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 . . .

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Pilgrim's Progress

If that a Pearl may in a Toad's head dwell, 
And may be found too in an Oyster-shell;
If things that promise nothing do contain 
What better is than Gold; who will disdain,
That have an inkling of it, there to look,
That they may find it? 
-John Bunyan, Apology of Pilgrim's Progress 

I'm not sure what the American Dream is (as with many dreams, it hazes over in the memory), but in my profession, the method of achieving the image of success, as reflected in the funhouse mirror which is the CV, is to participate in a multitude of advisory institutions, editorial boards, reading and research groups, department councils, and above all, conferences. All of which boils down to an unceasing procession of glorified meetings.

In the conference presentation, one of which I traveled across the country to deliver not-too-long-ago, you speak for fifteen minutes about a facet of your research and your conclusions. The value of the exercise comes in refining your work, your speaking style, receiving feedback from other scholars, networking - all good things, none of which shows up on the CV. Your talk might have stunk worse than a decomposing warthog after six days in a marshy root cellar, but you get to keep those two lines on the one-page encapsulation of your life. And good for those other scholars, because if you could Yelp colleagues for their speaking and organizational ability, quite a few of my compatriots would be sitting on three stars or less.

After suffering through some travel delays that proved quite improvident (as a friend put it, there is no more grim or tacky place than the Newark airport), I arrived in Rhode Island and awaited the hotel shuttle. One fitting the general description arrived almost immediately, and I asked the driver (then in the process of pulling away) if it was for the Hampton Inn Providence. He said no and sped off, giving me a good view of the logo for the Hampton Inn Providence emblazoned on the vehicle's side. So, puzzled, I called the hotel, and they said they were sending the correct shuttle. Cue me waiting another half-hour, having watched myriad shuttles go by, before the original van reappeared. Driver again denied being for the hotel I wanted, telling the other departees that he hoped the right one came soon, since I'd been there a long time. Cue me comparing contact info with another traveler and finding that the van was indeed the van for my hotel. Apparently it lay in a place called Warwick, which led to the driver denying my attempts to arrive at the Hampton Inn Providence, since I actually wanted what was technically titled the Hampton Inn Providence/Warwick.

                                                           You son of a b*****

After that shameful display, I boarded the shuttle and was driven roughly 200 yards to the hotel, which stood in clear visual range of the airport itself.

Despite the five hours of sleep I somehow managed, the conference itself went rather well: while I combated jitters at the podium and won convincingly, most of the effort had been expended in reading my paper over and over on the plane, smoothing over rough edges and becoming increasingly and intimately aware of its flaws. However, since it was a diachronic (read: we'll take anybody) conference, the only people aware of the flaws were my co-panelist, who surely had her own foibles to worry about, and the faculty respondent, whose critique comprised mostly 'industry lingo' and was thus incomprehensible to most of the audience.

So fresh off what I must only slightly tongue-in-cheekly call an escape, I experienced the best part of the conference junket. Once you're done, and the conference continues, all you find is catered food, free dinner, and more or less intriguing conversation with exhausted, intelligent people. Which all culminated in me using a spare day at the tail end of the conference (an extra day in the hotel being cheaper than the cost difference between flying out Sunday and flying out Monday) walking around the charming, pint-sized city of Providence.

                                                 Each of these buildings are 3" tall.

So at the end of it all I sat in the hotel jacuzzi, reading a copy of Bunyan I'd bought for three dollars at a rummage sale to benefit the Brown MFA students, avoiding the siren song of cable television in my room, readying myself for the travel snafus to come (and come they did) on the way home, waiting until the last minute to pack my shabby clothes in the nice luggage my grandparents had bought me a decade prior, and wondering what to make of it all.

Sound words I know Timothy is to use,
And old Wives' Fables he is to refuse;
But yet grave Paul him nowhere doth forbid
The use of Parables; in which lay hid
That Gold, those Pearls, and precious stones that were
Worth digging for, and that with greatest care.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Kanye West is a visionary and other critical musings

Take a good deep look at that chiseled face. I'll wait.

That, my friends, is what visionary looks like. Now I'll admit, I am not a huge rap/hip hop person. Sure I do love me some old school Snoop 'doggy doggy' Dogg Lion but I am not what one would call a fanatic. Occasionally I listen to some Jay-Z as well.  

