Thursday, July 30, 2009

Taking liberties

The other day, over lunch with Kushima, I discussed some of the problems with China's ruling Communist Party. These included the unequal distribution of wealth as well as the maintenance of complete and utter control.

China's ruling party excels at nothing if not spin. Through their influence over the media they divert attention away to foreign enemies while fostering swelling national pride through grandiose displays of power. Of course it's true that the Japanese ravaged and maligned Asia during WWII, but not every story can bear anti-Western, anti-Japanese, pro-Communist sentiment with authenticity.

To what am I referring exactly? My beef with Chinese media began with Jet Li's compelling kung fu epic Fearless, which toyed with my emotions only for me to discover some colourful exaggerations in the portrayal. Then again, cinema has never really been authentic, has it? Anyone who saw the Brits villainized in Mel Gibson's The Patriot or the crew of the Titanic written off as greedy, self-serving jerks knows that movies are not to be taken too seriously. But I think that when a film professes to be based on a true story and then follows up the video with a post-script describing the aftermath and pictures of the real people on whom the characters were based, one tends to believe that it is at least roughly accurate.

And then there was Ip Man. Based on the life of Bruce Lee's master Yip Man, this film proceeds to tell the tale of an exceptionally gifted and principled Wing Chun martial artist caught in the middle of the Japanese invasion of China. Single-handedly, he battles the Japanese for Chinese honour, only to be disgracefully shot in a tragic act of deceit. It was a beautiful and exciting movie filled with gripping kung fu sequences and heart-rending scenes of Japanese brutality.

The post-script of the movie reads as follows:

Ip Man refused to be subjugated by the Japanese army, and used his fists to call forth the unity of the Chinese people. Assisted by his good friend Zhou Qingquan, the wounded Ip Man successfully fled Fo Shan with his wife and son.

On August 15, 1945, Emperor Hirohito of Japan announced that Japan would surrender unconditionally. The Chinese finally ended and won a war that lasted eight long years.

In 1949, the Grandmaster Ip Man settled in Hong Kong. He started his first Wing Chun class at Kowloon Hotel's Staff Association Headquarters, turning a new leaf in his life.

In 1967, Grandmaster Ip Man started the Wing Chun Athletic Association to foster the spirit of Wing Chun with a group of like-minded enthusiasts, fulfilling the most cherished dream of his later years.

Until now, Wing Chun has become a world renowned branch of Chinese martial arts. The lineage of Grandmaster Ip Man's disciples has exceeded 2 million people. There are lots of talented people among his disciples, including the most illustrious action star of all, Bruce Lee.

Now there are some problems with this story. First of all, it implies that the Chinese fended off the Japanese on their own, and that Ip Man rallied their spirit. However, the Japanese surrender in World War II followed not an incredible push by the Chinese people, but two American atomic bombs known as Little Boy and Fat Man.

As for Ip Man, he did not fight the Japanese in Fo Shan during the invasion at all. In fact, he left the city and lived out the occupation at the village house of one of his students. The real Yip Man did not flee to Hong Kong with the Japanese licking at his heels, but rather the Communist Party. Yip Man was a police officer under the Kuomintang (the governing party of Taiwan since their defeat during the Chinese Civil War).

Ip Man, while cinematically convincing, provides little more than propaganda. It passes off the story of a renowned kung fu master under the Kuomintang as a Chinese national hero against the Japanese, simultaneously vilifying the invading force whilst erasing the Communist Party's role in Yip Man's retreat to Hong Kong.

History is written by the victors, and the media has reduced this to an art.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I'm awesome™

[Referring to Neil Patrick Harris' Barney in How I Met Your Mother]

Andy: Think about it. He likes suits. I like suits. He likes the word awesome. I trademarked the word awesome...

Sandlot: You can trademark the word awesome.

Sandlot: *can't

Andy: Too bad. You can't take it back.

Sandlot: TYPO!

Please send all royalty cheques c/o Andyland.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Holy rotten brains, Batman!

For those of you have been following my adventures at the Hospital for Unwell Muppets (HUMP: affectionate nickname), you may not be aware that I, in fact, do not work in the HUMP building proper. Instead, I work at the HUMP Research Institute (RI) two blocks away. There is an outdoor pathway which traverses the intervening block between HUMP and the RI which is best known for its unofficial function as a motorcycle parking lot.

The other day, I walked this path four times over the course of the day - to and from MILF in the morning and to and from HUMP in the afternoon. In the early morning, the motorcycles had yet to arrive. Instead, there sat an unsavory looking character with a box of beer letting fly suspicious glances at passersby. A few metres away sat a street punkish-looking couple sucking serious face. I tried my best to ignore them, although I was genuinely tempted to try snap a candid shot on my camera phone for the benefit of my blog readers.

By the afternoon, the tonsil hockey-playing couple had departed, but the drinking man remained (still, apparently, with enough booze left to drink). When I made my final trek back to the RI around 4 PM, he had still not budged an inch. Along the way, I ran into my supervisor.

Andy: See that man there? He's been drinking there all day.

Supervisor: Wow, can you imagine what his brain looks like? We see kids like that - full of holes.

Drinking man was not there the next day.


This entry was
adopted by Brutus.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Goodness gracious, great balls of tennis!

So, with the summer already half over, Sydney and I have finally stepped up our annual commitment to play tennis. Thus far, this has amounted to playing... twice. It's a start.

The other day, I mentioned to Syd that my right arm was significantly more capable than my left, and that if we ever became intense tennis players, I'd be afraid of becoming noticeably asymmetrical. Her reply was as follows...

