Thursday, December 31, 2015

End of the year stuff: 2015

In the past when this blog ran like a well-oiled machine end of the year posts were a thing. Mostly random musings (are there any other kind, btw?) and lists of books, TV shows and movies: typical end of the year fare.

So coming at you from 35000 feet (yeah I am in a plane above an undisclosed location - not because I am secretive but because I really have no clue where I am) 2015 in summary.

What happened this year? Well I dicked around in lab. A lot. I think there might have been times where my undergrad worked more than I did. If you want to know whether a man can browse reddit for six hours straight I am your guy (the answer is yes, in case you were wondering). A decent number of people I started med school with are residents now, meaning there is a good chance some of them will supervise me when I am a lowly clueless  third year med student (is there any other kind?). Other than that the year just flew by, not unlike an F-22 at a college bowl game (sorry). Oh and I became a coffee and a scotch snob. Good times.

The four best books I read in 2015:

4. Dresden Files by Jim Butcher:
Kinda cheating here since this is a series of not one, not two, not three, but FIFTEEN books with more in the works. Even for a fantasy series this is quite an achievement. I not a fantasy fanatic by any means but Jim Butcher has created a great world here. If you were to split hairs (how thin would your ax need to be for that?), DF falls under what those in the know call 'urban contemporary fantasy', seeing as it is set in modern day Chicago. Basic premise of the series is that magic and supernatural coexist in our world and our protagonist Harry Dresden is a private investigator making his living solving petty magical mysteries. As the series progresses he finds himself caught up in epic magical wars that have been raging for millenia. Brisk pacing, witty banter and a well-developed magical system make this a fantastic series.
3. The Martian by Andy Weir:
By now we have all seen Matt Damon play The Martian, growing potatoes using his own shit as fertilizer. As is often the case, the book is far superior to the movie. Andy Weir infuses the right amount of suspense, believable science, and dark humor to make this an enormously entertaining novel. There are some pacing issues with the plot, but that is understandable seeing how the book was originally serialized on the web by Weir.
2. America's Game by Michael MacCambridge:
I may not be a fantasy fanatic but I sure am a football fanatic, specifically the NFL (college football is a waste of time). Every Sunday I have games on multiple screens as well as couple devices monitoring twitter feeds. Hell, I think I could call the game better than Phil Simms does. My love for the game is why I absolutely cherished this sweeping history of the NFL. MacCambridge does a masterful job of tracing the origins of professional football, its trials and tribulations through the 1950s and its thorough dominance of the sports scene from 1960 on. He traces lineages of the most storied NFL franchises and gives brief bios of some of its most colorful characters (Lamar Hunt, Al Davis, Pete Rozelle etc.) The cover image alone makes this a book worth buying.
*Drum roll*

1. The Alchemists by Neil Irwin:
Not to be confused with Paulo Coelho's shitpiece, this is a book that does the impossible:make central banking look sexy. As a result of the financial meltdown of 2007 central bankers have become celebrities of sort. People like Bernanke and Yellen have found themselves thrust into the limelight, sometimes glaringly so. Here Irwin traces the origins of the concept of central banking, the creation of the Federal Reserve system in the US and the creation of the Euro before launching into a chronological account of the steps three major central banks (the Fed, Bank of England and European Central Bank) took to douse the raging fires of 07-08. He quotes speeches, memos and meeting notes to diligently explain the reasoning behind this complicated series of maneuvers. I came away wiser and more enlightened than before (which I understand isn't a tall order, but still).
I am not going to do a thing for TV shows because I didn't follow that many this year to justify a list, but I will put a plug in (though it hardly needs one at this time) for Fargo. Stop what you're doing, stop reading this damn blog and go binge watch both seasons 1 and 2. I know it's become a cliche to say we live in a golden age of television, but shows like this are making it harder and harder not to believe that moniker.

Have a happy 2016 everybody.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Three iconic images

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I suppose that makes a gif worth a million, amirite? hahaha. BTW who is 'they', this mysterious cabal that seems to issue pithy one-liners and aphorisms at an alarmingly regular frequency? If you happen to know 'them', please introduce me. I would be delighted.

Anyway back to regularly scheduled programming here.

I've been thinking about the topic of iconic images for a while (well for almost two years, I suppose, considering my last post was in Febru-frickin-ary 2014).

I've chosen three here representing different eras and ideas. These are images that capture your attention, give you goosebumps, make you contemplate your mortality and your place in the Grand Universe, and maybe even cause a tear or two.

In no particular order then:

'Pillars of creation' by NASA
If you squint hard enough you can spot a wolf hidden in there! Or maybe that's just me hallucinating again

This breathtaking image is actually a composite of several images (with added color and some other technical enhancements) taken by the beloved Hubble telescope some time in the 90s. The image proved to be so popular NASA published an updated version several years later after upgrading the Hubble.

So what's going on here? We are looking at the essence of creation. This is the Eagle Nebula, the birthplace of stars, located approximately 7000 light years from us. The clouds are composed mostly of molecular Hydrogen and interstellar dust. To get a sense of the scale, each pillar is approximately 4 light years across (!!) and just the tips of these pillars are larger than our solar system.

I get legit goosebumps when I look at this image but instead of feeling insignificant I feel a renewed sense of purpose and legit pride at being able to glimpse at something so profound.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The terrifying specter of death by car wash

Not many things on this planet, material or otherwise, scare me. I am not afraid or terrified easily. Valor is practically my middle name and courage my favorite drink. In fact I am regularly known to indulge in acts of bravery and daredevilry (I once jaywalked in Washington, DC! A mere two blocks from the White House!). One might safely say that I live and thrive right on the edge. 

But that's not what I am here to talk about today. Today it is time to discuss my fears. Fears with a capital F. FEARS.

