Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trick or Treat

Well, it's finally Halloween, but things feel a little bit more Trick than they are Treat. Out there on this Halloween evening, a very frustrated lady is trying to navigate a group project with a linguistically, technologically, and otherwise generally impaired elderly grad student. Meanwhile, studying for my PBD exam on Monday has me tired, frustrated, and zombified (instead of out there with the slutty witches, police officers, and nurses)... or is PBD the zombie that's devouring me? Dun dun dun...

I'd rather have people jumping around corners at me in bad costumes...

Halloween's not all bad this year, though. It's inspired a lot of artistically rich content all over the blog-o-sphere and beyond:

Check out art.poopage for Ruru's incredible Jack-O-Lantern, created during a pumpkin carving contest at Kushima's favourite place - Grad House. To check out the whole design process...


Or visit nulla dies sin linea for a glimpse of bara-chan's meticulously iced Halloween cookies. One of the most talented creators of Ragnarok Online fan art, she's clearly as comfortable with the icing sugar as she is with a drawing tablet. To see the full cookie set...


Then, of course, there is this amazing find shared with my by Kate. Check out "Towering Transformers" to see the product of a family who spent 6 months creating life-sized replicas of Bumble Bee and Optimus Prime from the Michael Bay movie.


Here's wishing everyone a safe and Happy Halloween. Don't let school bite you in the ass!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Don't be a dick

Today, we were graced with one final lecture by our favourite politically incorrect prof. The lecture was on diseases in the returning traveller, and essentially outlined the four most common causes of fever with which out-of-country tourists return: malaria, dengue, typhoid, and tick typhus. Tick typhus is an illness caused by the bacteria Rickettsia, and leads to black necrotic lesions with an erythematous (red) margin. Our professor shared this anecdote:

One time, I received a call from a physician out in the community. She wanted to consult about a patient that had recently been travelling out of the country. He had a black necrotic lesion with an erythematous margin on his penis.

I said, "Oh, I know what this is! He has dick typhus!" The doctor on the other side was completely unamused. I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever said - no, it is the funniest thing I've ever said.

I think my prof should be on one of those Becel commercials for the immature young at heart.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

E, N to the T

Today, I had my Clinical Skills session on Otolaryngology, popularly known as ENT (ear, nose, throat) or Head & Neck Surgery. All I have to say about this is... ENT is freaking awesome. If I were keen to become a surgeon (and I am not), I would definitely apply for this specialty. The awesomeness of my ENT experience did not include having a scope passed up my nose and down into my mouth while my throat muscles were frozen, although this did happen as well.

The thing about medicine is that a lot of the time, it feels like we're poking around in the dark. We understand some of the mechanisms of how things happen, but we don't understand why they happen. We know that blocking receptor X with illicit result Y or that region A of the brain subserves function B, but the specific details are a little foggy.

For instance, you can align the structures of a severed hand and restore some function, but you can't guarantee that even by lining up the two sides of an interrupted nerve, the individual neurons will find their original sheaths or even end up going to the right place. We can only attack things at a relatively gross level.

In general, we satisfy ourselves with our cause-and-effect knowhow because, well, we can help people with it. Still, sometimes it feels a bit crude. That is, unless you're an ENT.

Back in first-year anatomy, an ENT resident came to help us with our dissections for a few sessions. ENT, she boasted to us, requires finesse. Neurosurgery involves lopping off whole sections of the brain plus or minus. In ENT, she explained, individual nerves and highly populated regions of the body needed to be dissected with the utmost microscopic care. True? Maybe so.

Basically, what has me gushing about ENT today are two little words: cochlear implant. What is a cochlear implant? It is an ear for the deaf. So sophisticated and yet so logical is this device that if medicine boiled down just to cochlear implants, one would think that we have the human body licked - none of the fog that surrounds much of our other medical knowhow.

Here's how it works. In the normal ear, sound enters through the external ear canal and is transmitted to a spiral sea-shell shaped organ called the cochlea. On the cochlea are thousands of tiny hairs called stereocilia, and these hairs do a little dance to transmit sound to your neurons which in turn pass the sound along to your brain. The cochlea is arranged "tonotopically," which is to say it is organized in a way that the stereocilia on one end code for low pitch and the stereocilia on the other end code for high pitch. Aging, loud sounds, and a variety of diseases cause these stereocilia to die. They do not grow back, and the result is hearing loss.

In a person with moderate hearing loss, a hearing aid, which amplifies the sound may be sufficient to restore normal function. But what if all of those stereocilia are gone? What if you are cut and dry deaf? This is where the cochlear implant comes in.

The cochlear implant begins with a microphone placed near the external ear canal. The microphone collects sounds from the outside and transmits it to a miniature processor. The processor does a little math and then transmits commands to a tiny filament covered with electrodes which has been carefully installed surgically around the cochlea. The electrodes fire at different places along the length of the cochlea, essentially taking over the function of the stereocilia. Voila, an artificial ear. What was once deaf, now can hear.

I can't even begin to express to you just how absolutely amazing this device is. I mean, we are essentially hijacking the brain's neurons, bypassing the ear, and restoring a sensory modality that was previously completely lost! Nowhere else in the body can I think of an instance where our understanding of function is so sophisticated that neurons can be externally stimulated to elicit a complex function. Sure, we install pacemakers to hearts, but these do little more than beat to a rhythm. Nowhere else in the body can we restore a sensation that has been completely eradicated - not sight, not taste, not touch, not smell. Freaking awesome. I think I'm in love.

Now, the cochlear implant does have it's drawbacks - it's not quite as sophisticated as what you were born with. While your native ear had thousands of stereocilia, the cochlear implant maxes out at somewhere in the range of 32 channels. Amazingly enough, this is sufficient for the brain to interpret everyday speech at more or less the same level as normal. Where the implant falters is in the appreciation of music (which tends to sound like noise, a significant quality of life issue), localization (figuring out where a sounds is coming from), and discriminating sounds amongst a high level of background noise.

But hearing is believing. Below, I've included a demo of what it sounds like to hear through a cochlear implant. A particular phrase is repeated but heard as though you were listening through 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, and 32 channels in sequence. The final iteration presents the original sound.


Get your own playlist at snapdrive.net!

Once you've listened to the file once, go back and listen to it again. The brain is a highly adaptable organ, and you'll likely find that you can understand the phrase at an even lower number of channels than you could originally.

Below I've included another sound file which demonstrates what it sounds like to hear music through a cochlear implant. Again, the musical excerpt plays as through 4, 8, 16 and 32 channels before the original sound is revealed. You'll see that at 4 and 8 channels, the music sounds something like an airplane taking off. Even at 32, it doesn't come close to approximating the actual melody.


Get your own playlist at snapdrive.net!