Sydney: So... use your back hand.

Andy: Dude, my back hand is still my right hand. It's just in the other direction.

Sydney: lol... I dunno.

It's actually quite unlikely, however, that we would become such vigorous players so as to warrant this kind of concern. Nonetheless, there is in fact a simple solution. My sister once worked with a lady who was a fanatical tennis player. She had posed this tennis pro the same question: "Are you ever worried that one arm will become larger than the other?" Her co-worker responded in the negative - "No, because I do one-handed push-ups with the other arm." Yikes!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Why I suck at Scrabble

I am terrible at Scrabble. I've never won a game against my well-practised sisters (one of whom can beat native-speakers in both English and French versions), and my Scrabulous record shows 2 wins to 9 losses. Things are so dire that my friend Sandlot has withdrawn my licence to play with her, noting that "If I beat you anymore, I feel that you may begin to second-guess your literacy skills." (Although maybe she's just protecting that 17-0 record)

The fact of the matter, however, is that Scrabble has nothing to do with literacy. If this blog is any indication, I have no difficulties with verbosity. My vocabulary is adequate - I can spin synonyms with ease (though, when in a pinch, one always has a friend in the thesaurus). My syntax is immaculate.

The conundrum is that Scrabble taps into an entirely different set of brain functions. Synthesizing words at will is one thing. Assembling them from a fixed and limited set of letters is entirely different. The key problem lies in the fact that my brain works aurally, whereas Scrabble is more visual. Even as I am writing, I am dictating the words in my mind. I think in phonemes; Scrabble demands I think in syllables.

Take for example, my desire to use the letters O, X, and E. I read this fragment aloud in an attempt to complete a bona fide word and wound up with "occipital." Of course, this word is not spelled "oxepital," but my brain is fixated on the sound. Stuck.

Another challenge associated with Scrabble is that size matters not. It's not the complexity or length of the word that matters, but how you align your word with those that are already in play - particularly how you use the bonus tiles. Land a triple word score? Intersect two words at once? You too can score 34 points for FIG.

So while I may not be illiterate, I'm surely no Scrabble champ... yet. But with some practise I could be, and don't call me Shirley.


...like I said: phonemes.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

If you ever doubted this Man

Today, I watched a chick flick with four girls from work (No, I do not really like chick flicks!). I realize that seeing a chick flick with a bunch of girls that I am not dating essentially pegs me as one of them, but it was one of the group's final outings before the mean one departs for Europe and medical school at... McMaster. Plus, they ate ramen. I love ramen.

The weird one managed to make me feel extra self-conscious by actually counting the number of males in the theatre. Watching girls stroll in three-by-three was an object lesson in just why these movies are called chick flicks. Based on the astounding girl-to-guy ratio, I pondered all the missed opportunities to meet women at such a venue.

Since I watch so many movies, I explained to the weird one that advertisements get repeated ad nauseum if you watch too many movies in succession. Trailers, however, keep the movie's genre and intended audience in mind. Thus, while I've seen every action trailer for the summer a dozen times, our chick flick was unlikely to sport the same trailers as Harry Potter.

My lesson for the night is that the female demographic is targeted 50% by romantic comedies and 50% by horror. Hor-freaking-ror.

Throughout the entire movie, one particularly loud male audience member was laughing his guts out at the jokes. At one point, the movie's main character said something along the lines of, "Why would [insert other male character's name] want to have sex with you if you don't want to have sex with you." Said audience member exclaimed, "That's so true!" How is that true? I'm certainly not basing my attraction to my next romantic interest on her drive to masturbate.

When I returned home, I browsed through my Reading List for new and exciting blog entries. One friend directed my attention to the Gender Analyzer v5 - a tool that analyzes your writing and estimates the probability that you are male or female.

I first attacked the "copy-paste text" feature. My rant on secretaries pegged me as 67.8% female. Oh shit... But wait, when I talk about video games, I am 76.8% male. Maybe I use punctuation too religiously? I vaguely believe that most boys are illiterate.

That's when I discovered the "classify url" feature. As it turns out, you can input an entire URL and have the website classified in one go. What happens when I plug in my little blog?

99.8% male. Never doubt me again.

...

How did others score?

Brutus (99.6% male)
Ruru (100% male - Way to be a tomboy)
Sandlot (68.6% male - Hmm...)

Friday, July 24, 2009

My long, guilty day

This summer, I've been working on a medical imaging research project at the Hospital for Unwell Muppets (HUMP: affectionate nickname). Things have been slow going thanks to a number of technical hiccups involving the tools I need to use for my analysis - particularly involving the differing UNIX environments between HUMP and the Muppet Imaging Laboratory Facility (MILF), the two facilities at which my de facto supervisor (a post doc) spends her time.

Despite working at HUMP, it's come to pass that I now need to log an increasing amount of time at MILF, because... well, things just work better there. I, however, am not an employee at MILF, and my usage of the computers there is somewhat of an inconvenience to those who actually do.

The solution for the two occasions on which I have had to work at MILF was to arrive at 7:30 AM and get things done before the real employees arrive. Today, however, in a flurry of productivity, I worked from 7:30 AM until 12:30 PM. Along the way, many regular MILF employees arrived seeking their usual computer stations. However my supervisor, much to my appreciation, has placed a great deal of importance on the pace of my work, and did not ask me to vacate the premises. Instead, she and the other students and employees spent more than half an hour trying to find non-existent workspace for the newcomers. Eventually, someone gave up and took an early lunch.

