Sunday, December 28, 2008

I win again

On the overnight flight home from Singapore I found it really difficult to get to sleep. The problem was that by the time I'd finished eating my delicious airline-food dinner, the guy behind me had already fallen asleep. In doing so, he'd drawn his knees up to his chest and propped his legs against the back of my seat so I couldn't recline my seat at all.

Unfortunately, I didn't have an orange bag to put my head into so my head jerked around violently every time I started to nod off. I very quickly became full of rage, which is why I didn't simply turn around and ask him to move his legs.

Instead, I embarked on a subtle yet devastating program of forcing my seat back against his legs in the hope of waking him up and making him realize that he was being very inconsiderate while at the same time maintaining plausible deniability. "Oh!", I would exclaim if he confronted me, "You had your legs up on my seat and I was hurting you? I am so sorry. I thought that my seat was defective and wouldn't recline so I was trying to move it."

After about half an hour of this something gave and I was able to recline my seat and finally caught a few hours of richly deserved sleep.

When I was collecting my luggage after landing I was bustling off trying to find a trolley for our luggage and I noticed the guy I had vanquished in the Midnight Seat War. He was in a wheelchair.

First I felt guilty because the poor guy must have had to put his legs up on my chair to get comfortable. Then I felt even more guilty because perhaps he was in a wheelchair because I'd dislocated his hips. But now I suspect it was just another power-play from him. He'd probably sprinted ahead of me at disembarkation and flung himself into someone else's wheelchair just to make me feel bad. Is there no depth he will not sink to?

Saturday, December 27, 2008


These are the ways in which the Singapore Zoo is superior to the Adelaide Zoo:
  1. Very few, if any, enclosures in the Singapore Zoo have placards in front of them announcing that the enclosure is currently empty because the animal is dead and will be for the foreseeable future.
  2. The orangutans in the Singapore Zoo do not look clinically depressed. Not only was the depressed orangutan in Adelaide depressing to watch, seeing him prompted my sister to execute some of her jazz ballet moves from childhood in an attempt to cheer him up. Aaargh, my eyes!!!
  3. The flamingoes in the Singapore Zoo are mercifully free from brutal morons who leap the fence and bash them senseless. Unfortunately, this happened in Adelaide.
  4. The Singapore Zoo had a jagular!
  5. When it rained at the Singapore Zoo I had an umbrella.
On the other hand, the Singapore Zoo is a pain in the arse to get to. We sat on a horrible creaky old bus getting carbon monoxide poisoning for about an hour.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Big Star

Haven't posted for a while because my Smaller Half and I have been busy little bees since we returned from Sapa.  We finally got the hang of Hanoi I think, since we no longer find it exhausting just walking around.  Now we find it exhausting because we seem to be eating six meals a day in a desperate attempt to try everything we can before we leave.  And we leave tomorrow (as I write this it is already tomorrow but I will sleep soon so you know what I mean).

We visited the Ho Chi Minh memorial complex today.  I was a bit surprised to find myself briefly roped into posing for souvenir photos with a group of local girls.  The most likely explanation for this is that they mistook me for a Hollywood star since I am quite a snappy and glamorous dresser.  Alternatively, they may have mistaken my blue eyes for the eyes of a ghost and assumed that the spirit of Uncle Ho was walking among them.  Either way, I was happy to oblige.  My Smaller Half was a bit surprised at all the fuss but managed to photograph me being photographed which seems suitably contemporary to be mentioned.

We'll miss Hanoi.  Australia is going to seem a bit quiet and dull after this.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Something strange happened yesterday.  We were in Lao Cai right up by the Chinese border waiting for the overnight train back to Hanoi.  We had a few hours to kill and we were keen to find a bathroom that wasn't hazardous, so we went to hang out in a fancy-pants hotel for a while.  It had only been open for a week so I think we were the only people in the building who weren't being paid.  There was a rooftop bar on the tenth floor that we sat in to chat while we sipped a lemon juice.  Party on!

On the way back down, we hit the 'B' button, forgetting that Vietnamese buildings have level 1 on the ground floor.  So 'B' took us to a subterranean lair straight from a 007 film.  The doors slid open, and in front of us was a sinister looking man in a suit, standing in front of a wall of aquariums that were full of exotic and deadly fish.  The man turned in surprise, looked at us, and he stuck his hand into his exquisitely tailored jacket ...