Oh dear, what a science rush.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Showdown of the Scholars

Yesterday, I was baffled to learn that many of my contemporaries overlook the scholarly research databases on which we have all been trained in favour of frank Google searches. After all, throughout undergrad and medical school I've received at least four or five library-facilitated search tutorials, all of which emphasized the robustness and sanctity of tools such as Medline. Supervising professors and post-docs have also all expected me to conduct targeted literature review in this manner. And while I have certainly supplemented my Medline searches with Google Scholar (for its ease of use) and reference mining, the utility of Ovid searches has been etched into my brain as sacrosanct.

Yet with Kushima, a second-year medical student with publications belted, and Sandlot, a graduate student studying a health-related field, both falling on the side of plain old Google searches (not even Google Scholar), I have begun to call into question my perception of scholarly research trends. It thus falls upon you, dear reader, to settle the score and answer the question...


Let the showdown begin.


This entry was
adopted by Brutus.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

So you studied at UofT, huh?

Today, I had a library session as part of my Community Health course. This is probably the umpteenth time I've been taught to use Medline via Ovid over the course of my educational career. Still, I suppose it never hurts to have a little refresher on scholarly research and to be reminded of what kind of support library services offer.

Toward the end of the session, a girl in my class stuck up her hand and asked, "So where do you actually go to access Medline?" Holy Mother of Pearl! I thought. Could this girl have not used Medline before... ever?

I brought this up later when Kushima and I were attending a lunchtime session on critical review as part of our participation in the University of Toronto Medical Journal.

Andy: Did you hear that girl during our session who asked where you go to access Medline? That boggled my mind.

Kushima: Oh, yeah I don't know if I could answer that either... Ovid something?

Andy: Wait, you haven't used Medline before?

Kushima: No, what would I use it for? So complicated.

Andy: Didn't you do research this summer?

Kushima: Yeah, but if you need a specific article and you know the title, you can just type it into PubMed. And otherwise, you can just type something into Google and it will usually give you something relevant.

Andy: Really? So you just use Google Scholar?

Kushima: Oh, I don't even use Scholar...

Andy: Wait, you just use Google?! Oh dear...

Scholarly research at its finest.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Do you remember Hanson?

In 1997, along came a prepubescent boy band composed of three brothers - Isaac, Taylor, and Zac Hanson. They were the Jonas Brothers or Justin Bieber of their time - young, catchy, and unjustifiably popular. Their breakout hit MMMBop featured three boys who looked and sounded like girls and completely incomprehensible lyrics, though this didn't stop it from being played on every radio station and garnering three Grammy nominations.

Of course, their runaway popularity didn't save them from being the butt of everyone's ridicule. At the time of the arrival of MMMBop, I had been working on a personal art project of sorts - a collage of different magazine clippings (mostly science fiction spaceships) applied to a starry background with amusing text bubbles depicting their interaction. Amongst the chaos of star-fighters geekily blasting away at each other and droids floating away into oblivion bobbed the decapitated heads of the Hanson brothers, spewing as witty and self-deprecating banter as an eleven year-old mind could devise. Their senseless lyrics and girly ways were sufficient impetus to draw my tweenage ire.

(Sadly, while I have distant photos of the aforementioned collage hanging on my wall, I gifted the actual item away to a friend many years ago.)


Then, just when I thought that Hanson had gone the way of the one-hit-wonder, they resurfaced in time to appear on 2000's pop music compilation Now! 5. With their voices cracked and their jaws squared off, this time around Hanson had produced a genuinely likable rock song entitled... This Time Around. With that last hurrah, Hanson's popularity got sick and died, never to be heard from again.

Yet with that final effort, Hanson managed to transform my memory of them to the guys who sang This Time Around in the glory days of music rather than the three girls whose decapitated heads graced my childhood geek collage. Well done, gentlemen.

P.S. Did you know that Hanson actually still exists as a band? It's true.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bump in the Night

I, like Columbus from the United States of Zombieland, hate clowns. It's the month of October, and with it come Tootsie Rolls galore, kids wearing devil costumes, and slutty nurses (...slutty police officers, slutty witches, and slutty - well, you get the idea). This year, my second Pathobiology exam provides a convenient excuse an unfortunate obstacle to participating in Halloween festivities.

In lieu of spending Halloween day dressed up like an emo rockstar, elbowing strangers in the face at a club and eating the cruddiest pizza of my life, I opted to celebrate Halloween early with Wonderland's Halloween Haunt - open now.


Halloween Haunt is a haunted-house type attraction with ten mazes set up around the Wonderland grounds and a show playing in the theatre. I headed over with Syd and a couple of other high school acquaintances. The group number was notably truncated from last minute dropouts.

Over the course of the evening, my friends and I managed to hit all ten mazes but missed the last viewing of the show. If I had expected the Haunt to be exciting, I was sorrowfully disappointed. The night got off to a great start, with a logjam to get into the park through the ill-conceived single lane entrance. I was genuinely disillusioned by the number of people streaming into the park. Mentally, I braced myself to spend all night in line.

We began our adventure at two mazes at the far end of the park - Blood Shed and Club Blood. Our experience in the Blood Shed set the tone for the rest of the evening. We herded in, single file, four among a never ending moving stream of people. The maze weaved and bobbed with the occasional dangling obstacle hanging from the ceiling. While the maze was decorated, there was very little in the way of tricks or treats - no trap doors, no animatronic beasts of fury. In fact, the "shock value" was achieved almost entirely by near pitch black and people in costumes popping out from behind every corner. Because you could see the people in front of you, you'd miss the scare at least fifty percent of the time; and the scare would never hit the whole group, only the person in front (we took turns).

Upon entering each maze, a kindly Wonderland attendant would tell you, "Don't touch the monsters. The monsters will not touch you." This, of course, meant no strange hands grabbing your feet unexpectedly and no monsters creeping up behind you to tap you over the shoulder. Monsters almost exclusively needed to approach you from the front, and while sometimes these costumed cretins could look menacing, they would seldom lunge at you should you manage to make eye contact with them before they did so (although, some did entertain the tactic of slithering around you and whispering in your ear). The effect was not completely lost, because given an effective enough actor, your body can still twitch in anticipation of being attacked, even if strangulation by monster is, in fact, prohibited.

Other than jumping out from corners and creeping up in your face, the monsters utilized one more tactic to get around their no-contact handicap - sound. There was a lot of unexpected banging on walls or tables in the dark in order to elicit a jump. All cheap tricks, I assure you. After the first couple of mazes, it was hard to do more than yawn at these occasionally menacing looking creatures, as we had already become accustomed to looking carefully around each corner as we walked around it.

Club Blood was actually fairly well lit. Like something out of a bad vampire flick, this venue tried to recreate a dance club-like atmosphere with monsters mingling around. Because you could, for the most part, actually see where you were going, there was very little to intimidate. As such, it came out more as a dark and twisted art piece rather than a scary maze. There were a couple of unique moments, however, like where they split us up in two separate directions. Syd and I, finding ourselves for the first time alone on a path laden with monsters, had nobody in front to cue us of oncoming threats. Bam! Then, at the very end of the maze, a costumed monster came flying at us out of the dark chittering like an insect. He was, in fact, a man on a short bungee; but that was probably the neatest effect of the night.

