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.