But Kanye? Man he blows me away. His songs are symphonic. Perfect blend of melodies, rhythm, lyrics creates a pretty powerful experience. I understand he probably has a whole army of sound engineers, sound technicians, sound advisers, sound managers, sound quarterbacks whatever tweaking every little note but the finished product still carries his stamp of authority and approval.

Here's 'Homecoming', a great example of what I mean by symphonic:

The dude from 'Coldplay' is on the piano and the song begins with a beautiful piano riff that forms the backbone of the whole piece. It was everything, the clever puns, a catchy refrain, good meaningful lyrics. Pretty powerful song, really, that stays with you long enough and succeeds at evoking strong nostalgia and a tinge of wistfulness.

John Coltrane, the legendary Jazz innovator and renowned saxophonist, pioneered a technique called"> 'sheets of sound'
with his improvisation and creative arrangements. I think Kanye does something similar with his songs. He puts in a lot of thought, a lot of effort into creating the right blend of sound. Pick up his new album 'Yeezus' and listen to any of the songs on there ('Black skinhead' is my favorite) and you'll see what I mean.
Kanye may be a jackass, as President Obama so memorably called him in an off-the-record remark during a routine interview, but damn he is a visionary.

And since I promised other critical musings in my title to the post, you will be rewarded aptly:

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Adventures in Technical Support; Or, Resisting the Abdication of Self-Reliance

Like, I imagine, many children of the digital age, I have achieved a basic understanding of the modern computer without actually having any cohesive insight into its true workings. When my family received our first computer in the medieval wastes of 1998, my brother and I garnered a practical education in what computers can do, what one should not do (in my brother's case, delete the system.ini file), and how to fix one's typical problems, such as finding files in the computer's internal labyrinth, getting the printer to connect, updating drivers, booting the computer through startup, getting damaged floppy disks to read onto the drive (mostly by hitting the computer case), and dealing with viruses. Oh god, the viruses. Of course that means that my parents still believe their spawn are computer Svengalis who can magically fix their every error.

So the result of all this is that, in the rare cases where a computer problem falls outside my domain of pragmatic fixes, I tend to know immediately that outside help will be required. Monitor broken? Go to Best Buy. Monitor breaks again, almost instantly? Back to Best Buy. [Note: this does not constitute approval for Best Buy's selection, business model, or prices. Trust that I have not been paid off by generous, morally upstanding, compassionate overlords there.]  Liquid cooling system brimming with eels? Call your local spear-fisherman. And so forth.

                         Nothing these bastards love more than a good mainframe.

Anyway, in the not-too-distant past, I was listening to something mundane when the audio quality changed drastically from no apparent cause. Being that I didn't want to spend the next couple years listening to Megadeth rendered as either whale song or a child's tin-can telephone, this problem had to be solved.

Unfortunately, audio drivers are about as far removed from my expertise as anything, so the simplistic scans and diagnostics from the Control Panel did nothing, and my efforts to find useful technical advice on web fora were fruitless. Imagine that. So what happened, in my darkest hour, was to turn to live chat with technical support on two separate websites. One was Microsoft itself, the other was something more generic (I can't remember its title offhand, but it might have been

So we went through a time-sink rigamarole with my information, and description of the problem, and an eternity later I entered tech support chat. As always, I am miffed by the possibility that I might be talking to a computer masquerading as an actual person, which resulted in my application of a lo-fi Turing Test (consisting of variations on "Are you a human?" - let's face it, I was in need), which seemed to return the result that these entities were at least partially human.

                                                 Our worst-case scenario.

Results were mixed. The Microsoft android (potentially) only said he couldn't fix the problem and that I would have to send the computer in to have it fixed for the low price of $100. I told him that was unreasonable and that he could find some other sucker, which he seemed to take in stride. For the non-corporate avatar, however, my problem was far worse. They accessed my computer remotely (which might not have been the wisest move for me to allow) and determined, via some fancy graphic, that my computer had been invaded by "polymorphic viruses" and it was critical that I have them inspect and repair it for the entirely reasonably price of $200. I don't know why all these prices come in multiples of 100, but it might have some significance.

While that sort of terminology might have intimidated rubes and True Americans, I immediately determined it was hogwash and told them in no uncertain terms that they were not welcome in the conversation or on my computer. So, bereft of outside help once again, I paced and pondered whether to lug the desktop all the way to campus to the Student Technology Center (who had been helpful in virus removal years before, for affordable prices). As I was doing so, I doublechecked the connection of my speakers to the rear of the stack.