From that point on, there was very little to surprise us. The remaining eight mazes rehashed the same combination of jumping monsters, dark environments, and tragically long lines. As the night went on, the temperature became biting cold as well. By the time we left, I could barely feel my hands.

Cornstalkers, Miner's Revenge, and a Midsummer Night's Scream were outdoor mazes. Of these, Cornstalkers was probably the most interesting, since the monsters genuinely blended in with the environment and popped out quite effectively (at least the first couple times). About half way through, I felt a fist clench around my sleeve and hold on. I was at the back of my own group, so I was confused. Had someone mistaken me for one of their friends? I leaned forward and whispered to Syd, "The girl behind me is holding onto my sleeve..." Syd replied with an, "Oh really?" and a chuckle. Perhaps the girl heard me or deduced that I was talking about her because she piped up, "Sorry... I'm holding onto you." She clung on for another minute or so before abandoning the exercise to huddle with her own friend.

The male members of my readership may consider this a missed opportunity, but I assure you that the majority of the Halloween Haunt crowd was composed of irksome teenagers. And when we hit the Clowns at Midnight and Mother Noose, there were some genuinely detestable folks behind us. These two exhibits were glow-in-the-dark and petitioned patrons to purchase $1 paper 3D glasses to fully appreciate the paint job. As if my $35 admission was not enough...

But as I was saying... detestable folks. Behind us for the Clowns at Midnight were a group of four teenagers, a little on the chubby side and a little on the ghetto side. Backwards caps. Check. Foul language. Check. Foul attitude? Check. "Are you going to be f*cking scared?" The two girls, at every opportunity, screamed at the top of their lungs and cannonballed around the room trying to get away. Literally cannonballed, bumping into everyone every which way. The guy, determined to demonstrate his alpha-ness, just yelled, swore, and talked a lot while making faces at and making fun of the monsters. Halfway through, all of us were sick of the volume, and most of all, sick of being shoved from behind. When the male member came careening into me from behind like a bowling ball to a pin, I reached up, grabbed him by the shoulder, and forcefully shoved him over to the side. I looked up to find Sydney staring at me with a smirk on her face: "I saw that."

From there, we headed to the Kingdom of Carnage and Red Beard's Rage. The Kingdom ended with one of the neatest tricks - a bunch of decapitated heads hanging from the ceiling in a room lit by a pulsing strobe light. It was actually quite disconcerting trying to navigate to the disorienting effect of a strobe whilst trying to avoid bumping your head against one of the props. I should note that things hanging from the ceiling was a recurring theme throughout the mazes. When it wasn't hanging heads, it was hanging plastic strips. The worst, of course, were the hanging fuzzy strips of felt-like material. I considered how these fuzzy tentacles would make great vectors for picking up and transmitting small parasites like head lice. Yuck.

Red Beard's Rage was unique in that it had giant animatronic octopus bits penetrating the maze, which was decorated to look like the interior of a ship. Interestingly enough, I got sprayed by something from the ceiling, which I can only hope was an intended effect... even though none of my other friends got wet.

Our last stop was the Asylum, right near the park entrance. As such, it also had the longest line - likely three to four times longer than any of the other mazes. Some of our group started to get cold feet (literally) by this point in the night, but Syd and I insisted on finishing ten for ten. It's at this point that I'd like to note that lines for these temporary exhibits were not well set up, and they were frequently abused by naughty teenagers who took the opportunity to just walk past everyone else and cut the line. At one point, a group of teenagers snuck up beside us, and we could hear them discussing their evil schemes. "You know, we could just sneak across from this side of the line to the other," said one girl. "Let's do it. That's how we do things in Guelph, baby," came the reply. There were several moments when I was tempted to grab one of these youngsters by the hood and challenge, "What do you think you're doing, buddy?" Sadly, teenagers are pack animals, and on the occasions where I've actually challenged line budders, it's seldom done me any good. /sigh

So there you have it friends. Halloween Haunt had its moments, but it was a generally uninspired and unconvincing experience. All of our ten mazes were rated at an Attraction Rating of 4, which is almost as "thrilling" as you can get. Sadly, this was a gross overstatement.

But like New Year's at Nathan Philip's Square and other activities that sound more fun in concept than are fun in practice, I'm glad that I had the chance to experience this event... just once. Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

If only Keirsey was a fine woman...

60Nd [en-dy]

...and not a big tool.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to take a Keirsey Temperament Sorter, a variety of personality typing quiz. Now maybe this was the sleep deprivation talking, but I was actually rather moved by the results. It really felt like this thing managed to describe me bang on and slot me neatly into its four temperaments and sixteen types of personalities (or maybe, it describes the way I'd like to perceive myself - i.e. positively like a fortune cookie). Somewhere out there, somebody understands me. Sadly, that somebody is a heartless number-crunching robot providing my statistically probable personality breakdown.

But, unlike the vague "a big change is coming your way" horoscope predictions, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter managed to produce a rather specific and inspired description of some of my personality quirks. So, to those would-be Andy-stalkers looking for insight, read on!

Your temperament is the Guardian (SJ). [...] Your particular personality type, the Protector (ISFJ), makes up just about 12-13% of the total population, which is a good thing as Protectors often are the hard-working "unsung heroes" who get the background jobs done that keep things working on an even keel.

I come from the Net. Through systems, cities, and people to this place: Mainframe. My format: Guardian. Apparently, I share my personality type with Mother Teresa and George Bush, Sr..

Their grounded approach to life can make Guardians loyal mates, responsible parents, and stabilizing leaders. [...] Guardians typically value the camaraderie and security inherent in belonging to groups. As law-abiding individuals who place trust in authority, Guardians will often go out of their way to seek out justice.

See that? Stabilizing leaders. I'm going to cite this thing when I take over the world. I know, world domination seems like a rather lofty goal for someone that is described as law-abiding... but needless to say, I will continue to live by the rules, even when I'm the one making them. /heh

In your own life, you may find that you can deal with others' disabilities or neediness better than almost anyone else around you. Although you are very caring, you're not typically one to be outgoing and talkative. As a result, your shyness is sometimes misjudged as stiffness or even as being cold. This perception couldn't be farther from the truth. Protectors like you are warm-hearted and sympathetic. In fact, you're one who'll happily give of yourself if you encounter someone in need.

That's because I apparently have 86% empathy... Tuxedo.

Protectors almost always prefer to rely on time-honored products and procedures [...] Tradition is important to you, whether in your work life, your family life, or in your vision of society at-large. Your type often finds a kind of stability in the social rankings conferred by birth, titles, offices, and credentials.

God Save the Queen.