Now you may wonder - why is this guy blabbering about his fears? 
And I will counter right back - what is braver than discussing our deepest fears, our strongest foibles, our starkest shortcomings? Take the case of the philosopher/vigilante billionaire Bruce Wayne. He embraced his fears and look where that got him. 

On that note, let's move on. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The five most badass quotes of all recorded time

Quotes. Everyone has them, everybody loves them. In this day and age of internet memes, corny motivational posters, and shitty self-help books with untenable nonsense, quotes are a dime a dozen. They have flooded our cultural psyche, polluted our minds.

Let us then harken back to simpler times (when the life expectancy was south of 35 and the food scarce and bland) when quotes actually mattered. Nah I am just kidding. These quotes are taken from all eras - fictional and not. Enjoy.

Coming at a comfortable #5...

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The magnificent beard of Andrew Luck

As many people around these parts know, I am a fanatic of the NFL. And no, before you ask, I don't root for or support or cheer for one particular team. I am a fan (hey here's something I just noticed - 'fanatic' has 'fan' built right into it! Coincidence? I THINK NOT) of this beautiful, intricate game as a whole. The parity in the league, the superstars who entertain us consistently, the intensely contested games week in and week out - this all makes for an enthralling experience.

Three years ago I would blog a lot about the NFL. Every week I published an update. I stopped doing that eventually because the internet doesn't need yet another NFL blog. But I have to make an exception here. As you may (or may not) know it's playoffs time [insert obligatory Jim Mora playoffs?! rant here]. Some crazy shit went down last week in the wild-card round. In comparison yesterday's games were a tad tame. One thing stood out to me, however: the magnificent beard of Andrew Luck. Now I can grow and successfully rock a mean beard myself, but Luck's beard makes me feel inadequate. I can stare at that thing for hours, mesmerized and in utter awe of its magnificence.

This season Andrew Luck played like a beast. Despite throwing three potentially game breaking picks last week against the Chiefs, he engineered an epic comeback (the stuff that transforms men into legends), making for a scintillating viewing experience (probably not for Chiefs fans). Yes he got bulldozed by the Patriots run game (!) yesterday, but his beard made everything alright.

Take a look for yourself:


Monday, January 6, 2014

PSA: This winter protect yourself with a ski-mask

Note: This post is about winter. If you are a Californian, you need to read any further. But I know you will read anyway because, let's face it, you will clamor to read any drivel I write. 

A massive winter storm (fancifully named "Ion" - while we are at it, can we stop naming these storms please?) has hit large swathes of the country leading to havoc, chaos and destruction everywhere. Ok I might be employing a slight exaggeration but that's mostly because I am bored sitting in my half-empty lab staring out at the sun glinting off mounds of snow. Most of St. Louis is shut down. Even my medical school classmates who are on rotations (you know, saving lives, helping people etc.) got the day off.

But I made a valiant effort to get out of bed, clean up and come to lab. All for the noble cause of SCIENCE. No sacrifice too big at this giant altar, as I often proclaim. With me, on this journey, was one crucial item (of clothing, I guess you could say) without which I would be floundering on the icy streets bracketed by ominous piles of fluffy snow.

In fact for the last 2+ years that I have been in St. Louis, this humble item (of clothing, I guess you could say) has protected me unfailingly from biting cold and many a chilly nights. I present to you the all-vital, all-sustaining ski mask :

Also goes by the name of a balaclava, snow mask, snowmobile balaclava etc. For only $11.27 this majestic item could be yours! (gosh I sound like a QVC schmuck). This bad boy has let me roam the streets of St. Louis at all sorts of odd-hours on my bicycle in the months of winter. IN YOUR FACE COLD WEATHER! Put on a beanie, fit this mask snugly over your face and zip-up - you are ready to go. Gloves and two layers of upper outerwear recommended.

Sure weak-willed skeptics will shy away from wearing this thing. They will say things like: "OMG you look so creepy" or "You like you could rob a bank". Pay them no mind. This thing is magical. Sure you will get the occasional weird look from pedestrians when you go walking out at 9 in the morning with this on, or the occasional hastening of steps of people around you at 11 at night when they see you, but who cares? While they are huddling in their scarves or whatever, you are walking tall and strong with the zip all the way up!

So heed my golden advice, go over to Amazon and order it right away. You will not be disappointed. Hands down THE best thing since sliced bread. And YouTube.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dim Sum and Social Consciousness (A Fragment)

 . . . struggling with game effort to participate in a conversation laden with a subtext born of a particular standard of living and the accommodations which (only naturally, you see) follow from it, which could be called 'privilege' if only that word weren't so vague, and to be honest, diluted by its place in modern semantics - connections leading to jobs, easy networking, career decisions bound up in self-gratification, with the base underlying assumption being that life is meant to result in perfect happiness and satisfaction, for everyone, that is, everyone we know, and that one could switch careers and priorities until you arrived there. Which is all well and good, since we all want happiness for ourselves and those we care about, but my classist (god, what an awful-sounding word) mind couldn't but envision it as entitlement - entitled to ultimate happiness, which you could find, ultimately, by mobilizing your plentiful resources and falling gracefully back onto them when and if plans took unexpected or unpleasant turns. And it became a reminder of my own lack of resources, the lack of resources in my mother's life, in the lives of the people I became an adult alongside, and how scraping and clawing and living in the cheapest apartment I could find and eating little but the cheapest food and always making do had for me only resulted in one opportunity, which I didn't have the luxury of abandoning.
     But that was not a viewpoint I could voice, giving that it was a polite luncheon, after all, and it was in general pleasurable, beyond the annoyance of my friend inviting another friend uninvited, and the quills of my seat, psychosomatic manifestations of being the third wheel in the conversations of others, who would most likely stare with disdain and mild surprise when the measured rage inside me came to light . . .