Apparently movements of my feet or my desk had ever-so-slightly disconnected the cable from the jack. My audio started working perfectly.

C'est la vie.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

For a suitcase of cash you too can be a marquis

Contrary to public perception, The Economist doesn't always deal in dreadfully serious articles about, say, the state of the Swedish bank system (which is doing mighty fine thanks for asking) or the fragility of the cotton commodities market. The boffins who run this very British institution know their regular readers (and other casual bystanders) occasionally like to partake in a little spice here and there. I have alluded to this before (here and here).

Take this week's issue. Did you know that for a mere $5000 you can be dutifully anointed a baron in Rwanda? Or for $130,000 you can triumphantly attach the lofty moniker 'Baron von' to your name? If you are brave (and rich) enough you can shell out $2 million and gleefully call yourself 'Prinz'. 

It's true! This is a thriving market around the world. 

Most of the allocators of these titles are people who were either: 

a) deposed by democratic governments in their countries (the Rwandan ex-king Kigeli) 

b) aides in former royal households (some Vietnamese dude now in Texas sells medals for $38 - shipping and handling separate)

or my personal favorite:

c) pretenders to thrones ('Prince' Davit, a pretender to the Georgian throne which has been vacant since, like, the early 1800's)

You gotta hand it to these entrepreneurs. They have cleverly seized upon society's lamentable obsession with all things royal.  

Of course, dear readers, you and I both know there can only be one king, don't we? Long live you magnificent brooding bastard.

The real King
Rest assured your humble blogger will never stoop so low as to buy fake titles. He will remain, through eternity, your comrade, true and always. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Poem of the Week - 'Gunga Din' by Rudyard Kipling

Hi there. As a new contributor to this blog (broken in, as it were, by Steam/real-life friend Comrade_Bazarov) I thought that my first action should be to compose an entry in its most reliable segment, the intermittent Poem of the Week, and make my addition to this misleading sobriquet. In doing so I will doubtlessly earn your Internet trust.

Like many poems that matter, at least to me, this one comes with a story. Maybe several stories.  I bought the anthology of Kipling's collected verse, a fairly cheap, commonplace edition, at an upscale establishment called the Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles, buying the Kipling, a collection of Shaw's plays, and the Barenaked Ladies album Gordon as spoken-word artists performed in the building's central enclosure (pretentious, like all spoken-word/slam poetry, but not unentertaining at times - and who am I to scoff at the notion that people might want to hear the stream-of-consciousness detritus of a stranger's brain) while enjoying an odd excursion out with my ex-girlfriend of the time. It was in a weird moment where we were transitioning explicitly out of relationship mode and into friendship, and not cleanly. Snappishness on both sides.

The anthology sat on my end table, as I took one or two poems a night before going to sleep. But, as you might not know, Kipling was horrendously prolific, and I slowed several hundred pages into the 700-page behemoth. That's what happens with writing on a set schedule.

Anyway, in one of the darker moments of my life, I didn't pass my first oral examination, and the possibility of that happening became apparent mid-exam. I'd been reading "Gunga Din" off and on while studying, trying to commit it to memory, and as I waited in the hallway, interminably, as I waited for my committee's decision, knowing that it lay in great doubt, being nervous and in great despair, I recited the poem to myself as a tool to eat time and ward off anxiety.

Several months later, waiting in that hallway again, during a much shorter wait, I recited the poem correctly, end-to-end, for the first time.


You may talk o' gin and beer
When you're quartered safe out 'ere
And you're sent in penny-fights and Aldershot it;
But when it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water
An' you'll lick the bloomin' boots of 'im that's got it.
Now in Injia's sunny clime
Where I used to spend my time
A'servin' of 'er Majesty the Queen,
Of all them blackfaced crew
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.
     He was "Din! Din! Din!
  You limpin' lump o' brick-dust, Gunga Din!
     "Hi, slippy hitherao!
     Water, get it! Panee lao,
  You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din."