For a romantic partner, you may look for people who are somewhat different from you. As a result, types who are self-possessed and less sensitive than you are can be very attractive to you. [...You] usually like to dress up for a formal event and enjoy traditions, particularly traditions that have been created together as a couple, such as 'our song.'

Secretly, I do enjoy dressing up for formal events. Don't tell anyone.

Okay, that's enough looking into my soul for now.

Monday, October 19, 2009

You can be my wingman anytime

Above: The best PowerPoint slide ever made.

Anyone who invokes fighter jets when teaching parasitology is okay in my books. After being educated on a veritable cornucopia of protozoa and worms sticking out of people every which way, causing such dramatic conditions as scrotal elephantiasis and rectal prolapse, I can safely say that I never want to touch a piece of raw meat ever again (or frolic through soil barefoot... or wade through Lake Malawi).

Today's innuendo-laden lecture was as entertaining and politically incorrect as it was inspired and politically charged. Take for instance this crack at the government:

The government today announced it is changing its national symbol to a condom because it more accurately reflects the government's political stance.

A condom allows for inflation, halts production, destroys the next generation, protects a bunch of pricks, and gives you a sense of security while you're actually being screwed.

Of course, I found this to be a very timely criticism given that today marked the day on which a general election was supposed to take place according to Stephen Harper's fixed-date election legislation (introduced for greater government accountability) - a piece of legislation that essentially amounts to trash because not only did we have a legally questionable election last year, but we're also not having the legally mandated one today.

One more piece of gold from today's lecture:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Great Backpack Challenge

Read on for your chance to win a $15 lunch at Andy's expense!

Yesterday, we showcased the last two years of medical school backpacks. Today, I'm going to challenge you to find your own!

Of course, my own bright blue 1T2 backpack is visible from a mile away - making it easy to pick 2012 medical students out of a crowd (for the trained eye). Indeed, it has become almost habitual for my classmates and me to crane our necks at the very sight of a smidgen of blue: "Is that person in our class?"

Yet in conversation, one of my friends proposed the following query: "How come I only see people from your year on the street and never any other medical students?"

This, of course, is preposterous. The grey-blue 1T3 backpacks are equal in quantity and commonality to our own in every way. Even the bright green 1T1 backpacks can be spotted with some frequency around campus, despite having started their CC3 rotations.

So here is the challenge: Every time you see someone from any year walking about with a medical school backpack, snap a picture and send it to backpackchallenge@gmail.com. The contestant who captures the most backpacks out and about will be treated to a meal of up to $15 (taxes included) of their choice at my expense.

Here are the rules:
  • 1T2 and 1T3 backpacks are worth 1 point each to a maximum of 10.

  • 1T1 or red 1T3 backpacks are worth 2 points each with no maximum.

  • 1T0 backpacks (dark blue) are worth 5 points each with no maximum.

  • Pictures inside MSB, Gerstein, in or on any hospital grounds, or at the intersection of College & University do not qualify.

  • Pictures from group/paired outings (i.e. you following around your friends) do not qualify.

  • The backpack must be identifiable as such.

  • Information identifying the location at which the photo was taken must be included in the e-mail.
Now I know you guys are notoriously apathetic when it comes to user participation on my blog (some of you won't even click links), so here are a few more things:
  1. Camera-phone photos are perfectly acceptable, easily taken, and preferred. Let's be honest here - if I can steal a picture of the Fresh Prince, crazy subway lady, and hospital hobo from in front, you can steal a picture of a walking medical student from behind.

  2. That's why there's a reward.
The contest will close on December 31st, 2009. The winner's photos will be featured on a January blog entry about which to gloat... and of course, free lunch. Now get out there in the world and send me those photos!

...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Baby's Got Backpack

The medical school backpack is an iconic statement recognized by premeds and medical school wannabes alike - one of the most salient vanities of the Canadian medical school student. Uniform across the country and colour coded by year, the backpack makes medical students instantly recognizable to their peers and establishes a firm hierarchy without a single word ever being exchanged.

This year, the University of Toronto has broken with tradition, equipping the class of 1T3 with unique UofT-only backpacks. With the Ontario Medical Student Weekend taking place as we speak in lovely Kingston, Ontario, how well their colleagues from other schools reflect upon this haughty departure from the crowd will soon be known.

The nationally utilized backpack for the class of 2013 is an attractive red High Sierra backpack, certainly less gaudy than my own bright blue 1T2 accessory. It is slightly more in-your-face thanks to the centralization of the MD Financial logo.

The UofT backpack, as rumor has it, is a response to the university's decision to reject ouside funding this year (including from MD Financial). Of course, it only makes sense to reject free money and furthermore dip into one's own funds to purchase 224 customized Swiss Gear backpacks... No wonder my tuition went up this year.

This made-for-UofT solution presents as a sweetly branded (Swiss Gear), less bulky alternative to the red MD Financial pack... and would be pretty low key were it not for the gaudy "University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine" logo splashed enormously across left, right, and centre. Besides the aesthetic departure, however, a unique UofT backpack presents a symbolic change as well.

The MD Financial backpacks are uniform and recognizable around the country - in a way representing a form of solidarity and (for better or for worse) hierarchy between all Canadian medical students. Does shunning the classic med school backpack in favour of their own then represent a deep-seated desire for the university to separate itself from its peers?

Your guess is as good as mine, but I have to admit - the red knapsacks look pretty sweet.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

It's not hematochezia

me⋅le⋅na [muh-lee-nuh]

noun
Medicine/Medical.
abnormally dark tarry feces containing blood


To the tune of West Side Story's Maria:

Melena!
I've just met a girl named Melena,
Her dark and tarry stools
Are diagnostic tools
To me.

Melena!
I've just kissed a girl named Melena,
And I really must concede
She reeks of GI bleed
You see!

Melena!
Look around - it could be the stomach
Or a small intestinal attack

Melena,
I'll never stop saying Melena!

An endoscopy now would I refer.
Melena...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

This lecture is tragic

According to our latest PBD professor, Cold-FX (active ingredient: American Ginseng) works. It works by upregulating the activity of Natural Killer cells (peer reviewed literature?). Cold-FX is one of those products that my mom tells me to take when I'm sick, and I do because... well, it's Ginseng, so what harm could it do? It's one of those products that my fourth-year pharmacology prof unreservedly ridiculed and my infectious diseases seminar leader (the one who actually deals with viruses) just today said "does not work."

The same professor who told us that Cold-FX works also professed to us the physiological benefit of fever in controlling disease and upregulating the immune system (True). She then went on to espouse her aunt's wacky cure for illness: firing a hair dryer at the back of her throat through an open mouth. What... the... fudge?! I'm pretty sure your body will not confuse the heat of a hair dryer for fever, and you're more than likely to dry out your mucous membranes - you know, the anatomical barrier that serves as the first line of defense for the innate immune system?

Andy: What kind of doctor is she again?

