends). As the heir to Shin Hwa, Jun Pyo should have a lot of clout, so why is he unable to even utter a word in defiance of his mother when she barks about how Jan Di needs to learn her place? Jan Di's situation puts her through situations that defy endurance.

Geum Jan Di, the things you see with your eyes are not always real. Some things are only visible… with faith.

But Jan Di is no angel herself. She never speaks up in her own defence when it actually matters, only defying the situation to make things worse. Upon meeting a particularly evil love rival and spending a day with him, she casts off Jun Pyo's well developed care and affection to declare of her new friend, "Inside school, he was the only real friend I felt close to." Understandably, the F4 are baffled. Her oscillation between Jun Pyo and Ji Hoo is also rather frustrating. While she seems intent on settling Ji Hoo into the "best friend" persona she is constantly giving mixed signals, which is rather uncomfortable for her knight in shining armour (who happens not to be the same person as her lover).

Additionally, the actors are young and seemingly inexperienced. They approach interactions (particularly romantic ones) with spastic discomfort. Whether it's hugging or kissing, the actors look as stiff as dolls and out of place. Whenever they try to express "work" in the show, they show the same repetitive task repeatedly and do so from different angles to make it seem like a task is taking hours when it's quite clear they filmed the scene in approximately ten minutes. For instance, when Jan Di needs to wash all the windows of a concert hall, there are multiple scenes where she scrubs the same window over and over, and in random directions no less.

Similarly, the series uses a classic romance movie trick which I call "faux-bonding time." This involves a scene where the background music overrides the characters' voices. The characters are shown laughing, presumably having fun and "bonding." This allows for the accelerated simulation of bonds being built because actually having to script a conversation is simply too challenging...

I could spend hours trying to describe the flaws with this series, but someone has kindly gone and done it for me. In a recent post on 50 Things You Learn from K-Drama, I found that I was not alone in my understanding of the frustrations of Boys Over Flowers... and that Boys Over Flowers is not unique in presenting these frustrations.

I get rather amused tickled by the fact that K-dramas are really popular based on the number of clichés they put in the plot. And people seem to like it!

1. Men who are hawt and rich fall in love with vulgar, outspoken women.

Jun Pyo rich. Jan Di vulgar and outspoken. Check.

2. If you are a girl and have a best guy friend, he’s definitely in love with you.

Best friend Ji Hoo loves Jan Di. Check. In fact, after jumping through a lot of hoops to break up with Jun Pyo and get together with Ji Hoo, she ditches him to return to Jun Pyo after only one date. What a woman...

3. Brothers/best friends/schoolmates/enemies always love the same girl.

From Jun Pyo versus Ji Hoo to Yi Jung versus his brother, this principle of course holds true.

10. If you’re rich, you’re an asshole.

11. If you’re poor, you’re an angel.

I think these two points have already received sufficient explanation. I don't think it's particularly normal for people to recruit the entire student body to goad their rivals into suicide. Then there are the times where Jun Pyo and Jan Di treat each other like dirt in order to "let the other down hard" with the intent of letting them down easy.

16. If two people are talking confidentially, they will leave the door of the room ajar so that a third party will eavesdrop on the conversation.

Of course, the listener always either misinterprets the conversation or uses it as the impetus to take some kind of unilateral and ill-advised action.

22. If you’re saving someone from being hit by a speeding car, you’ll push them out of the way and wait for the car to hit you instead.

You'd think that this is a bit too cliché. Of course, you're wrong. To add salt to the wound, it leads right into...

30. If you hit your head in a traffic accident, you might lose your memory. But don’t worry, you will get it back when you hit your head a second time.

And don't worry, it's perfectly normal to selectively forget one person but remember everything else about your life.

26. If you’re in a relationship, you must, at one point, leave the country and have your lover tearfully come RIGHT before you board the plane (vice versa applies as well. You can be the chaser.) 60% of the time you meet each other, and 40% you’re roaming around in circles in pass each other about 6 times. But you don’t see each other.