The uniform 'e wore
Was nothing much before
An' rather less than 'alf of that behind.
For a piece o' twisty rag
An' a goatskin water-bag
Was all the field equipment 'e could find.
When the sweatin' troop-train lay
In a sidin' through the day,
Where the 'eat would make your bloomin' eyebrows crawl,
We shouted "Harry by!"
Till our throats were bricky-dry,
Then we wopped 'im 'cause 'e couldn't serve us all. 
     It was "Din! Din! Din!
  You 'eathen, where the mischief 'ave you been?
     You put some juldee in it,
     Or I'll marrow you this minute
  If you don't fill up my helmet, Gunga Din!"

'E would do t an' carry one
Till the longest day was done;
An' 'e didn't seem to know the use o' fear.
If we charged or broke or cut,
You could bet your bloomin' nut,
'E'd be waitin' fifty paces right flank rear.
With 'is mussick on his back,
'E would skip with our attack,
An' watch us till the bugles made "Retire",
An' for all 'is dirty 'ide
'E was white, clear white, inside
When 'e went to tend the wounded under fire.
     It was "Din! Din! Din!
With the bullets kickin' dust-spots on the green.
     When the cartridges ran out,
     You could here the front-ranks shout,
"Hi, ammunition-mules an' Gunga Din!"

I shan't forgit the night
When I dropped behind the fight
With a bullet where my belt-plate should 'a' been.
I was chokin' mad with thirst
An' the man that spied me first
Was our good old grinnin', gruntin' Gunga Din.
'E lifted up my 'ead,
An' he plugged me where I bled,
An' 'e guv me 'arf-a-pint o' water green.
It was crawlin' an' it stunk,
But of all the drinks I've drunk,
I'm gratefullest to one from Gunga Din.
     It was "Din! Din! Din!
  'Ere's a beggar with a bullet through 'is spleen;
    'E's chawing on the ground,
    an' 'e's kickin' all around,
  For Fawd's sake git the water, Gunga Din!"

'E carried me away,
To where a dooli lay,
An' a bullet come an' drilled the beggar clean.
'E put me safe inside,
An' just before 'e died,
"I 'ope you liked your drink," sez Gunga Din.
So I'll meet 'im later on,
At the place where 'e is gone-
Where it's always double drill and no canteen.
'E'll be squattin' on the coals,
Givin' drink to poor damned souls,
An' I'll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!
      Yes, Din! Din! Din!
  You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
     Though I've belted you and flayed you,
     By the livin' Gawd that made you,
  You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Holy 100 grand hits Batman!

When the three of us started this blog to occupy a tiny blip-sized island in the vast limitless ocean that is the internet, our intent was to mostly write anything that came to our minds. The very first few posts on the blog were incredibly random (cats , heavy duty medical ethics, food recipes) but over time life happened and people began to move on. We are at a point now when I am the only one left but even then, my output has been dismally low in the last year and a half.

No matter though. Seems like the internet did not forget this humble little corner. Slowly and steadily (like that stupid tortoise from that stupid fable - God I hated that boring tale) the visitors kept coming, mainly to the post about hallucinations and ping-pong balls (here let me do some more gratuitous plugging and link you there), a post I wrote up mostly out of sheer boredom and desire to be wacky.

The blog stat counter officially crossed the 100,000 mark today. Now when you consider that even sites at the low end of the popularity spectrum still get hits in the several thousands every day, this number is nothing. But I think for a venture that grew out of some idle chit-chat three years ago it's more than what I (or the other two contributors, if they are still reading this) could have expected. I will be partying like a freshman at his first frat party tonight, that's for sure. This is an occasion for a bacchanalian revelry of epic proportions.

So keep checking in every now and then because the mission here at UG has been, and will always be, sacrificing our well-being for your entertainment. I promise you that when I bike back home today with the wind rushing pleasantly into my face, a day's worth of mouse brain work behind me, I will think of nothing but that (actually I will be thinking of eating dinner, but hey your entertainment will still be on my list. Somewhere). 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The sensation that is Johnny Manziel

Let's take some time to talk some college football. Now normally I wouldn't even dream of devoting precious blog space to the mediocre world of college sports, but every now and then something happens that forces me to make an exception. This is one of those occasions.