Stewie: Rheumatologist.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sandlot's Thanksgiving Ballad

To the tune of Fresh Prince:
Western Ontario for study and play
At a library where I spent most of my days
Chillin' out, readin', relaxin', all cool
Watchin' some people inside of the school
When a viral infection
That was up to no good
Started making trouble in my neighbourhood
I picked up one little flu and my mom got scared
She said, "You're coming back home to Mississauga, my dear."

I called for a bus and when it came near
The sketchy bus terminal filled me with fear
If anything I could ask, "Where's this bus from?"
But I thought, "Nah forget it - Yo G, to Square One!"

I pulled up to the city about 7 or 8
So doped up on cold meds I could barely see straight
Thanksgiving turkey
Was soon to be done
With me on my throne, as the Queen of Square One

Monday, October 12, 2009

Thank you for not eating me

It's just past noon on Thanksgiving Monday at Andy's house. The sibship minus one is sitting around the kitchen table. My brother, the computer programmer, is unhappy with the senseless killing that is leading the creative direction for his game. One journalist described it as somewhat "disturbing" but still "fun to play." The project's creative director is determined to "push the envelope" of the game's "M for Mature" rating, much like 24's Jack Bauer.

It seems, my brother explains, that while people within the media can have all sorts of intellectual conversation about "creative freedom" and "what the people want", much of the time what it really boils down to is the media feeding off one another - "This guy did something cool, and I want to do it too." Once a particular boundary is broken, it becomes nothing to break it a second time. When 24 first came out, he continues, there was a lot of controversy over Jack Bauer's character ("He's a terrible person," my brother-in-law chimes in). Torturing people, lying to people about their families being dead, dunking their heads into water - people had to pause and question whether this was the kind of hero we wanted from now on.

The conversation continues to a discussion of Jack Bauer's moral spiral then turns back to violence more generally in the media. "People have always had a need for violence," my brother-in-law proposes. "The Romans had the gladiatorial arenas..." ("And there was jousting," my sister adds) "It just so happens that today, we can do it all digitally without people actually having to die. Although, I guess it's kind of sad that we still need it at all."

My brother turns the conversation to a coworker of his who tends to need a violent fix. "When I see innocent people in video games, I just really need to shoot them," is a typical anecdote from said coworker. "He's a normal guy - well, I don't think he's normal - but I'm pretty sure he thinks he's normal because he's never shot someone in real life," my brother conjectures.

My sister jumps into the discussion of real-life crazies. She begins with a friend, playing golf on a university campus. Her friend was shooting holes casually, just for fun, and not necessarily in the right order. There was another group playing in order, but playing very slowly. The friend skipped ahead a few holes to one where nobody was playing. The other player became so enraged that he beat my sister's friend with a golf club until the golf club snapped. Then, the perpetrator took off, and police said there was nothing they could do.

Recalling another time, my sister recounted bumping into a friend who looked like a raccoon - with two big, swollen black eyes. "What happened to you?" she asked." As it turned out, the night before, her friend had been hanging out at a bar. A patron next to him tapped him on the shoulder: "You're so ugly!" the patron exclaimed. "You're so ugly... I don't even want you to look at me." "Okay," my sister's friend agreed, then turned away. "You looked at me!" the patron exploded. He then went on to beat the crap out of my sister's friend. (Subsequently, a bunch of other people stood up and beat the crap out of the assailant.)

"Walking down the street, passing by all those people, we just kind of assume that most of them are normal. But really, you never know."

On this Thanksgiving, I'd like to thank my friends and family for being amazing, insightful, and not crazy... and thank you for not eating me.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The hottest blog on the planet

...is not my own.

Just under two years ago, in my final year of undergrad, my friend Brutus unleashed his lovechild brutalturtle.blogspot.com upon the world. At the time, he solicited my help in designing his Blogger layout. Always looking for bold new ways to procrastinate as well as opportunities to flex my creative juices and maintain artistic abilities with some semblance of relevant modernity, I agreed.

The name Brutal Turtle originates from an artificial intelligence setting for computer opponents in the strategy computer game Command & Conquer 3 - referring to computers that take the slow but steady approach, taking the early game easy and crushing you in the late game with overwhelming force.

As far as the blog was concerned, Brutal Turtle was my first brush with Google's Blogger, providing the familiarity necessary to entice me towards the creation of my own humble blog (in conjunction with a new website) in the summer of 2008.

Because of my only passing familiarity with CSS code, editing Brutal Turtle's layout was mind-bending as I tried to sort out which lines coded for what elements of the page. I began with a preset template called "No. 897" and from there began tweaking the colours and graphics. More sophisticated changes such as editing the column widths were verboten at the time, since playing with those had a tendency to disrupt the layout in ways beyond my corrective abilities.

I generated several versions of a turtle mascot for the site, which Brutus has subsequently used not only for the branding of the blog itself, but also to watermark his photos. Then, I applied a Hong Kong theme, adjusting the colour scheme to the reds, blues, and whites of the colonial flag.

While this Version 1.0 layout may have been an acceptable foray into the strange new world of Blogger, it was hardly ambitious and stuck close to the format of the original template. With Brutal Turtle approaching its two year anniversary, Brutus asked me whether Brutal Turtle might be amenable to some more character-giving changes.

I have to admit, it felt nice to be working on a project again. I haven't done any serious design work since putting together my website in 2008. Re-skinning Brutal Turtle would also give me the opportunity to put to good use some of the lessons I had learned while adjusting Chronicle's own minimalist layout.

Brutal Turtle Version 2.0 is very much a made-to-order project. While I can't really explain why Brutus wanted the new background to be modelled after an LV purse, I have to admit - it worked. The new layout is cleaned up, widened, and overall smoother. The colours took a long time to coordinate, with a lot of back and forth between Brutus and me. I arranged the colour scheme to emulate the reference purse; and while Brutus was initially cold to the idea of a brown theme, he reconsidered as it all came together.

The result of this collaborative effort is this: one of the sweetest looking blogs this side of the Internet (and if you don't think so, then... shame on you). Now I know what you're thinking at this point, so let me answer that question for you - cash only, please. /jk

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What I learned from you

Because you're genius and awesome.

I've always wanted to do this, and so I spent my last hour of lecture scratching letters off a Starbucks coffee cup rather than paying attention. J-Rock, Yuffie, and Mello were highly amused. Kon was less impressed.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

When the chips are down

Monday, October 5th, 2009. 0700h. I woke up nice and early for my 9 AM exam. I wanted time to shower, eat, clean up, dress up, etc. It used to be that for morning exams, I would roll out of the door with unkempt hair and a hoodie - I felt like if I was too tidy for an AM exam, it meant I hadn't studied hard enough. However, first year quickly taught me that after an exam, the kiddies go out to play. After our second anatomy exam, we went karaoke. I live far and could not go home in between. There were pictures. It was not good.