... and the doors slid closed again before he could riddle our bodies with bullets for daring to discover his secret fish-smuggling operation.  Phew!

I'm already writing up a full report for Interpol.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Get out of my holiday

I have realized that I am self-righteous tourist.

I'm the kind of guy that sees another tourist doing essentially the same thing as me, and thinks, Those western tourists, they are so pathetic.  I bet they think they're being really adventurous and having a real cultural experience.  Well they're not - but I am.  

I am incredibly judgmental of my fellow travellers.  For example, anyone with an iPod gets written off my list immediately.  Like last week when we went to Halong Bay and the Aussie couple next to me in the bus didn't look out the window once for the whole three hour bus ride there.  They watched some action flick on a postage-stamp screen instead.  Nice one.

Or the American girls on the boat in Halong Bay who connected their iPod to the ship's foghorn and belted out their appalling dance beats because, apparently, when you're at the "beach" you need "beach music".  

Fortunately, on that same trip there were three other people who objected enough to the music to get the crew to pull the plug.  Hooray!  Now these are my kind of people.  And by the way, if you're reading this, hello!  We loved meeting you and had a lot of fun - please stay in touch.  Very few people escape the secret tribunal of my mind unscathed, but you did.

Other types of tourists that I despise are:
  • Tourists that buy souvenirs (I buy souvenirs, but as gifts for my family - I know they are lame, I am being ironic or postmodern or something.  You, on the other hand, have no taste at all.)
  • Tourists that eat at the same food stalls as local people (I do this too but my experience is much more authentic, whereas you are only after cheap thrills.)
  • Tourists who go on tours (I do this only because it reduces the administrative load for me, you do it because you are unimaginative and fearful.)
  • Tourists who photograph anything unusual or quirky (I do this but I have a fine eye for Statements.  You are just crass and culturally insensitive.)

I think you probably get the picture now.  If you're ever on holiday anywhere and I walk in - run for your life.  Soon you will be ridiculed and caricatured for daring to be on holiday.

You have been warned.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Motorcycle diaries

The things I have seen transported on the backs of motorcycles here range from the bizarre (an upright fully decorated Christmas tree, a wardrobe) to the hazardous (a glass coffee-table, 4 metre-long iron rods) and the disturbing (a wire cage filled with layer upon layer of live dogs).

It's these sort of things that remind you that you really are in a foreign country.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Good times

These things have happened to me recently:

While walking down the street here in Hanoi I felt a goodly portion of liquid splat against my head and shoulder from the sky.  I didn't put my hand up and wipe it from my head because I was too afraid to find out what it was.  There's a fairly popular local habit of clearing the sinuses and lungs vigorously and aerially, and many times I have seen people empty large bowls of filthy looking water by slinging them back over their shoulder without looking.  So I decided that ignorance was preferable to horror and just let it trickle down the back of my neck and dry up.

While we were waiting in the airport in Adelaide, my Smaller Half and I were watching planes take off.  Just as one left the ground she sang out, "Thar she blows!", which, apart from being irrelevantly (though poetically) nautical, strikes me as an unwise thing to be saying in an airport.

While flying to Singapore (ON A HOLIDAY), my Smaller Half pulled out a book of clinical cases and started quizzing me on what drugs would be standard immediate treatment for a patient presenting with acute coronary syndrome.  Did I mention that I was ON A HOLIDAY???

While disembarking the plane in Singapore, the chap in front of me bent over to pick up his bag, revealing a patch of fuzzy hair in the small of his back.  "Aha!", I thought, "spina bifida occulta!"  No wonder my Smaller Half was quizzing me earlier - I'm a total loser.

After hours of hard bargaining in a fabric market here in Hanoi for some linen (I think I bargained them down from $Laughable to $Outrageous), the saleswomen suddenly turned out to speak English after all.  Whoops!  It seems they were listening to us discuss between ourselves the prices we were prepared to pay and were adjusting their prices accordingly.  To top it all off, they then said to me, "This your wife? She so young! Ha ha ha!"

Ha ha ha.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Hey there!  We're in Hanoi!