If you are a rare individual who (for some bizarre unfathomable reason) is not acquainted with this person phenom Johnny Manziel, here's a quick recap: he stormed the world of college football (and subsequently our collective psyches) with his dazzling on-field exploits last season. As a redshirted freshman (i.e. he is technically a sophomore who sat out his first year), he went on to win the Heisman trophy, an award that despite having not much predictive value does a reasonably good job of identifying good college players. All cool? I am feeling bubbly today, so let me throw in a Manziel highlights package for ya:

You will notice this dude has a remarkable ability to escape the vicious clutches of multiple defenders and still throw explosive touchdown passes that leave you salivating for more action. Pretty soon the lore of Johnny took off. He attempted (and I believe succeeded) in getting his nickname trademarked - "Johnny Football". Don't we all wish we were blessed with such an awesome nickname?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Poem of the week - 'Digging' by Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney, perhaps the most important Irish poet after Yeats, passed away recently. Heaney won the literature nobel prize in 1995. His translation of the Old English epic 'Beowulf' was widely lauded. I hadn't read any of his poetry until recently, when a friend of the blog emailed me this gem. Thought I would share it here.

Here's Seamus Heaney with the beautiful, gritty 'Digging':

by Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

J.K. Rowling writes a well-reviewed detective novel under a pseudonym and almost gets away with it

Remember J.K. Rowling? Yeah her. Richer than the Queen, owner of a castle, writer of a children's series about magic.

Last year she published a novel called 'Casual vacancy'. Got solid reviews and did pretty well on the charts. Then she retreated back into her cocoon. Around April a detective novel purportedly by a debutant author writing under a pseudonym was published in Britain.

Called 'The cuckoo's calling', this novel was well received by all quarters. Reviewers praised its complexity and the sophistication. The author, 'Robert Galbraith', was said to be an ex-military officer writing under a pseudonym.

The only problem was: the novel seemed way too well put together for a first-time author. Late last week, people at Sunday Times of London got some anonymous tip from (where else?) twitter that the author was actually J.K. Rowling. Further snooping revealed that the this book and 'Casual vacancy' shared an agent and an editor. Additionally computer linguistic analysis of one of the Harry Potter books and this novel revealed enough similarities to suggest that she was indeed the author.

Today she fessed up in an article saying that being Galbraith was a "liberating" experience. As I write this, the book has shot up Amazon's bestseller list. Rowling has indicated a planned sequel is still in the works and will come out next year.

Now of course this could all be part of an elaborate campaign by the publisher, but it is still borderline miraculous that something as monumental as this managed to stay secret for so long.

Ponder this as I scoot away to buy a copy from my local bookstore.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Poem of the week - "Alley cat love song" by Dana Gioia

This somewhat irregularly recurring segment on this blog has proven moderately popular with outside readers who stumble here through google. I try to keep things fresh by posting poems across various genres, time periods, themes and genders. Haven't really posted any poems in a while, so consider this the triumphant return of this durable segment.

This is an interesting poem for me because I kinda know the son of the poet. He played quizbowl (aka academic competition etc etc) at Harvard and I have met him at a few tournaments here and there. He is widely considered one of the best players of literature questions in the country. Genetics, I suppose.

Anyway, here's Dana Gioia (who was the chairman of National Endowment of Arts, a marketing executive who avidly promoted Jello-O among other things) with his beautiful poem about love among cats:

Alley cat love song
by Dana Gioia 

Come into the garden, Fred,
For the neighborhood tabby is gone.
Come into the garden, Fred.
I have nothing but my flea collar on,
And the scent of catnip has gone to my head.
I'll wait by the screen door till dawn.
The fireflies court in the sweetgum tree.
The nightjar calls from the pine,
And she seems to say in her rhapsody,
"Oh, mustard-brown Fred, be mine!"
The full moon lights my whiskers afire,
And the fur goes erect on my spine.
I hear the frogs in the muddy lake
Croaking from shore to shore.
They've one swift season to soothe their ache.
In autumn they sing no more.
So ignore me now, and you'll hear my meow
As I scratch all night at the door.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Start the car and thank you for holding

 David 'Bumble' Lloyd is one of my favorite cricket commentators. Btw please don't be Jennifer Lopez and confuse cricket with croquet (as she does here). If you, as a loyal reader of this blog, are also confused, do the following:
a) Take a full minute to feel unbearable shame and
b) Read some of yours truly's excellent posts highlighting this very excellent game here and here.

He's an Englishman through and through and a bit of an extravagant joker. He played a few matches for England here and there, and coached for a few years before taking his talents to the much more lucrative (I presume) career as a commentator and a sports pundit. Bumble likes to the use the phrase 'Start the car' a lot and liberally peppers his sentences with that phrase, especially when he is on air. Bumble tweets here

Right then, onward.