I got out the door at 7:50 AM. 8 AM is a tough time for traffic, since it's when all the nine-to-fivers start their morning commute as well. As a result, the ten minute drive to Finch subway station usually becomes more of a twenty minute drive. The extra ten minutes between 7:50 and 8:00 AM make a world of difference. Arrival time at the subway station was projected at 8:15 - 8:20 AM. Traffic was unusually bad. We detoured and I still made it on time.

From Finch, I can usually make it downtown in approximately half an hour, arriving at class five to ten minutes before nine... but today was exam day. Let me tell you something very special. I hate the subway. The subway hates me. We loathe one another.

Subways break on exam day. It's fate. Since I took up the commuter lifestyle last year, I have had more than a couple close calls. They usually work like this: leave on time/early, subway delay, heart attack, arrive 30 seconds before start time. Yesterday broke this sequence, but not in a good way.

While there was no announcement of delay, the subway paused for an inordinate amount of time at each station. On top of that, when it did move, it crawled along at a snail-like pace. It's an incredibly frustrating situation - knowing that you'll likely be late but having so little control. If it was work, you could explain. If it was class, you could skip. But on exam days, you're just plain screwed.

Usually, I take the loop around to Queen's Park station to maximize my sleep time. On days where I'm in a hurry, I get off at College and walk across to Queen's Park on foot. However, on this particular day, we arrived at Wellesley station, one stop north of College, at 8:55 AM. I knew I was dead. If I took the loop around, I'd probably end up at my exam at like 9:30. If I waited until I got to College, I'd probably just be pulling up to the station at 9 AM (the start time for my exam). I opted to get off at Wellesley and book it on foot.

I ran. I jogged. I walked. I limped. I need to work on my running endurance. I staggered into the examination hall doors at 9:10 AM - ten minutes late. Thankfully, the doors were not locked, I did not kicked out, and nobody said a word... although, the invigilators did give me a dirty look as I put my stuff down and shuffled to my seat. Hyperthermic from all the running, I was dripping for the first half hour of the exam. It took awhile to reacquire focus. Lucky for me, the exam was 50 multiple choice question and 3 hours long. I finished in two. At least half of my class was gone after an hour and a half.

The examination itself was fairly challenging - definitely harder than the 2008 and 2007 multiple choice questions. Hopefully my score will come out to my satisfaction, but I've already noted a disappointing number of errors. Also unexpected was the fact that we were not allowed to keep our test papers at the end of the exam, which meant that we could not effectively compare our answers. Deprived of instant gratification, my friends and I were left racking our brains for questions we could remember.

We headed to Pickle Barrel for lunch and then crashed at J-Rock's place for the afternoon. It was Kon's birthday on Sunday, so we were the distraction whilst the celebratory preparations were being made. Meanwhile, Kushima and Maximus were making purchases on our behalf.

The afternoon started off with some Texas Hold'em. It was only my second time playing, and I'll be damned if that game isn't addictive. I can see why gambling is a vice. Stewie was keen on having a $5 buy-in; but I was already a little short on cash for the day, so I only bought $2 worth of chips, putting me at a starting disadvantage. A few fortuitous plays later, the gap had closed, and I brought my net worth up to a solid $5. But as is so often the case with gambling, it was easy come easy go... edged out by a near-miss hand that I'd gone "all in" with. Finished.

J-Rock abstained from our little poker game (J-Rock apparently doesn't play poker anymore because his brother became so much better than him that he's just plain resentful now), and Kon joined in late. Kon took full advantage of his birthday boy status and spent the first half hour ordering J-Rock around like his little bitch. "I want to watch Supernatural on your TV!" "Why is your Internet so slow?!" "Okay, click that! Click it!" "Okay, you're done. You can go take a nap now." Mild mannered Honger by day, snappy dominatrix by night.

Then there was Big Two, a distinctly Asian game. With a penalty of ten cents a card, I managed to come out on top of the pack and pocket about $2.50... A fifty cent net gain for the afternoon? Boy, big stakes (not that I was really keen on bigger ones).

Things started to go stale from there. We ended up watching two seminal episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation while going hungry and waiting for the rest of the crew to assemble. Unfortunately, while everyone was trying to watch, they were also trying to talk. The flashing screen and zillion high volume criss-crossing conversations gave me a pretty serious headache.

Finally, it was time to eat. Kushima and Maximus had arrived with a cheesecake in tow. Everyone headed over to Asian Legend, a veritable gem of cleanliness buried in the sketchy bowels of Chinatown. The food was awesome. There's nothing like siu long bao to wash away the bitter aftertaste of PBD.

Then came the gift giving. We had, apparently, purchased Kon three gifts - two serious and one gag. Among the serious gifts were a classy CK cologne set and a beautiful dress watch. The gag gift, which left us all agog, was a $7 penis extension purchased from... who knows where.

Andy: What is that?

Stewie: It's a penis extender.

Andy: ...how's that?

Stewie: It's like a condom, except with an extra bit at the front.

Andy: So... it's like high heels... for your penis.

Stewie: Essentially.

I think that eventually this image will get removed from my PhotoBucket account for violation of the terms of use, as happened when we bought Kushima breast-shaped stressballs.

After we had sufficiently goaded Kon about his gift, it was cake time. The Asian Legend staff had been kind enough to refrigerate our cake and also were kind enough to serve it to us. Cheesecake is awesome.

The evening's plans came down to a toss up between class party and karaoke. Kon seemed to have little preference for either, however, he was going to lose the majority of the crowd if he opted for party. Along the way to sing K, he changed his mind and vetoed the idea. Instead, we were redirected to the much more frugal destination of J-Rock's condo once more.

I hung out for a bit while Yubin, Mello, and J-Rock practiced worship songs for today's Medical Christian Fellowship meeting, which was pretty fun. I bailed out once J-Rock and Kaiba made the switch over to Backstreet Boys.

When I headed back to the living room, there was poker in play again.

Andy: What's going on?! You're playing poker without me?

Wrex: Hey, you were busy singing to God or whatever.

I came in with another $2 buy-in and did pretty well (top picture). However, I was again again devastated by an almost-all-in hand. Despite having a beautiful Straight after the flop, I was undone by Kushima's own slightly more powerful and uncannily improbable Straight. There was no coming back from that. I finished the night at a $1.50 deficit. Stewie went on to win the game again. What a hustler.

Oh yeah, and my phone dangle broke while we were at dinner. Stupid ninja finally escaped. I'm so sad.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Before the storm

This week has been one massive heart-throbbing head-splitting race to study for the first examination of second year medicine - Pathobiology of Disease (PBD). Yesterday, in the final throes of serious crammage, I had some genuinely gratifying moments. For a few brief seconds, I felt competent.

Andy: So, are you partying tonight?

Sandlot: I don't know. It all depends on my friend. He went to the doctor because he thought he might have bronchitis. So, if he does, then obviously not.

Andy: Bronchitis.

Sandlot: Yup.