I've been told the most important skill for a Korean actress is to be able to cry on demand.

27. If you’re getting off a plane, you’re always wearing sunglasses.

34. Unless you’re fabulously rich, your in-laws will always hate you.

If trying to pay you to break up with their son, forcing your parents out of work, closing down the companies of even your obscenely wealthy friends, and telling you what a dirty peasant you are qualifies as hating you, then... yes.

45. One man can kick the butts of 6 gangsters, especially when they all stand in a circle and attack the guy 1 by 1. When each of them get their butts PWNED, they wise up and attack the guy at the same time. Then the guy will get pulverized and bleed out onto the dusty concrete floor of the empty warehouse they found to fight in. And the girl will have watched this the entire time, screaming in horror. Instead of calling 119, she’ll just watch and cry. But it’s okay. Because the next day the guy will be fine with a few random bandages and a few scars on the face. But never a black eye.

Never. Never a black eye. Who would dare ruin such a celebrated face? And finally...

49. If you study in the States (preferably Harvard), you are one of the top students and you can speak perfect English (as assumed by the reactions of those around you). Why the rest of the world OUTSIDE the TV can’t understand a single word uttered in your melodramatic voice is beyond me.

Yes, that's right, it's almost terrifying to listen to the characters' broken "perfect" English as they interact with poorly acted Caucasian love interests who clearly have no interest (or understanding). There's something dissatisfying with ebonics when they're used correctly, so it's even more ingratiating to hear "Yo, yo, yo, my bro!" coming out of Woo Bin-sunbae's mouth in a thick Korean accent. End of story.

...

Round-up

Boys Over Flowers presents a pretty world with some interesting moments but ultimately suffers from unbelievable characters with self-inflicted problems who work diligently to follow every drama cliché in the book.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The cost of not saying "No"

On my way into the subway station, a couple of black gentlemen were handing out some small-time, anti-corporate American newspaper. Having one shoved in my face, I politely accepted. As I grabbed the paper, I noticed that the donor was not letting go. I looked up to meet his gaze.

"Oh sir, we just ask that you make a small $2 donation..." Bumped out of my morning robotic rush, I fumbled for a loonie in my pocket - anything to get me back on track. As I inserted the coin into my solicitor's hand, I realized, I really didn't want the newspaper in the first place. How had this series of events unfolded?

"No, that's okay," I waved off the paper now actually being relinquished into my hand.

"No, no, it's for you to read!" insisted the solicitor. I took the paper and browsed the headlines. Obama condemns corporations this. AIG is evil that. Reading this drivel would be equivalent to poking at the Epoch Times, or worse, the National Post. I chucked it in the nearest recycle bin. After all, I only read news by real journalists.

Somehow, my reflexive act of not ignoring one person giving out "free" newspapers left me two minutes, one dollar, and several hundred ATP short. Next time, just say "No thanks."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

No rest for the weary

The ashes of Metabolism and Nutrition are still warm, but Tuesday marked a return to the fray for the start of our next course: Brain and Behaviour. After handing our our intimidating syllabus for the next four weeks, our professor proceeded to cover a week's worth of neuroanatomy in one hour. Yup, this is going to be fun.

I was five minutes late for class because my train ground to a halt for ten to fifteen minutes in the middle of the subway tunnel. "Signalling malfunction" or some such problem. I was actually pretty anxious - it's hard to gauge how a new course is going to begin. Would the lecturer have started on time? Would I interrupt the class? I hate being late. Maybe this hearkens back to that time I was almost kicked out...


I should not have been surprised, however, to find that the class had not started despite my five minute tardiness, and in fact would not start for at least another ten minutes. Class discipline has been steadily decaying ever since our jolly British disciplinarian finished his lecture series in the fall. Students continued to roll in shamelessly for another half-hour.