Meanwhile, I sat at my computer, working away furiously, trying not to acknowledge any of the non-productive activity going on behind me. I felt really guilty! Here I was, taking a much needed computer away from the people that it was actually intended for... and nobody was kicking me off! While it certainly set me off at a breakneck pace, I damn near had a heart attack listening out of one ear to the helpless plight of these computer-less employees.

"MILF doesn't have enough computers," complained my supervisor... except that it does. Just not enough for +1.

It's worth noting that because I live uptown in the suburbs, it actually takes me almost an hour to get to work in the morning. 7:30 work time means 6 AM rise-and-shine. Lucky for me, while I was walking between HUMP and MILF, some promotional staff were handing out free, ice cold cans of Java Monster. I've never heard of this drink before, but it claims to be coffee in a can. It tastes vaguely like Starbucks' Mocha Frappuccino and comes in a serving the size of Arizona Iced Tea.

If you inspect the ingredients, you'll notice that the most abundant "medicinal" ingredient is Taurine by a long shot. Caffeine ranks third. In other words, Java Monster isn't so much coffee in a can as it is coffee-flavoured Red Bull (except in a can twice as big). While that might sound like a potent inducer of heart palpitations, I have to admit that a few sips of that kept me going all morning... Well, that and the stressfest that was going on behind my chair.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

High School Medical

Oh yes... the Circle of Life.

Reasons why Medical School is like High School
  1. We have class all day everyday with the same people.
  2. We have a lunch period.
  3. We have lockers.
  4. I live at home.
  5. The upperclassmen are too cool for you.
  6. Group conversation consists of a) dirty jokes and b) gossip.
  7. Girls like Zac Efron.
Speaking of high school...

Reasons why I will (probably) never watch High School Musical
  1. I am not a tweenage girl.
  2. I am not [really] in high school.
  3. Lip syncing is uncool.
  4. Zac Efron has funny eyebrows.
  5. I don't like musicals... No, that is a lie. I love them.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Living in Toronto

So, living at home in the suburbs through medical school has been an interesting (and at times arduous) experience. With most of my friends living downtown, I've formed a slew of new opinions about living in Toronto. Most of these can be summarized by the following two points:

Reasons not to live in Toronto
  • City workers' unions suck
That's right, while Torontonians are busy living in their own filth, us suburbanites have proper and uninterrupted sanitation services. I feel really sad for the 10% non-union city workers who are left picking up the slack. My proposed solution? Fire the unions and hire illegal immigrants. It works in the United States.

Reasons to live in Toronto
  • City services suck
This is probably the most compelling reason I've found to move downtown. Getting kicked out of class or being late for work because your subway stopped running at Davisville Station, interrupting your morning nap and forcing you to wait three jam packed trains before you finally get on board another? Well, that's just lame.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A story about heads

Last weekend, Ruru and I attended a party hosted by a mutual friend from undergrad. This was the first time she had ever seen my hair grown out (it was short and spiky from 2000 - 2008). I registered the following complaint:

Andy: You know, when I had short hair, I never wore hats because they made me look like I was bald. Now that I have long hair, I figured hats would look better. Instead, whenever I try on a hat, my hair goes whoosh and sticks out horizontally from my head.

Ruru: Oh, maybe the hats are too small. Asians have big heads. You can't buy white people hats.

Andy: Really?

Ruru: Seriously, it's proven. Asians have big heads.

Andy: You know, now that I think about it, that sounds mildly suggestive.

Ruru: ...

Ruru: I'm not talking to you.

Of course, in the latter case, Asians really have a reputation for smaller size.

This discourse made me think of another topic: white supremacy. Back in second year of undergrad, Ruru and I attended a wine-and-cheese or meet-and-greet for students who had placed on the Dean's Honour List with Distinction the previous year. At the event was a talk given by an invited speaker. To be honest, I can't remember what the topic was nor her overall message. What I do remember is that she spent half of her time describing and disparaging an American colleague - a would-be white supremacist "academic."

This professor had apparently subjected all of his male undergraduate students to testicular size measurements. Then, through some spurious research, published the conclusion that Asian students had the biggest brains and the smallest penises. Black students had the opposite (smallest brains and largest penises). Caucasian students were in the middle on both counts. So Asians are pretty damn smart, at least, right? Well, the professor further went on to interpret the results by declaring that the Caucasian combination was in fact the ideal, optimal, and correct arrangement - hence white people were superior.

Ironically, I couldn't help but draw the correlate from these attitudes to less explicit pop culture inventions. Take for instance the popular fantasy worlds involving humans, dwarves, and elves (for example, Dungeons & Dragons or Warcraft). Dwarves are often portrayed as hot-tempered, shallow warrior types. Powerful in battle, short on finesse and smarts (big penis, small brain?). Elves on the other hand are often portrayed as intelligent, magical creatures. Lean and graceful with lithe, beautiful women and effeminate men (small penis, big brain?). Humans are in between the two in terms of both brute force and finesse. Yet, while they excel at little, they are often lauded as triumphant for being the "most versatile" or "most adaptable."

Terrans, the analogous species to high fantasy's humans in the hit video game Starcraft are described as follows: "Physically, terrans are inferior to races such as the zerg and protoss and for all intents and purposes, mentally as well. However, terrans are known for their tenacity and ability to adapt to harsh circumstances."

Put it together and you have an oddly compelling underdog story and model of the white supremacist thought process: self-described middling but balanced characteristics that are ultimately the best.


It all began as a discussion about hats...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

We are rock legends


Today, J-Rock came over to do some hardcore gaming like you've never seen. We had at first hoped to have a fuller ensemble for our Rock Band escapades, but Mello was uninterested, Stewie was busy cavorting with his other half, and Sydney was suspiciously missing.