This is an incredibly full-on and confronting place to be, at least compared to the other places I've been.  It's got the energy of Kenya, the crowding of Japan, the conditions of backwater Malaysia, and the food of (not surprisingly) a Vietnamese restaurant.

I'm taking notes as I go, as I intend to post up some of the more interesting happenings for your reading pleasure, but the actual posting of them may be extremely irregular.

For now, I just wanted to go off on a complete tangent and say that if I wasn't Australian, with all the super-dooperness that goes along with it, I'd like to be Scottish.  We sat next to a Scottish guy on the plane from Singapore to Hanoi.  He was really nice.  And because he's Scottish, the mildest witticism sounds absolutely hilarious.

I'm not sure why this is.  Perhaps it's because the only Scottish people allowed on TV when I was young were comedians.  My brain must have a hard-wired connection between Scottishness and funniness.  Oh well, I'm not complaining about it.  We had a great flight.

See you bye!

Thursday, December 4, 2008


I may not be posting much for the next little while. Try to live your lives to the fullest nonetheless.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bright Spark

I just watched The Howard Years again (did I mention what a great show it is?) and Helen Coonan unleashed the best mixed metaphor I have ever heard when she was asked a question about Mark Latham:

Helen Coonan
We knew that if we just gave him enough rope he'd blow himself up.

First class stuff Helen, well done. So glad you were the Minister for Communications.

Law and Order

I am relieved to note that law and order has been re-established in the suburb where I live.

Today the Neighborhood Watch newsletter arrived, and I noticed that this month there were no chicken burgers flung at vegetarian pedestrians from passing vehicles - a 100% reduction from last month when there was one.

Man dies of tedium

One down, one to go.

Wasn't that exam this morning fun? No, not really. The one good thing I can say about it was that it was predictable. No surprises = happy PTR.

I was greatly relieved that the embryology question was mostly about body folding and stuff like that. I was dreading a question on formation of the face and cleft palates and so forth, but it didn't come up. Of course, the wonderful thing about embryology is that because everything blurs into everything else, you could keep writing for hours (as long as you knew enough). But since the question was only worth 8 marks, there comes a time (fairly quickly actually) when you need to turn the page and move on.

The exam tomorrow is going to be a whole lot of kablooey. As you can tell I am underwhelmed with enthusiasm about it. Sigh. It's gotta be done...

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Note to self: it's a bad idea to look at old holiday photos when you should be studying.

I came back to my desk, looked over some past exams, did a bit of this, a bit of that, then thought (foolishly), I might just spend 5 minutes checking out those pictures I took in Spain in January.

Almost 45 minutes later - still checking out pictures. Looking at them has instilled me with a sense of what the hell am I doing sitting at this desk? And while that's a valid question, now is probably not the time to be asking it.

It makes me long for the time when we would wake up every few days in a new place, not really knowing what the day had in store. We travelled from town to town on bus or train. We never knew where we would be staying, since once we arrived we just wandered around with our packs until we found something that seemed okay.

We often didn't have a clue what we were really ordering when we ate. We were often too hot or too cold or lost or hungry. We squabbled about trivia. We marvelled together at the world.

But you know what? Soon enough we're doing it all over again - but different.

By Tuesday lunchtime I'll be finished first year medicine (fingers crossed). By Saturday we'll be in Hanoi. And you know what we'll do there? Neither do I.

That's what I'm looking forward to.

Friday, November 28, 2008

In a nutshell

Again, a content-free day. I'm just not up to the effort of formulating thoughts at the moment - there's too much other stuff bouncing around inside my noggin'.

So instead, here's a reformulation of everything I've posted so far this month, courtesy of

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Insert Title

Not much to report, except that I'm starting to question my laissez-faire approach to study in the last few weeks. Things are getting a bit out of hand perhaps...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Surprising things

Two surprising things happened to me today.

1. I learned that the balance between selection pressure against alleles and new mutation of alleles (which I might need to understand for Monday's exam) was first enumerated by my favourite Marxist children's book writer, JBS Haldane. Wow.

2. My Smaller Half said to me, "I love quantum mechanics!" - and she wasn't joking. Maybe the body snatchers are upon us.

We object to this subject

I discovered a great way to have people look at you like you're a madman: expound enthusiastically about grammar in the middle of a tutorial about psychiatry.