This day was especially noisy given my colleagues' post-exam euphoria. Because students in general have no appreciation for introductory lectures, there was a constant baseline chatter above the professor's voice. I found it rather irritating, and wished that I could somehow make it stop - which reminded me of the Archivist (above), a fictitious class in Blizzard Entertainment's upcoming role-playing game, Diablo III. Part of a cheeky April Fool's joke, the Archivist detonates his opponents with an intense librarian-like shushing.

I appreciated the sentiment: Shut up or blow up.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Trouble at Grad House

After our metabolism and nutrition final exam yesterday, some of the guys headed back to Kushima's favourite place - the University of Toronto's Graduate House Residence. We checked out a Wii console and some games from the front desk and plopped ourselves down in Grad House's impressive television room.

At one of our prior get-togethers, Stewie had told us a tale of his own misadventures at Grad House. Apparently, he had been there with some friends browsing the HDTV channels. They had taken a run through the mid-500's (Pay-Per-View porn). Understandably, all the channels were locked... except for one. What sort of perverse wonders awaited Stewie on that mystical channel? Gay. Porn.

Vaguely disbelieving, but more motivated by sheer curiosity, we therefore demanded that Stewie ante up evidence of this bewildering and taboo discovery. We quickly regretted our decision, however. The channel did exist (for some reason available in a university residence common room), and there on the screen appeared two naked men, both positioned doggy style with one who looked to be licking some kind of cream off the other's rump.

Quick, somebody change the channel, and bring me a neuralizer, stat!

As if that weren't enough trouble for one day... The Grad House television room has a panic button that immediately summons the police. I guess it's for those raunchy graduate students that have rowdy television parties in the middle of the night and then are faced with the drunken threat of rape? I have no idea.

Anyways, about an hour into our Wii gaming, two police officers showed up at the door to the common room. "Is everyone okay in here?" Once they ascertained that everyone was alright, they were pretty miffed, and we were pretty bewildered. According to them, one of us had hit the forbidden red button. Right, well maybe one of us hit it when we were walking by the wall?

"That's fine, but if that's the case, you have to tell somebody that everything is okay. Someone came on the speaker and asked if everything was alright. Nobody said anything, so we had to come over here. You know that button is equivalent to a 911 call." Sorry, officer. Apologies all around.

For a minute there, I thought we were all going to get charged. Pulling false alarms, as far as I know, is a criminal offense. That would have been a cruddy end to a promising medical career? Happily, the police officers went on their merry way, probably cussing at us once they were out of earshot. For the record, none of us in the room heard anybody talking to us, and we weren't sitting that far from the button. Additionally, if someone had been trying to get our attention, shouldn't they have been able to hear us chatting casually in the room? Oy...

Anyways, the front desk lady had come down with the police officers, and after they had gone and returned to their duties, she hung around for a few more minutes to glare at us. "Not cool," she said (or something equivalent). "If this happens again, we're going to have to revoke your television room privileges."

The moral of the story:
  1. There are many reasons to avoid Grad House.
  2. Big red buttons should come in glass cases, like the ones in cartoons that protect the President from accidentally launching nukes.
So there you have it. Gay porn. Red button. That's how we celebrate the end of exams at UofT.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Tribute to a lady turtle

This weekend our pet turtle passed away. She was twenty-two years old.

A painted turtle, Trickle arrived in our household shortly after I was born. Because she was obviously born prior to our purchase, she may have been slightly older than me. At the time of her arrival, Trickle was about the size of a dollar coin. My mother thought that she would stay that size forever, and smitten with her cuteness, even bought a little turtle playground for her with miniature plastic palm trees and buildings and bridges.

Obviously, many people thought the same thing because once their turtles grew up, they began setting them free in the wild. For this reason, painted turtles can no longer be purchased from pet stores as they are considered an invasive species.