In order to flesh out our band, I decided to do what all great lead singers do - play the guitar and sing at the same time. I took the difficulty on the guitar down to Medium so I wouldn't have to move my hands around. As for the microphone, we stood it on makeshift stand consisting of a clothing steamer (lazy-man's-iron). Rock history was ready to be made.

As proof of our activities I offer the above video and its amusing annotations. Don't expect to see my face though, as my identity shall forever remain shrouded in mystery! [insert evil laughter here]

In my defence, I'd like to note that I had already been singing for at least half an hour before we even considered filming, and my voice was already dying.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Be smooth

I went to see the new Harry Potter movie with some friends from work and undergrad. Afterwards, we hit up Jack Astor's for snacks and drinks. We are so silky smooth...

P: Excuse me, can we get another drinks menu?

Lady: Ah... I'm not a waitress here!

P: Oh... sorry...

A: Wow, that was smooth.

P: How so?

A: Uh, and by smooth, I meant not.

You may not know this, but despite four years of undergrad at a university with an excellent reputation for drinking, I am not a heavy drinker.

A: Can I order this drink? [points]

Waitress: Sure. Would you like that jacked up?

A: Um.... sure.

P: Do you even know what that means?

A: No. Absolutely not.

As it turned out, "jacked up" meant an extra shot of rum, and added an extra "half the price of the drink." Note to self: Check how much things cost before saying yes.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Don't make me GChat...

But everyone at work uses it...

So despite whatever lies you've been told, I do work while at work. However, I will admit it's been kind of a slow week. On the one hand, I've been trying to tie up the loose ends on a project involving neuroradiologists who, understandably, have very little time and never want to meet me. On the other hand, I've been trying to start pumping out results from another project where the physics and engineering smarties are still trying to code the necessary tools from scratch.

In short, I've run out of things to do until this afternoon (when hopefully one of those super-busy doctor types will have time to meet with me). What's a model student to do? Chat, blog, and Sporcle for the most part. One of the things that I won't do at work is log on to MSN. Although there are other students that do it, I find a separate chat application to be a little too blatant for my tastes. What most of the more tactful summer students use is Google Chat.

However, outside of work hours, Google Chat is kind of lame in spite of it being some up and coming trend whereby the world loves everything Google. Regardless of Jennifer's misguided insistance that Google Chat trumps Windows Live Messenger, Messenger owns GChat.

5 awesome™ reasons why Windows Live > GChat
  1. Everyone already uses MSN (except for you-know-who-you-are) - Seriously, making the switch to GChat will mean forgoing the contact list that I've been assembling since I was twelve years old... and using more than two messengers at once is vaguely inconvenient.

  2. Web-based interfaces are so 1997 - I used to check my e-mail in my browser. But in 2006 I was introduced to Microsoft Outlook... I can check 5 accounts, schedule caldenar reminders, and keep track of tasks all in one slick package. In other words, there's no reason for me even to glance at the GMail webpage, let alone hang out there.

    Actually, because my GMail cleverly deletes new e-mails after they've been downloaded to Outlook, the only e-mails I had sitting in my web-based inbox were a couple dozen self-addressed tests that I'd fired off while trying to set it up.

  3. Tabbed chatting - The greatest thing Microsoft ever ripped off of Mozilla... ever. Actually, to be honest I can't remember if it's a Windows Live feature or part of my Messenger Plus! addon... but it is awesome.

  4. Contact management - You caught me. I don't really like having super_flip_boi on my contact list nor persons who confuse you with their ever shifting, uninformative, yet poetic names which change daily (e.g. Monday: "rose petals falling on a quiet pool" / Tuesday: "Neil Patrick Harris is so kawaii~~"). Messenger gives me the oddly empowering ability to give everyone on my list a nickname - so instead of "Optimus Prime," you're the much more comprehenisble "John Doe (UToronto)." I do not have OCD.

  5. GChat makes me hate emoticons - I'll admit it, I kind of like faces. The odd smiley here and there is a powerful addition to the online repertoire of punctuation. GChat has awful emotes that rotate as if they are possessed yet still somehow wind up lopsided or blink at me as though they are trying to take me home at the end of the night. Chatting on GChat makes me never want to use another emoticon again... in my life. Some of you might see that as an improvement.
Windows Live > GChat. QED.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I hate secretaries

When I grow up, my secretary is going to be a robot.

So, if you thought my HR trials and tribulations were over once I finally got my badge, you were wrong. At the Hospital for Unwell Muppets (HUMP: affectionate codename) the nightmare never ends.

But let's begin at the beginning. Back at the start of the school year, I attempted to sign up for a scholarship research program which ran from December to December - part-time during the school year and full-time during the summer (June - August). The scholarship would cover half of the student's pay, and the supervisor would cover the other half. It was a pretty sweet deal, but with 224 keen medical students vying for somewhere in the order of 20 positions, they filled up quickly. My supervisor (who may henceforth be referred to as Super), being the saint that she is, offered to cover the full cost of my employment. I would still be enrolled in the scholarship program (i.e. I would still be bound by the structure of the program - seminars, reports, abstract, poster, presentation, etc.) but would be paid out of my supervisor's pocket at HUMP.

Apparently, in order to be paid, I need to be employed. In order to be employed, I need to be trained. Trainings at HUMP only run on Mondays, and despite trying to book one for December and one for March, secretarial incompetence meant I wouldn't be trained (or paid) until June. According to my supervisor, this meant my pay would have to come in a greater sized lump sum during the summer. Fine by me.