Andy: Apparently, most people expect antibiotics for bronchitis, and they get them even though they're mostly viral.

Sandlot: Oh yeah? Then what are you supposed to get?

Andy: They're mostly self-resolving.

Sandlot: But how long does it take to self-resolve?

Andy: I forget... like a week?

Sandlot: 'Cause he's had it for a month.

Andy: What kind of symptoms does he have? (I'm like reviewing at your friend's expense)

Sandlot: Hmm... from what I remember, cough... mucous... his ears started to get plugged. That's all I can remember.

Andy: Maybe he has a bacterial sinusitis. The only thing I can remember right now is to suspect bacterial sinusitis if cold-like symptoms persist for more than 5-7 10-14 days.

Sandlot: What's bacterial sinusitis?

Andy: It's like an infection of the air spaces around your nose.

Sandlot: But his nose isn't affected?

--- about an hour later ---

Sandlot: OH HEY! HE HAS SINUSITIS!

Andy: BAM! I think I should stop studying now.

After all those hours of studying, my brain felt like it was liquefying. My MSN status message at that time read: Liquefactive necrosis of the brain.

Stewie: I would've thought it would be coagulative... PBD-induced ischemia!

Andy: Is it coagulative in the brain too? I know you can get liquefactive in the brain - not sure what it's from. I know coagulative is like MI.

Stewie: Liquefactive I thought has to be bacterial or fungal.

--- several minutes later ---

Stewie: Oh damn, nevermind. You're totally right.

Stewie: "For unclear reasons, hypoxic death of cells within the central nervous system also results in liquefactive necrosis."

Andy: Haha, win!

And, of course, we all spent a fair share of time stressing out over our practice runs through past exams.

Kushima: I continually achieve new records in dealing with procrastination, which is what I meant by the squeeze phrase.

Kushima: For which one of the following skin diseases would a topical anti-fungal agent be most appropriate as treatment?

a) Atopic dermatitis
b) Psoriasis
c) Scabies
d) Tinea corporis
e) Zoster (shingles)

Kushima: Try this question.

Andy: Hmm... not E and not C. I am tempted to say A, but it sounded like that might not be right. D?

Kushima: Hah, I have no clue. Make up your mind.

Andy: D.

Kushima: Yes.

Andy: w00t!

Kushima: Good job. Looking at the question I can't recall even a single fact about any of those options.

Andy: Herpes zoster is a virus. Scabies is a parasite... little bug. Atopic dermatitis is eczema.

Kushima: Hmm, yeah, I forgot about those.

Kushima: Which one of the following principles is most important in ensuring maximum benefit from antibiotic treatment in the management of septic shock?

a) Administration 30 minutes before corticosteroids
b) Administration in conjunction with inotropic agents
c) Administration of synergistic combinations
d) Administration through a central venous access line
e) Administration within 2 hours of the onset of hypotension

Kushima: Try one more.

Andy: Uh... I have no idea. E?

Kushima: Damn, you're a good guesser.

I got the bonus question on the 2008 exam also.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Noddin' my head like yeah


I'm embarrassed. In pop culture, Miley Cyrus falls into the same tweenage demographic as the Jonas Brothers and High School Musical. But after Miley's Party in the USA hit #1 on Virgin Radio's Top 3 last week, I found this infectiously catchy song stuck in my head all weekend.

This has happened before. Last summer, when Miley's breakthrough hit See You Again hit the radio, I found its juvenile charm to be rather enchanting - a silly, simple pop ballad about the heart throbbing anxiety of breaking the ice. We've all been there.

At the time, I asked my sister if she knew who sang the song, and she replied, "It's Miley Cyrus, Billy Ray Cyrus' daughter. You know, Hannah Montana? Come on... even I know that." Sorry, who?!

Fun Fact # 1: Miley Cyrus' given name is "Destiny Hope." The name "Miley" is a nickname that is derived from "Smiley" and Miley's jovial demeanour.

Fun Fact # 2: I too have been nicknamed Smiley on more than one occasion - once by this kid in Grade 10 History class and once by the cafeteria lady at my alma mater. Does that make Miley unisex? Maybe my name should be Milo.

So whilst watching Miley's Party in the USA music video on my umpteenth study break, I crossed the stupid line and ventured down to read the YouTube user comments. It should come as no surprise the the denizens of the Internet are inane, irreverent, and... well, idiotic. Here are the relevant trends:
  1. People commenting on how huge Miley's breasts are. Call my cynical, but I'd say there's more than a wee bit of push-up going on there. Kushima once told me, "Time and cleavage - squeeze and you get more."

  2. Guys saying how they'd "tap that." First off, Miley Cyrus is sixteen. Second of all, when was the last time a pop star stooped to tap on a third-rate YouTube commenter?

  3. People complaining about how Miley Cyrus is a slut. Someone even said this video is X-rated... and they say modesty is dead.
Other Miley Cyrus songs that don't suck (as vetted by J-Rock): [1 | 2]

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Understanding the underdog

In storytelling, there are a few archetypes on how to construct a love story. There's the Romeo & Juliet - madly in love, but separated by circumstance. There's the Action Hero - brought together by life-threatening peril. Then there's the Cinderella story - overcoming social rejection to win the prince.

It's not difficult to deconstruct the appeal of these stories. From the Cinderella perspective, most people can relate to a time when they felt alone and downtrodden - less cool, less attractive, less capable. The audience finds themselves rooting for the underdog as he or she crawls up against adversity and bullying, overcoming their class to steal the heart of the one they love.

Take for instance, Rachel Berry, from FOX TV's Glee - obsessive and neurotic but sporting a warm heart hidden under that tragically unpopular exterior. No doubt she'll eventually win the affections of universally-fought-for football star Finn Hudson, who will cast off his beautiful cheer captain girlfriend once he succumbs to Rachel's inner charm.

In these stories, the popular or beautiful people (with the exception of the prized lover) are portrayed as unkind, unfaithful, and unlikeable. While the prince begins completely outside of Cinderella's social league, he recognizes her true beauty and stoops down to take her by the hand. It helps that once Cinderella takes off her dorky glasses, she's usually a real stunner.

This brings us to the flip-side. Turn over the Cinderella coin and you have the Knight in Shining Armour story. The knight recognizes the maiden in distress whom he wants to save from her life of pity and adversity, he swoops in and saves the day, and they all live happily ever after. It's a beautiful concept - a true display of altruism and machoism all at once.

But here's where it gets dicey. Why does the knight like Cinderella at all? It's because despite the fact that Cinderella is universally spurned and tragically uncool, she's secretly kind, loving, funny, interesting, and gorgeous to boot. She's secretly pined over the knight all her life, and if only she could achieve romance with this pinnacle of human creation, she would never have to look another direction ever again.