It really was relevant though. We were discussing a thing called a Mental State Examination used to assess a patient's state of mind. There are a bunch of different things to assess, and some tests are labelled "subjective" and some are labelled "objective".

My tute group got into a discussion about how some of the so-called "objective" measures really weren't objective at all - they were just the doctor's opinion, and so were actually subjective. I could see where they were coming from, since science usually uses the word "objective" to mean independent of the observer, so the measurement would be quantifiable and repeatable. In contrast, having a doctor write on a form that he thinks the patient is dressed like a scruffy bum seems much more subjective than objective.

At this stage, I interjected, explaining that it seemed to me that the labels "subjective" and "objective" were being used in their grammatical sense. So a subjective measure was something that the patient tells you about themselves (so the patient "does it"), and an objective measure is one that the doctor assesses (so the patient is having it "done to them"), just like the subject and object of a sentence.

I was about to enthusiastically begin illustrating the difference using the example of who vs whom when I realized that the room was very quiet and everyone else had leaned back from the table with raised eyebrows. They all clearly thought I was a lunatic, so stopped talking. The discussion moved on to another topic in that "So, how 'bout them Broncos?" way that happens when someone has just said something very awkward or bizarre.

Honestly, what do they teach them at schools these days?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Creeping doom

Argh - what a night! Trying desperately to motivate myself to study for my exams, which are next week! I'm finding it hard to get going for a number of reasons.
  1. I always find it hard to start working intensely. This is because I am lazy. I know this because my PBL tutor told me so after I expressed a desire to have fewer Learning Issues. (I told her I wasn't lazy, I was efficient.)
  2. The two exams are both horrid beasts from Greek mythology. For example, the first exam will have the head of an embryologist, the body of a geneticist, and the tail of ... I'm not sure what the tail is made of. Some kind of psychiatrist, I suspect. As you read these words you tremble with fear, I can tell. The significance of this is that it encourages broad, shallow learning, which means I really don't have to bother starting study until Friday. Ha ha ha.
  3. I'm kind of fed up with sitting at this desk. It's been a tiring year, and we have an awesome holiday waiting for us.
As a result, I've been engrossed tonight in the ABC's The Howard Years. It's fascinating. A reviewer in the Sydney Morning Herald described it as like seeing the kebab you drunkenly ate half the previous night in the cold light of day and shuddering, wondering what on earth you were thinking. This made me laugh, but sadly I suspect that it's not true. Those Australian who supported Howard's actions at the time probably still believe they were right. And those Australians (like me) who could hardly believe it was really happening just sit there shaking their heads all over again.

I won't attempt to summarize the program. If you're interested, you can watch it on the ABC website I think. Or, if you want the four and a half minute version of John Howard's historic contribution, and don't mind some very harsh language - watch The Herd on youtube.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Goodbye my friend. You were one among many, all so close to me, so how could I pick favourites? Yet now your absence commands my attention and I am left with nothing but memories of our time together.

We were a perfect fit for each other. I turned to you for warmth and support so many times, over so many years, that I started to think you would always be there for me. It was not to be - how could it? The bonds that held you to me were destined to stretch, fated to break.

I'd noticed recently that you'd been looking worn, threadbare. You didn't seem your old self. I thought that maybe it was me, maybe I'd changed. But I came to realize that it was you.

When the time came, I didn't shirk my duty. I made sure you were clean and dry and folded with dignity, and I took you to the garbage bin. Old purple undies, you served me well.


Well how about that? I guess they weren't bluffing after all.

It turns out that if you don't pay your telephone bill, and don't pay the reminder bill, and then don't pay the overdue notice, and then don't pay the termination notice, the phone company will disconnect your phone.

"Valued customer" my arse!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

comfort + pain

We just had a class on how to give injections. I had always been under the impression that giving injections was pretty much like playing darts: stand back, loosen up the wrist, let fly, and if it bounces off the target you lose your turn.

But it turns out it's more complex than that. You have to use different types of needles and different techniques depending on whether you want to inject into the skin, the fat or the muscle, which in turn depends on what kind of stuff you're injecting and how much of it.

We were injecting water into little latex and sponge models rather than on ourselves or each other, although one of my Esteemed Colleagues did manage to stab himself in the thumb.