I recently had the distinct pleasure of moving apartments. Mercifully my new abode is a mere floor above my old digs so it wasn't as bad as it can get. The new place is exquisite. Since I am not a man prone to exaggeration, you better believe every word I say. Seriously, this place is huge. Massive. Gargantuan.

It is lofty! (no literally  -  because it is a loft)
It has a balcony!
It has a wine rack! (not that I would every be caught dead putting anything in it)

The biggest surprise about moving is the sinking realization how much random shit you've recklessly accumulated over the years. I bet if everyone in America were made to move every two months, consumerism would die a gory death overnight.

The other dark side about moving is making calls to utility companies. I recently purchased new internet and made changes to my cable. All of that took me nearly five hours over three days. Seriously, we can put a man on the friggin moon but we can't come up with a better way to figure this shit out?! The metallic monotonous voice that greets you so blithely every time you call one of these entities gets so grating. Who in the right mind programs these things? And even the operators. Their obsequiousness is, quite frankly, unnerving. 

But that's all done with and here I am, sprawled across my majestic sofa, pecking away at my laptop like a boss.

Before I go, here's a link to what has surprisingly turned out to be by far the most popular post on this damn blog: post. It is a silly little post about a little experiment I did where I pseudohallucinated using ping pong balls and static noise. As of this writing it is responsible for close to 20% of this blog's traffic. We've been getting comments from all sorts of random people in far-flung places. 

Do tune in from time to time for more jazz and pizazz!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Back in black!

We're back! Back in black! Back in black baby! Ok I think that's enough. By the way, what does back in black even mean? If you ponder it hard enough you realize it makes absolutely zero sense. Thanks AC/DC for popularizing this meaningless term. Speaking of, here's an enjoyable AC/DC tune to keep you company (and no, it's not 'Back in black' - that would be way too obvious):

Moving on. A little update on what's been going on lately. I finished second year of med school literally yesterday. And now I can operate on your brain and remove complicated pancreatic tumors. No, clearly not. But I can tell you 10 random facts about 'Chronic granulomatous disease' or 'Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria'  - two insanely rare conditions. So I guess that's an achievement of sorts.

In less than 4 weeks, most of us will be taking an eight hour long test, the USMLE Step 1. Your score on this test marks the price of your soul is a crucial factor in ultimately deciding where you go for what specialty. Competitive fields like neurosurgery or dermatology traditionally require higher scores than others.

Most of my classmates will then go on to the hospital to do clinical rotations, while I will head over to the greener pastures of basic science research, spending time amongst pipets, gels and ELISAs. Interesting times lie ahead.

Friday, March 29, 2013

College basketball is boring and other random stuff

  • I am coughing a lung out over here in sunny Southern California, but I must soldier to feed the insatiable urge of my dear readers. The show must go on, as they say (btw who the hell comprises this murky "they"? Why don't they ever reveal "them"selves?)
  • For the first time ever, I deigned to fill out a bracket for march madness. Why, I don't know. Just wanted to get a taste of, I guess. Quite frankly, I am completely baffled by all the attention and hype. Let's be real here people: college basketball sucks. The level of play is obnoxiously abysmal, and the games are so boring and slow, even espresso shots can't keep me up. These teams get a 35 freaking second shot-clock and two 20 minute halves and yet games end with shitty scorelines like 64-60. What the hell are these people doing? It's an insult to the viewer. I would rather watch a far more superior product, the NBA. Meanwhile, feel free to clog up my facebook newsfeed with your inane complaints about bad coaches, bad referees and your desperate analysis of a sub-par sport.
  • Just finished a block of exams. One more block to go. Infectious diseases was the biggest class of this block, and definitely had the most amount of stuff to learn/memorize. Which makes sense I guess, considering the myriad bacteria and viruses and badass worms have it in for you. And oh man, the cats. So many diseases transmitted through cats. Moral of the class: stay the hell away from cats. They are cute little furry monsters of death. Speaking of which, here's a picture of a cute kitten:

Patiently plotting world domination

That's it for now. Have a Happy Easter. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ascaris: the subtle, understated badass

Nature is full of badasses. They come in all sizes and shapes and flavors. Some are big, obvious and downright terrifying: your leopards, cheetahs and other their ilk. Some are ruthless, relentless and overwhelm by the numbers. Army ants fall into this category. Never cross the path of an army ant. Some prefer to take the subtle approach. They display their badassery not by devouring you whole or laying eggs in your dead bodies or ripping you systematically apart. Nope. They believe in the power of invisibility.