Prince Charming has located the needle in the haystack. Where every girl who shows up on the regular social radar is a vapid schemer, the knight has set his eyes on this beautiful, wonderful girl and nobody else likes her. All he need do is swoop in and save her, and she'll be eternally his. Then, and only then, will people recognize her true worth - will they see how amazing Cinderella was all along. But Prince Charming ought not worry about any of that, because he recognized Cinderella while she was still a pauper, and that's true love.

For Cinderella, it's a struggle against circumstance. For Prince Charming, it's love made easy. There's no jealousy. No love triangle. Just Cinderella, waiting for the prince to look her way.

That's the nature of the fantasy. Real life doesn't involve supermodels in disguise with upstanding personalities just waiting for love to happen. Real love isn't as easy as swooping in and becoming Cinderella's only friend.

Real life and real love involve wins and losses. You aren't always the knight; and the ones you like aren't going to be the rejects, but the awesome ones - awesomeness that will be plain for everyone to recognize. Reality is challenging, stressful, and so much more complicated than just trotting in on a white horse. In the end, that's what makes life so exciting. Chasing the fantasy - looking for a partner who's incredible in disguise, waiting for you to take off their glasses and discover them - means trying to take the easy way out. Pursuing the fairy tale blinds us from fighting for the truly amazing ones out of fear of the other hundred white knights on bended knee. Yet in doing so, we surrender ourselves to a painless invention not grounded in the real world... or worse, to the wrong princess.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Nice guys finish jerks

For the Class of 2008, 2009 has been the year of the breakup. I've watched and contemplated as relationships across the board - both casual and serious - splintered and fell apart one by one. Dumper. Dumpee. Each individual has approached this life change in their own way.

Some cut the ties clean, packed up their lives and moved on. Others changed remarkably, carelessly flopping into the lurid opportunities of the singles scene, alienating those who knew them in their old skin. Then there are those who clung, with the best of intentions, to those who had departed - leaving an open and purulent wound.

It is the latter with whom I am concerned today. Breakups are traumatic events. Changing that proverbial "Facebook status" in your brain requires mental adjustment. Realigning your heart, your mind, and your life requires time, and it requires space. Thus, it was to my chagrin as I watched friends prematurely jump the friend-wagon - watched as dumpers moved on without them, hurt them, accused them, and fought with them. In the end, the dumpee comes out predictably ravaged, unwilling to consolidate their bitter experiences into ultimate truth - that their "nice person" of a friend has not been so nice... that they needed space away.

It's easy to be confused. People can be earnestly nice in their everyday lives, in their intentions, and in their very aura. Yet despite these overall pleasantries, it's the darker moments that we often fail to consider.

Skip five episodes into this year's television hit Glee to find the point illustrated elegantly. Let me recap the show's current web of lies: Football star-cum-singer Finn Hudson has joined the high school choir, affectionately known as Glee. Meanwhile, his cheer captain girlfriend, Quinn Fabray (I know, the double-N names are popular) got herself knocked up by Finn's best friend but has convinced him that he's the father (I wonder if someone will eventually tell him that hot tubs don't facilitate sperm swimming, but rather spermicide). At the same time, choral superstar-cum-social reject Rachel Berry has quit the Glee club to pursue other opportunities.

Finn nearly has a panic attack envisioning a future as a teenage father flipping burgers in a trailer park for the rest of his life and sets his goals on a college scholarship to propel him into the future and a life as a capable provider. His vehicle to said scholarship? Glee. But how can Glee make it to the top without Rachel? Finn takes it upon himself to use Rachel's public crush on him to woo her back to Glee.

Enter the smooth criminal. Finn slithers in and approaches Rachel with a smooth, easy tone, tempting her to meet him in "places with low lighting" and asking her out on a little bowling date together. He puts the moves on steadily, holding her hand as she learns how to bowl, offering affirmation all the way... and when she caves in and lays a wet one on him, he quickly moves in for the kill - Please, Rachel, come back to Glee. I have a girlfriend, and I don't know what's going to happen in the future, but I just know I want to see more of you right now.

Rachel, blinded by football-boy's charismatic charm is quick to oblige. But when the poorly-kept secret of Quinn's pregnancy goes viral, Rachel explodes, and Finn's manipulation falls apart.

So Finn's a jerk. What's my point? The point is that Finn is not the show's jerk. He's the nice one. He will forever be the nice one. Despite the craftiness which he employed in his elaborate ruse to twist Rachel's heart into rejoining Glee, Finn is the good guy. The show makes this amply clear. They do everything to keep his face soft, his demeanour kind, and his other actions saintly. And of course, it's Quinn's lie that is driving his actions. He's the victim here. You can't blame the victim. When all is said and done, nobody will be holding a grudge against Finn for his actions, especially not the audience. The show won't let them. And in that way, I feel used - my emotions toyed with... because no matter how nice Finn Hudson is, his actions were low.

So here's the point: Nobody will hold Finn Hudson as a jerk. He's simply not written to be that guy. He's the nice guy. But if we stop an think about it - if we freeze frame in Episode 5, before the writers can apply their magical Tide-to-Go on Finn's Episode 6 persona, we'll see that Finn really is a jerk. Nice guys ought to still have standards when the chips are down. The jerks we can do without.

"Are you using this as an analogy for my mind?"

"Yes, I sort of am."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Once more into the Text

If you recall, back in August I invested in a texting plan for my Pay As You Go mobile phone account. My texting habits, the new charges for incoming texts, and my shoddy per-minute voice rate was eating away at my account balance at a rate of $40-50 CDN a month. At that rate, I figured, I might as well get a contract plan. My solution at the time was instead to invest in a texting plan. For a reasonable $6/mo I could text to my heart's desire and get free incoming texts. By shifting my phone habits away from voice and towards text, I could escape the unreasonable per-minute fees. So I thought.

Apparently, I've become a bit of a texting fiend. With a cap of 165 125 outgoing texts/mo (~4 per day), and 15 cents for each one thereafter, I was set up for failure. I'm pretty sure I burned through those 125 puppies in one week. In the end, I ran through the remaining $88 in my account in a paltry two months. So much for cutting down.

I toyed briefly with the idea of switching to a contract. I looked into a variety of hospital and student plans. The most impressive came out at $35/mo. Pretty good, right? Except with tax and network fees, that more or less equates to $50/mo. Not much for savings.

However, all is not lost. Clearly, I miscalculated in believing that 125 texts/mo would be sufficient. For an additional $4 ($10/mo), I've upped my texting limit to 2500. On an average month, that allocates me 83 outgoing texts a day. Yes, I think we can survive within that.

In the past two days, I've used 32.

Interestingly enough, while reviewing my usage history, I've found that Twitter is actually immune to my lovely texting plan. That is, tweeting from my phone still costs me 15 cents a message. That is super lame, but it means that I'm definitely going to have to cut down on tweeting on the go.

Oh yes, and as per my previous attempt at cost-savings, please be reminded that I probably won't pick up your call unless you're super duper incredible I really need to. Texting is for champs.