As it turned out, Trickle doubled in size many times, finishing the last decade or so of her life at about the size of a pair of sneakers. In her younger years, she enjoyed sunbathing on the rocks in her tank and chasing down fish to eat. She also got me through many "share a fun fact about yourself" icebreakers.

Here's a fun fact: turtles are cold blooded and are intended to hibernate in the winter. In order to make them do this, a special dark box needs to be constructed in which they can weather their season of slumber. The alternative is to keep the tank heated in order to maintain their metabolic state year-round. Trickle loved to attack her water filter and heating apparatus, and the latter broke twice before we gave up. We were also disinclined to build her the equipment that she needed to hibernate, so she spent many winter seasons in a hypo-metabolic torpor.

One year as a treat, we bought her some fish to chase down and eat. We occasionally liked to provide her with this extra stimulation. She quickly hunted and slew her pray. However, because it was cold and she was not particularly hungry, she left their carcasses alone to rot. We stopped buying her fish after that.

After twenty-two years in our family - twenty-two years of being gawked at, poked, and prodded (but well loved) - Trickle passed away in her sleep and was found semi-buoyant in her tank on Sunday. I asked my father what he planned to do with her, and he was already in the process of throwing her into the organic waste recycle. Needless to say, I protested. When my siblings descend upon Toronto for the Easter long weekend, we'll give our dear turtle a proper interment. As my sister so poignantly put it, "We should bury her, not put her in the garbage."

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Andy's Universal seeks bailout

THE UNIVERSAL PRESS

Andy's Universal (TSX: NDU) has petitioned the Canadian government for bailout funding following a failed aggressive takeover bid by the medical conglomerate Examinations Without Borders (TSX: MNU). A company executive cited increased consumer expectations for the corporation's ailing condition. "Productivity has been steady at a constant level, however expectations for our expertise have more or less doubled since the last quarter," explained the source, who wished only to be identified as Andy.

The company is asking the government for $1 billion in bailout money (estimated to be equivalent to 72 man-hours, or three days of productivity). Without the much needed capital, executives fear a significant drop in output this year, which is often gauged on the Measuring Aptitude and RanKing Scale (MARKS). Andy's Universal has threatened to close down all of its offices in the country should this eventuality occur. The corporation is currently responsible for the livelihood of a total of 1.00 Canadian employee.

Meet me in Savannah

Being a young man of twenty-two, I don't make it my business to keep up with celebrity gossip or swoon over teeny-bopper pop stars. That's why it wasn't until after singer-actress Mandy Moore was secretly married some guy named Ryan Adams in Savannah, Georgia that I discovered she was engaged.

Again, normally this would be a non-event, except that I consider Mandy Moore to be one of the most attractive and wholesome celebrities in the Western world. Sure, I don't particularly love her music, and her movies are almost all modestly successful chick flicks... but she has the right smile, the right look, and the right attitude.

I put the blame for my little celebrity crush on Mandy Moore squarely on the shoulders of my friend Pomme, who had the gall to have a sister obsessed with Mandy Moore. Since Pomme and I were virtually the best of friends in high school, I felt the ripples of this fandom, and singer-actress Mandy Moore somehow made it onto my adolescent radar.

Several cheesy romance films and one interview with David Letterman later, I was sold.

So I say with all due earnestness that I'm sure, upon the news of this celebrity wedlock, that boyish hearts all over the world are breaking. It's okay, Mandy, you're a bit too tall for it to have worked out between us anyways...

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Soiling the white coat

Doctors used to demand almost universal trust and authority. Over time, people decided that they wanted more power, more choices, and more oversight. Part of this may be due to the fact that in a public system, everyone is paying for the health care system and therefore everyone feels like they should have a say. Personally, I think that people have just realized how human and how fallible doctors are and decided that unflinching trust is foolish. Trust is earned.

Some older physicians may resent this, but a few bad apples in the crop can spoil faith in the tree. Everyday I’m amazed by the flurry of activity, enthusiasm, and diligence of my colleagues. At the same time, I find myself questioning the attitudes, professionalism, and motivations of others among my peers.