The badass on display is from this camp.
It looks like this:

Ascaris: all-around badass

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Randomness of music on the car radio

Listening to music on the car radio carries hazards as well as rewards. Hazards first: you get stuck listening to absolutely terrible commercials or (heaven forbid) pitbull. Since radio stations (Top 40 especially) tend to play the same 40 songs over and over again, the songs start sounding really old and chewed up after a while. Some, of course, deny this and embrace the repetition. It all depends on whether you think Gotye's "Somebody I used to know" is an overplayed piece of shit or a soulful ballad of lost love.

On the rewards side, it's always a pleasant surprise when a song that fell off the radio landscape resurfaces after several months.

That's where Selena Gomez comes in. In the early months of 2012, "Love you like a love song" was all the rage. You couldn't turn on the radio or walk into a coffee shop without catching wisps of that song. It's your standard mass manufactured pop song: catchy beat, healthy dollop of auto-tune, moderately good voice and an overdone topic. I didn't mind it too much. Pleasant enough song. Then it fell off, like these songs do, to be replaced by the Carly Rae Jepsen juggernaut "Call me maybe" and a respectable onslaught by Gotye as well.

So when it popped back again on the radio last week as I was driving to school, a slight smile crept up on my face. I guess I missed you like a love song. Well here is the link to the youtube version:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Coffee: the drink of the gods

The days are getting longer. The wind is getting nastier, sometimes enough to blow you off the bicycle or knock you off your feet. Most of the snow has melted but you always dread opening because, well, maybe the next storm is peeping around the corner.

There are drugs to be memorized, an absurdly long laundry list of infections to commit to memory. And don't forget the zebras - your pheochromocytomas, your metachromatic leukodystrophies. Pesky undergrad neighbors are holding ragers well into the wee hours of Saturday. Don't these brats have anything better to do on a Friday night?

Who do you turn to in this time of troubles? (which, by the way, is also the name given to an awesome period in Russian history. Do check it out here if you are into that sort of thing)

Coffee. That smooth, bold liquid gold. Each drop infused with pure awesomeness. Ever sat back and just hear coffee brewing? The coffeemaker gurgles so deliciously. With each drop of fresh coffee made, it makes a deeply satisfying rich chortle. Decaffeinated coffee is an affront to human existence, a sin beyond human comprehension. But you, you know the value of the pure stuff. No creamer, no sugar. Why would you want to insult coffee? When it's all done, you take out the filter. You glance almost wistfully at the uniform mound of used coffee as you throw the filter in the trash. Can I collect it in a jar and store it? With each sip, each heavenly sip, each trouble melts away.  The room smells of coffee. It smells of victory.

So here is an ode to you, coffee, the drink of the gods. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Poem of the week - "Snake" by D.H. Lawrence

D.H. Lawrence might be better known for scandalizing the western world by penning a couple novels in the twenties that defied the cultural mores of the day - "Women in Love" and "Sons and Lovers". But the following poem shows he is a damn fine poet too.

Here's Lawrence with the "Snake":

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Now it can be told: the traumatic tale of switching hairdressers

You are forgiven for thinking I fell off the face of the earth (although technically that metaphor makes no sense, but whatever). I did not write for most of last month and most of this month. There is a reason for that: I was wallowing in immense sadness. I suffered a great traumatic event last month, and it took me all this time to recover fully. Well, not fully. I still have nightmares, but don't tell anybody that.

But now, dear readers, it can be finally told. Just for your collective sake and just for your entertainment (for, if you read the banner of this blog closely, we do promise to sacrifice our well-being for your entertainment) I have summoned every picogram of courage I possess to write this piece up. You're welcome. We accept checks, although we really prefer cold, hard cash. Email me to find out where to send the goodies.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Poem of the week - "Ring out, wild bells" by Tennyson

In spirit of the Christmas/New Year season, here's a classic by Alfred "call me Lord" Tennyson. A tender piece of work that is still widely read this time of the year. Enjoy.