When you're doing an intramuscular injection the needle is bigger, longer, and you plunge straight in rather than mincing around at an angle like you might for an intradermal injection. Apparently you also have to inject the fluid pretty slowly because it is "more comfortable" for the patient. I was struck by this phrase because I think what it really means is "less painful" for the patient. I can't imagine too many people getting honking big injections and saying, "Mmm, that was pleasingly comfortable".

I suppose that if you conceive of the world in terms of dynamic opposition of absolutes then "more comfortable" is the same thing as "less painful" - they are both talking about moving away from the "agony" end of the line. But "less painful" has a bit of the same quality as "I've stopped beating my wife". It is objectively better but still not much chop.

I wonder which phrase is better for the patient? If I tell you that some treatment will make you more comfortable, will you value that treatment more or less than if I told you it would reduce your pain? Someone must have done some research on this. I know that economists and psychologist have looked at the question of how people respond to potential rewards or losses and have found that people respond very differently depending on the way it is described to them. People seem to prefer certainty of outcome when considering losses but prefer the magnitude of the benefit when considering rewards. This is why lotteries are so popular.

Something similar should hold for medical treatment and the choices that patients make. It's very possible that doctors are unwittingly influencing their patients' decision by the frame of reference they use.

If only someone would set up a hugely unethical study to discover the truth!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Meaningless nonsense

Well I wasn't expecting that. I was the only person out of twelve voters who thought that children's books should contain less political allegory. Admittedly I was mostly thinking of John Marsden's book The Rabbits when I voted, so it's probably not representative of my views in general.

Nevertheless, I can't help but wonder what kind nincompoops voted for fewer talking mice. Can you imagine a childhood without Reepicheep? No, neither can I, yet that's the kind of madness you are contemplating with your careless voting.

Explain yourselves.

Monday, November 17, 2008


While waiting to update my driver's license to one from South Australia (now that I've been living here for almost two years) I found myself sitting next to a sweet little old lady in the holding pen. She and I passed the time by discussing the other people who were coming into the waiting room, mostly by making catty remarks about them. For example:

[enter trollop, stage left]

Little Old Lady

Nice shoes...

Little Old Lady
It was the diamante anklet that caught my eye.

This was a great way to pass the time. But I got a bit worried when two enormously burly tattooed gentlemen entered.

Little Old Lady
Do you have a tattoo?

Me? No.

Little Old Lady
My old dad used to say that if they was born looking like that you'd expect compensation.

I suppose it's possible that they didn't hear her since they were, ooh, about 3 feet away. Or maybe they decided that punching out a little old lady wasn't that macho. Either way, it was a great line. I can't wait until I'm old and defenceless enough to be able to insult anyone I like.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Japanese manhole covers

Ever been to Japan? The manhole covers are fascinating. Everywhere you go, the designs on them are different. Some are geometrical, some have cartoon characters on them, some have elegant floral designs. When my Smaller Half and I were in Japan on our honeymoon, we walked around looking at the ground all time, afraid we'd miss a manhole cover.

Anyway, for some time I've had a small collection of pictures of them in an album on facebook. My Award-Winning Illustrious Tutor was looking at them and sent a message to me and an Observant Friend of his, letting us know that we were both devotees of Japanese manhole covers.

And his Observant Friend noticed that we both have pictures of the same manhole cover. Not the same design. The same cover. If you look at the paving around the manhole covers in the two pictures below you can see that it is the same in both of them.

My picture:

Her picture:

Isn't that a bizarre coincidence?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Monster teeth

Saw this lying on the grass beside the road while walking around the neighborhood several months ago. I kept meaning to post it here but forgot until now.

In case you can't read the writing on the cardboard it says:
"The monster teeth 4 sale! Only, 50c - $1.00 Awesome!"

I truly regret not buying the monster teeth myself.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Exotic visitors

Hello to whoever it was that viewed this page from the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Russian Federation, Sweden and Brazil (presumably not the same person from all five countries).

No views yet from Africa (note to Sarah Palin: it's a continent). If you're reading this and have a friend in Africa, why not get them to come and have a look?

Thursday, November 13, 2008


This evening my Smaller Half and I went to a public lecture given by Julian Burnside QC on the topic of why Australia needs a bill of rights. I was very impressed by him. He is a terrific public speaker. He managed to teach us all an awful lot about history, legal theory and politics, and did it all by telling us stories.