Take my community health course, for instance. Different health-related agencies around the city open up their doors to medical students every year. These are not physician-run agencies. They invite us to participate because they believe it’s important for us as future doctors to understand their role in health. So they give us their knowledge, their facilities, and their time. Sometimes, these visits seem uninspiring, boring, or even useless; but we need to respect the effort that these agencies have made on our behalf.

When someone complains to the course coordinator that an activity that a particular agency has asked us to perform is too much work, and if that complaint is then taken in earnest from the coordinator to the agency, how does that reflect on our attitudes as students? Isn’t it just a little ungrateful?

For Kushima’s community visit, the students assigned to his particular agency regularly carpool. Unsurprisingly, your friendly neighbourhood Sandoval skipped the visit altogether. Meanwhile, the drivers of the carpool decided to stop along the way for a proper sit-down lunch. The result was the entire troupe of students arriving an hour late at the agency.

Outside the agency building, the agency contact was waiting expectantly. “Wow it must be tough for you guys this year. I don’t remember students in previous years being so rushed.”

Irresponsible. Unprofessional. This kind of behaviour erodes the public confidence and goodwill of our inter-professional colleagues. This kind of attitude tarnishes respect for the white coat.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Washroom profundities

Mello's boyfriend Lucky works part-time at our school. As we waited for him to come out of the staff room to eat lunch with us, our attention turned to the men's bathroom just adjacent...

Mello: When you were in elementary school, didn't you ever sneak into the girls' bathroom like after school to see what it was like?

Andy: Uh... no! Did you sneak into the boys' bathroom?!

Mello: Yes! Didn't everybody?

...

Lucky arrives...

Mello: Did you ever sneak into the girl's bathroom when you were little?

Lucky: No, but that's because I'd already been inside.

Mello & Andy: Oh...

Lucky: Well one time we had this snack sale and there was a storage room inside the girls' bathroom so we had to go into there to get all the chips...!

...


Mello: The first time I saw a urinal, it was in one of those single-person washrooms, and there was a toilet and there was a urinal. I had no idea what it was... I thought maybe it was another kind of sink.

Andy: You didn't put your hands in there did you?

Mello: No! But I really didn't know what it was. Someone told me that it was to wash your bum, but I was like, there's no water! Then I realized... it was a urinal.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Soft enough to be facial tissue

Tears flow freely from a child's anguished eyes. A gentle mother leans in with a caring hand to wipe them away. The child looks up in astonishment: "Toilet paper?" "But it's soft," replies the mother.

I can't even remember what brand of toilet paper that advertisement was for, but I have, for much of my life, used facial tissue (otherwise known as Kleenex) and toilet paper virtually interchangeably when it comes to nasal congestion. Having been sick over the weekend, I whipped through an entire roll of your regular kitten brand toilet paper and half a box of facial tissue (that's right, they do make tissue also...). I managed to fill up half my garbage bin. One has to wonder how much fluid loss is accounted for in such a constant clearing of my sinuses.

Being sick is one of the worst feelings. It doesn't matter if you're only a "little bit" sick - it still feels terrible. As time goes on, it only becomes more terrible, and you become sick of being sick. Sick of the headaches, stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, and dysfunctional brain. You forget what it feels like to not be sick. Studying for histology in that condition was murder.

But it raises an interesting point, which is our limited ability to retain memories of sensation. They say time heals all wounds, but it's not just wounds that are forgotten. When we are well, we quickly forget the anguish and discomfort of being ill. Similarly, when we're unwell, we gradually fail to recall what it feels like to be asymptomatic. This is an adaptive mechanism no doubt. When you're past an unpleasant situation, there's little point in reliving it. Similarly, if you're stuck being chronically ill, it's probably best to reset your baseline expectations of the norm. Nonetheless, it doesn't lessen my exasperation at this danged stuffy nose.