Lump sum did not occur, and I was instead slapped with a summer student contract of approximately <$11/hr (about $1.50 more than minimum wage). But that's okay. The most important things are the references and publications this summer will bear fruit to. And I'm still getting paid, right?

This is where the real fiasco began. My pay stubs did not appear in the pay stub folder, and when I asked Secretary X (X as in eXsanguinate) about it, she asked me to check if I was actually being paid.

Of course, the best way to check this is via online banking. I've never used online banking, and I've gotten away for 23 years without doing so. Somehow, I've always felt like opening your bank account on a personal computer is like leaving a little child on the side of a road - that is, vulnerable. Still, waiting for my statement was just not going to give me the up-to-date or timely information that I needed. Online banking, here I come.

As it turns out, I was being paid. That's good. However, I was being paid half of what I should be paid. That's bad. I took the information about these two pay periods to Secretary X who said she was extremely busy and that she would look into it (meanwhile, she's been "looking into" my key card access to the lunch area for the last month even though all she needs to do is write up a little note to fix it). After badgering her for another two weeks (and by badger, I mean gently reminding her once or twice a week), I finally ended up at her desk today intent on a progress report. This is how things went:

A: Hi. Have you heard anything back from payroll?

X: Oh yeah, I did... but I forget. They sent me an e-mail... Yeah, you're being paid. See here? Paid. $43.50. What's the problem again?

A: Well, I gave you that information last time.

X: Yeah, I know you gave me some information. I don't really remember. I'm very busy. There's grants and blah blah blah. Super needs me. So what pay periods are you missing?

A: I'm not missing pay periods. I'm getting paid. I'm just getting paid the wrong amount. I should be getting the same as all the other students, but I'm getting half.

X: Oh, so you're getting paid, but you're complaining about how much? You need to talk to Super about that. That has nothing to do with me.

A: No, but that's not what my contract says.

X: Look I don't remember what your contract says. Who are you comparing your salary with?

A: The other summer students.

X: What the heck? You guys compare pay with each other? [eyes roll] Okay look, your contract says $11 an hour. That's what it says on payroll. You should be fine.

A: Except that it's not. How many hours are in a work week... 40?

X: 35?

A: Fine, whatever, 35. It's $11 and hour, 35 hours a week... so that should be what... at least $350 a week? I get paid every two weeks, so that should be $700-$800 every pay period, right?

X: I don't know?!

A: No, I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. [At this point I had to grab a calculator and compute it in front of her]

X: Fine, well I don't know what the problem is. Show me your pay stubs.

A: This is a problem. I don't get pay stubs, remember? They don't come here. I don't know where they are.

X: No pay stubs? Well, I don't know what the problem is, but it's a big problem and I don't have time for this right now. Sorry I'm being a little short but I'm busy and Super needs me.

A: Okay, that's fine. I know you're busy. I don't need it taken care of right now, I'm just reminding you that this problem exists.

I later heard from the research assistant that Secretary X had indeed been hard at work... planning a wedding for someone or other. It reminded me of another time one of the post-docs let loose in the hallway, holding an expletive-laden rant about how they couldn't get any work done due to Secretary X blasting Michael Jackson tunes and dancing around. I hate Secretary X.

As a sidenote, one of my non-HUMP-employed friends mentioned that I am probably too nice to Secretary X. However, Super actually seems quite fond of X (Super being the only one that X really pays attention to anyways), and since X has been at HUMP much longer than me (and will probably continue to be long after I am gone), I figure I shouldn't disparage X too much lest I get on Super's bad side and torpedo any potential future references.

The real kicker, however, is that the "$43.50" number that X dropped at the beginning of our conversation was not a fabrication. I checked my online balance again today, and while for my first two pay periods I received half the sum I was entitled to, for the third I received 1/20th. $43.50 for two weeks of work is about $0.62/hr. I feel like a slave in Uganda stitching together sneakers in a sweatshop.

Yes, sometimes working at HUMP feels like being taken for a ride.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Koreans are smoking...

And I don't mean smoking hot, unless we're talking about Son Yeh Jin, of course.

One of the most widely disseminated stereotypes about Asians by other Asians is that all Koreans smoke. Korean smokers can often be spotted as lead characters in Korean cinema or huddled together for warmth outside undergraduate residence buildings in the frigid, subzero days of winter.

I had a non-smoking Korean friend once share with me with this interesting piece of information: Apparently, many Koreans import their cigarettes from Korea. These lighter Korean cigarettes contain less nicotine, allowing Koreans to feed their habit all the more heavily.

The problem with that, I noted, is that nicotine isn't exactly the most harmful substance in cigarettes. Sure, it may be responsible for their addictive properties, but it's the 4000 other chemicals that do you in in the end.

In fact, "light" cigarettes where the nicotine content is reduced or filters are applied to dilute the smoke may be in fact more harmful than regular cigarettes, since smokers will smoke more or inhale more deeply to compensate.

But onwards to my amusing anecdote...

One Saturday morning in undergrad, I rolled out of bed at approximately 2 PM, forcing myself to trek over to the cafeteria before the 3 PM end of brunch. Along the way, I ran into a Korean acquaintance of mine who was in my program. We exchanged cordial greetings, and then he proceeded to ask me where I was headed.

"I'm going to eat," I replied. "I just woke up."

"At 2 o'clock?" he asked incredulously.

At this point, I wasn't sure what was so surprising about my answer. Was it that shameful to wake up on a Saturday afternoon and flop out of bed for brunch?

"Well... yes," I answered. "I haven't eaten yet."

"Oh..." he replied. "...Do you smoke up often?"