Telling stories is a great way to keep people listening, but it's not that easy. One of my lecturers at my Fine University at the moment is fond of telling stories too, but his are meandering diversions away from the topic at hand rather than illustrative vignettes, so I usually leave his lectures wondering what they were about.

Mr Burnside's lecture was basically about what the main objections are to having a bill of rights, and why he feels they aren't valid.

Anyway, afterwards I approached him and asked him to sign a copy of one his books for a friend, which he did very cheerily. I then complimented him on his talk, saying that beforehand I was a skeptic regarding the need for a bill of rights, but he had converted me. He responded (to my surprise) that he had also previously been skeptical, but had had to rethink things over the last 10 years and had changed his mind.

The thing that changed his mind (and the thing he discussed in detail in his talk that convinced me too) was that the idea that the existing law is sufficient protection was clearly shown to be false by the actions of the Howard government against refugees. He described how 2004 was a bad year for human rights in Australia.

In that year there were three separate cases that went to the High Court regarding the operation and conduct of the detention centres that refugees were kept in while their status was assessed. The first case affirmed the right of the Australian Government to keep people in detention indefinitely even though they had done nothing wrong. The second case affirmed that the Government had no obligation to provide any standard of accommodation or care to refugees. The third case affirmed that the above cases applied equally well to children as to adults. In all three cases those points of view were the positions actively argued by the Government.

If Australia had had a bill of rights, like the rest of the western world, the outcome might have been a little different.

I've come to the point of view that those who oppose a bill of rights are either insufficiently well informed or too concerned with the "power" that this would give to underprivileged groups, which is really a way of saying that they think that only "sensible" people like themselves should be in charge.

A transcript of the talk will be available tomorrow (Friday). When it goes online I'll post a link here. Have a read of it. I'd like to know what you think. Here it is!

PS Here is a link to the transcript of Fiona Stanley's speech from last week on Indigenous Health that I discussed previously.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Full disclosure

For the past two months I have had a lot of trouble spelling the word "abdomen". It always wants to be spelled "adbomen". This happens whether I am typing or writing. I know perfectly well how to spell it, but my fingers seem incapable of getting it right.

I just thought you should know that. Before we get any closer.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Get it right!

Here's another shot in the War On Innumeracy. I was reading an otherwise respectable textbook called Genetics At A Glance by Dorian J. Pritchard and Bruce R. Korf when I came across this doltish statement on page 27:
"Reassortment of paternal and maternal alleles within chromosomes creates an infinite potential for genetic variation between gametes."
This is just hogwash. The potential variation is not even close to being infinite - whatever that might mean...

I sat down with my pen and paper and made some basic simplifying assumptions such as there are about 30,000 genes in the human genome, and that the average gamete (ie: sperm or egg) has about 40 paternal/maternal crossovers, and concluded that the average person could conceivably (ho ho - pun intended) produce about 10 to the power of 160 different gametes. You should have seen how excited my tute group was when I told them!

Is that number really really large? Yes.

Is it infinite? No.

Shame shame shame.

Monday, November 10, 2008

How to buy a car

One of the questions I got asked in my medical school admissions interview was to do with how I might go about buying a car. I realized that this was obviously a question to do with how I go about applying myself to achieving a task, including information gathering, testing, weighing alternatives, and taking action. The theory is, I suppose, that such a rational decision-making process could equally well be used in formulating a research program or treating a patient or striking for more pay.

So I talked in my best reasonable-man's-voice about things like reading car reviews, examining resale values, setting budgets, deciding on what measures of a car such a fuel economy or power or style were important to me, and so on and so on. I even threw in a joke about not ever buying a Renault again, because there's nothing Australians love like a good anti-French joke. Presumably I sounded reasonably coherent because a little more than a year later, here I am in medical school.