No. I abso-friggen-lutely do not. But it says something about your priorities when you confuse "woke up" for "smoke up."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Why I wear glasses

Yesterday, I was a subject in my friend's MEG (magnetoencephalogaphy) study. Because MEG is a functional study, I was actually required to perform certain tasks at the same time as being scanned, which required proper visual function. However, wearing glasses into a giant magnet is for one reason or another taboo. So I donned a fresh pair of soft contacts and shed my glasses, an event which happens every once in a blue moon.

All day, I had friends asking me "What happened to your glasses?" or "Are you wearing contacts?" (to which I usually shot back a snarky, "Nope, I'm pretty blind today.")

Still, it's understandable that people didn't know quite what to make of my glasses-free face, because I wear glasses all the time - and for good reason. Which brings us to the question-du-jour: Why do I wear glasses?
  • Because I'm blind as a wombat - Okay, no. Wombats aren't blind (as far as I know), but I'm not quite as blind as an actual bat (that would be Mello). Clocking in at a whopping -6.5, I just happen to be pretty seriously impaired.

  • Because glasses make me look smarter - It's true. Nothing says hard-working, studious young bloke like a pair of serious-looking eyeglasses.

  • Because glasses hide dark circles - Like any student, I am frequently a victim of sleep debt. While glasses can't protect me from falling asleep in class (that requires a different kind of glasses), those dark frames do draw attention from those unsightly bags under my eyes.

  • Because glasses fill out my face - It's not that my eyes are unusually small - they're actually quite passable. I'm Asian. But when I wear contacts for the entire day, my eyes get tired and squinty by the end... and trust me, that's not particularly photogenic.

  • Because I can see better - I don't know if it's because I have an infinitesimally small astigmatism in one eye, but for some reason or another my optometrist was unable to fit my contacts as well as my glasses. This means that while I delight in seeing the world through my own eyes, I get kind of woozy if I try to read too much text with my contact lenses on.

  • Because glasses let your eyes breathe - Can't you hear your poor eyes being smothered by your soft contacts? They're screaming, "Oxygen! Oxygen! Dammit, I'm getting worse by the minute! Somebody get this thing off me!" Sure, they stop screaming after awhile, but that's just because you've asphyxiated them to death.
The way I see it, there's only one good reason for me to wear contact lenses on a more regular basis (other than the fact that I don't have to wipe them down every time dirt flies at me - apparently dirt on your actual eye is not quite as debilitating):
  • Sunglasses - Because no matter how great your glasses look, sunglasses are glasses' cooler older brother. Since putting glasses-on-glasses is more than likely to negate that cool factor, it's best to shed ye old spectacles if you are keen to don these sun-loving devices.
But still, glasses ftw.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Friends don't let friends do helium

You may vaguely recall that my birthday was a month and a half ago. For the occasion, Mello and J-Rock bought me a floating, helium-filled Winnie the Pooh balloon, which I was then required to wear tied around my wrist for the rest of the evening. That balloon, amazingly enough, is still flying high (though it looks less plump than before). I assume the balloon is giving its best effort because of my assurances to Mello and J-Rock that when this wonderful sign of our mutual affinity for one another deflates, our friendship will be promptly terminated... just kidding.

But it seems that in my post-birthday gushing, I forgot to retell the amusing story of how this embarrassingly colourful floating Pooh balloon came to be...

Yes, this balloon had its humble origins in a grocery store somewhere in the Great White Expanse known today as Canada. I had diverted Mello and J-Rock on a quest to locate and bring back birthday candles, unaware that they would return with a shiny, floating object. But this balloon was not always full of energetic gravity-defying chutzpah. It began as a limp, lifeless protoform of a Pooh balloon. In order to imbue it with the grandeur for which it was destined, J-Rock and Mello approached a friendly-looking store employee and asked the following question:

"Do you guys sell helium?"

The employee recoiled with shock, then delivered a glaring cut-eye.

"No we do not sell helium!"

Translation: "I don't know what kind of drugs you kids do these days, but this is a respectable establishment. Take your sketchy selves elsewhere." As an aside, apparently in Korea all the bad boys sniff glue in lieu of doing drugs. I did not make this up.

Deflated like their balloon, J-Rock and Mello gestured at their limp, unhappy Pooh and whimpered,

"So... you can't fill this up for us?"

Suddenly, the employee's face brightened and their disapproving scowl was replaced by a congenial smile.

"Oh! Yes, we can do that for you... We just don't... sell it."

And that's the story of how I got my Pooh balloon, which still floats valiantly in my room to this day. Fin.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Operation Ragnarok: Devlish Surfin

So my friend Ruru has submitted this awesome design for Ragnarok Online's summer t-shirt contest. It's cute, summery, awesome, and you should totally own one!

The contest hinges on this complicated concept called "crowd funding," which relies on a t-shirt's popularity to cover the costs of manufacture.

How does it work? You pay $10 for the t-shirt (plus approximately $4 in shipping). After 50 people "vote" on the t-shirt by ponying up their $10, it will go into print. If you want to buy the shirt after it goes into print, it costs $20... so buy being an early adopter, you get the t-shirt for half price! You can put your $10 toward many t-shirts, and whichever shirt hits print first will consume your money.

Help my friend win by purchasing one of these fine garments (and help me get mine too, since the shirt is not in print yet T_T)!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Fight or flight


Fear is intimately tied to the sympathetic nervous system. Adrenaline pumps through your veins, getting you ready to fight or flee. Your heart quickens, your muscles tense, and your body gears up in perfect attention. You shake. You quiver. You wait for the next step.

But sometimes there is no next step - we're irrationally afraid. Those are phobias.

Phobias have to be treated by disassociating the fearful stimulus from the fear response, and this can only be done by teaching the body that there's nothing to be afraid of. One classical treatment is through stepwise exposure. Afraid of heights? Picture yourself standing on the second floor of a building and keep that image until your fear is reduced by half. How about the seventh floor? The fiftieth? Now how about actually going up to the seventh floor?

Of course, some people, short on time and money, go for the quick fix. Flooding is the psychological equivalent of ripping off the Band-Aid. In principal, it involves forcing you to directly face the fearful stimulus (à la Fear Factor). Sure you'll be scared out of your mind, but your body can't keep up the fear response forever. So eventually, it will be forced to gear down. Bingo. Hopefully you didn't have a heart attack along the way. My wonderful first year psychology prof described it like this:

Let's describe flooding in a perfect world where there were no ethical constraints. What are you afraid of? Snakes? Great. Then I'll put you in a room with a snake. Close the door. Lock it. And then I'll stand in the control room watching you on the camera. You're not coming out of there until you overcome your fear.

What's the first thing you will do? You'll run around the room trying to get away from the snake. Maybe you'll hop onto the bed to because the snake is on the ground.

"Nice one. Now I am going to retract the bed into the wall..."

So what do you do now? You run around some more. Maybe you have a hammer with you, so you pull out the hammer and you beat the snake to death. Phew, no more snake.

"That's not very nice... Now I'm going to introduce a bigger snake."

So I open the door and I put in a bigger snake, and I take away your hammer... No, the snake eats your hammer. Now what do you do? You freak out. Your run around and around and around trying to get away from the snake! But you can't keep that up forever. Eventually you get tired and worn out, and you have to give up. You lie down and you want to sleep.

So what do you have to do? You make friends with the snake!

That's how flooding works, friends... in principle... in an ethically flexible world.

Overcoming our fears is very much a top-down process. That is, the higher centres suppress what we have naturally learned to do. Allow me to share this anecdote from my psychiatry prof this year:

So my wife and I were on vacation in [insert sketchy little country here]. While we were stopped at traffic light, a robber came up to our car, opened the door and robbed us. Then he ran off.

Now I don't know what I was thinking, but I got out of our car and I ran after him, leaving my wife in the car cowering in fear at this traumatic experience. Boy did I run after that guy. I ran faster and farther than I had ever gone in my entire life... until we hit some dark alleyway where the culprit ducked into a building. It wasn't until then that I stopped and started to think: I don't know where I am. There could be a bunch of guys waiting to ambush me in that building. What am I doing? I should probably go back to my wife alone in the car.

I went back, and we went back to the hotel. It was a scary experience, but by the time we got back I was starving and exhausted. I ate a meal and I slept like a baby. Meanwhile, my wife wasn't hungry and couldn't eat a thing. She was shaking, and she couldn't sleep a wink all night.

My point is, no matter how stupid it was for me to run after that guy, I did what my body wanted to do in that situation. It geared up and prepared to fight or run. That's exactly what I did. I ran like I'd never run before. Meanwhile, my wife, who was a bit more rational stayed in the car, didn't do anything stupid... but all that gearing up her body did had no outlet. So while I slept like a baby, she shook through the night.

I'd also like to note that this professor said the Fear Factor approach (sticking someone afraid of spiders in a tub of spiders) is very bad. But I have to admit, I loved the illustration of my previous prof.

So, the last two weeks have been probably among the most arduous in my entire life, and my adrenaline has been pumping out non-stop. That's unlikely to change anytime soon. It's been challenging to sit quietly and smile, whilst writing entertaining blog entries so my dear readers don't all pick up and run away. Meanwhile I feel like someone has my heart clutched in their hand and is squeezing. That's right, heart ache is not just a metaphorical feeling. I feel like it's the day before an exam that I'm screwed for... except every day.

Putting theory to practice, I therefore decided to start the day off with some warm-up Wii Fit exercises and then cut loose on the punching bag that's been hanging in my basement for the last few years. Did it help? Yes. Do I feel good now? Not really.

Although while I was actually performing the exercises, I did feel pretty good... mostly because I couldn't tell anymore whether my heightened pulse was physiological normalcy or from unhealthy anxiety.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Monster Hunter Failure Unite

I'm no stranger to self-punishing games. I've devoted hundreds of hours level grinding through Final Fantasies, Guild Wars, and Ragnarok Online. I could swear I am the perfect match for Capcom's aptly titled monster hunting adventure, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite... Except that it sucks.

Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is a PSP RPG which has taken Japan by storm. Emphasizing cooperative wireless play with friends or strangers, MHFU has pushed PSP hardware sales and spawned all manner of merchandising (special edition PSP's, carry bags, toys, beverages, etc...).

I can see why. It's a gorgeous game, with hundreds of weapons and armors to collect, customize, and use. The adventure is rife with character development options and it's cooperative to boot. The emphasis on local wireless (ad-hoc) as opposed to online (infrastructure) play means none of the retarded thirteen year olds that populate your typical massively multiplayer online games.

So what's the problem? The gameplay is broken. Let me make this clear - I really really wanted to like MHFU. I loved the concept, the graphics, and virtually everything I'd seen of it... until I actually played it. Even after downloading the demo, I gave the game multiple chances to impress me, punishing myself with a dozen hand-cramping attempts to play it. No. Fundamentally broken.

Let's begin with the monster hunting itself. Monsters have a ridiculous amount of health, and there are specific strategies to killing them. These are not always obvious, nor is it easy to line up the target. The factors working against you being able to are legion. Collision detection is crappy. Characters move slowly. Camera is frustrating. Auto-lock is absent.

In a fascinating twist of logic, Capcom decided to map character movement to the PSP's analog nub (already a thumb-cramping device) on the left side, then supplement this with camera controls mapped to the PSP's D-pad also on the left side. The only way to control both at the same time is to contort your thumb and index finger into an unnatural C-shape that Mounter Hunter aficionados affectionately call "finger-hooking." Personally, it makes me feel like I have rheumatoid arthritis. However, you literally cannot play the game without it because monsters move fast, you move slow, you need to hit precisely, and the auto-camera sucks bollocks.

Whilst I was still trying to get the hang of this game, I tried to seek help on Monster Hunter online forums. The advice I found for new players like me amounted to two sentences: "Don't get hit. Hit the monster." Gee whiz, thanks professor.

Seasoned Monster Hunter players will shrug off the game's deficits as merely "a challenge." Apparently, "challenge" is the word they prefer to use when qualifying the game's dysfunctional controls. "It's not broken, it just makes you work harder!" After all, if you don't get arthritis, you're not committed enough.

Gamespot recently released a pitch perfect review of MHFU, which said:

Lock-on control could have been used to alleviate at least some of the camera's problems, but yet again, it's nowhere to be found. Because you're supposed to attack different parts of a monster's body to achieve different results it's true that lock-on control might remove the challenge of and pinpoint control needed to, say, aim for the head versus the front leg. There have been variants of lock-on control employed in other games that still allow for body part targeting though. Further, the "challenge" here is turned into frustration thanks to the initial problem of a poor camera system.

Bang on. Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is a game that is loaded with content and remains conceptually appealing. Hundreds of hours of character development, engaging RPG gameplay, local multiplayer, and the sweetest graphics ever seen on a handheld device all make it a compelling sell. But an insane level of difficulty, broken camera, and conniption fit-inducing controls all make it impossible to recommend.


This entry was
adopted by Brutus.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Revenge of the Fallen

Today I went to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen with Brutus. Despite critical reviews, the movie was actually quite good! True, the plot was a little bit sketchy (Why didn't the government notice this big alien satellite in the sky? Why reveal the location of every secret government hideout on the radio on a whim?), but are you really going to see this movie for the plot?

As per expectations, the movie was loaded with high end explosions, killer battles, and excellent special effects. It had a distinctly old-school feel with Yoda-esque voices and Emperor Palpatine-like villains ("My apprentice... [evil snicker]"). Not exactly original, slightly cheesy, and certainly standing on the shoulders of giants; but nonetheless entertaining. All those gratuitous slow-motion Megan Fox running scenes didn't hurt either...

One thing I did take issue with, however, was how the movie often deviated from the spirit of the Transformers series. The second half, loaded with giant vehicles, interlocking robots, and epic battles was perfect. The first half involved tiny, skittish Decepticons which melded together to form a larger robot (oddly reminiscent of Stargate's "replicators"); and human-form Decepticons which tried to seduce Sam then kill him in the throes of the act. I mean, please. This is Transformers, not the First Wave.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Run-on sentence

Sometimes people message you randomly. You know the ones - the ones that haven't talked to you in years and years. The ones who aren't really your friends, but you get excited that they want to communicate with you. Except they don't - they just want something else.

I've been that person before. I needed to survey ladies for a Statistics project I was doing on female perceptions of gaming, so I took a convenience sample of every person with two X chromosomes on my Messenger contact list. I'm sorry for disappointing you.

To celebrate Mello's safe return from C-U-B-A with J-Rock and Yuffie (Oooooh...), allow me to share the following exciting chat that Mello received via Messenger from a non-friend while I was helping her pack up for her trip last week:

can you do me a favour please? Karen (my gf) is doing her thesis on a psychometric test, basically an online questionnaire that will take you 30 mins to do her thesis depends on it and if she can't get enough response by wednesday, m she will fail so can i ask her to send you an e-mail with the links please?

Now read that as fast as you possibly can with emphasis on the, "she will fail." Then, please laugh out loud.

Monday, July 6, 2009

They call it Sporcle

Over the weekend, I was introduced to probably the greatest productivity-killing website ever - Sporcle.com. It's essentially a game site rife with quizzes on topics ranging from the periodic table of elements to the last name of every Seinfeld character.

This morning, with little to do because my scheduled meeting was being continually postponed, two other summer students and I huddled around a computer and went through virtually every Sporcle quiz that was worth doing. It was very... productive.

I am fully cognizant of the hypocrisy of having sent out the following text message this morning:

Have a nice day at work. Don't sporcle too much! :)

For the record, I obliterated every quiz regarding human anatomy... which I'll use to justify my continued enrolment in medical school...

The periodic table decimated me though...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

As seen on TV

Thought it was only in Grey's Anatomy that residents have hot, steamy forbidden sex with their attendings? Feast your ears upon this true story told to me by a real doctor...

When Dr. X was in residency, one of their fellow residents of an unspecified specialty in an unspecified hospital had been sitting in the on-call room with one of the attending physicians, described as "one of the nicest attendings ever." In bursts the chief resident, who immediately levelled her gaze at the attending and exclaimed,

"Herpes? You gave me herpes?!"

Another listener to this story commented, "That's pretty funny. Well... not for her. After all, herpes is forever." It is? Apparently so. It hides in your nerve endings and can flare up at any time given, say, an immunocompromising event. Consider it a souvenir of your hot, steamy forbidden shenanigans.