In that time I've bought one car and I'm now looking at buying another one, and (astonishingly) neither time have I followed anything like the procedure that I so carefully explained to my interviewers. The actual procedure I follow consists of these steps:
  • Choose a make and model of car based on what looks good, mostly defined by the shape of the bonnet and headlights, and the wheel arches.
  • Test drive a dodgy version of the car of the moment and be disappointed. Become entranced by an adjacent car of a completely different make and model. This is the new car of the moment.
  • Discover that the car of the moment is well beyond my means and start all over again.
  • Become enraged with a salesman and swear to never look at the poor innocent car ever again. Start again.
  • Ask some friends what they drive.
  • Imagine what I would buy if I had triple the budget.
  • Get tired of the whole thing and impulsively go the nearest dealership that has copious and colourful bunting and buy the first car that I can get a good price on.
I can heartily recommend this process to you. Not only is it a great way to buy a car, it can also be used to formulate a research program, treat a patient, or strike for more pay.

Good luck!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Handcrafted Artisan Cereal

As is our custom, we went to the Farmer's Markets (a.k.a the Farmers' Markets) this morning for our cheese and tomato toastie with coffee. Once more it was deluxe.

After eating we strolled around the various stalls, where I saw a someone selling bags of fancy-pants organic dairy-free wheat-free sugar-free 100% natural whole-grain breakfast cereal for extortionate prices. There was a big sign next to the stall which said:

It's not muesli!
Handcrafted Artisan Cereal

I am so happy that the ancient craft of cereal making has not died and that there are still master craftsmen willing to pass on this noble trade to eager young journeymen. They must lovingly hand-roll every single oat.

A great idea

Thanks for your feedback in the recent poll. The two things that most of you thought should appear more often in children's books were tropical fruit and vitamin K. How dietary. It's unfortunate that tropical fruit is not rich in vitamin K, or we'd be able to kill two bird with one stone.

Nevertheless, based on these results, I have formulated a great idea for a children's book. It's called, "Marky the Mango takes Warfarin." Perhaps I will suggest this to my sister, who is in my opinion an excellent writer and also a veterinarian and hence has all the skills necessary to write such a book.

Available in all good book stores.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


My Smaller Half and I were discussing balloons this morning, with the following points being mutually agreed upon:
  1. Balloons are fun.
  2. Balloon-fun always ends anti-climactically and disappointingly. The balloon either pops when bitten by a small dog, shrivels up over several days in a neglected dusty corner (hence Paul Simon's lyric, "sad as a lonely little wrinkled balloon"), or at best is accidentally set free by a clumsy child and escapes to the stars and beyond.
  3. Balloons would be more fun if they had in-built detonators to pop them at a secret pre-determined time, without the intervention of small dogs. This would keep everybody on their toes.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Today was odd. We had some lectures from some crusty old lefties, a.k.a. my kind of people. I was expecting to sit there and think, "Right on!" but instead I sat there and thought, "huh??"

It's not that I disagreed with them. I just couldn't figure out what they were trying to say. The first guy's lecture was pretty much incomprehensible to me. As far as I could tell, he was trying to say to us, "If you're trying to convince someone of something then it's good to have some kind of reasoning behind it." Gosh.

The second guy's lecture was about how health is a human right. I don't think anyone in the class would disagree with that. But he talked about it for an hour, and kind of shouted at us the whole time. Perhaps I shouldn't have worn my brown shirt. Anyway, at the end I felt kind of guilty and conflicted about myself despite agreeing with everything he said. I think.

In contrast, after school my Smaller Half and I went to a lecture in town by Prof. Fiona Stanley about the failure of Australian governments to improve Aboriginal health. When we got there it transpired that we were supposed to make reservations so we snuck in - it's the Australian Way. She was really smart and really passionate, and at the end of her talk she even got us all shouting out "Yes we can!" in a conscious Obama tribute. I got quite choked up by the whole thing.

And then Bob Hawke, who was there because the institute named after him was running the show, got up and thundered away about how we need to get off our bums and do something about it. He was an electrifying speaker too. Looks like his blood pressure is about 240/180 though, or else he was incredibly sunburnt.

I suppose it's a bit much to expect our university lectures to be delivered by ex-Prime Ministers and Companions of the Order of Australia. But I was really disappointed in today's stuff. It was just such a mish-mash of tired bureaucratese and meaningless phrases.

Not like this blog eh?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Three good things - Part III

I had a great day today because three good things happened. I'll cover them in chronological order. This is the third one.

The US election result came in. Woo! Hoo!

I'm excited that Obama won. I'm a lefty through and through so the idea that the US may start veering that way really pleases me.

But even if he hadn't won, I'd still be happy, because there were long queues to vote all across America. People actually cared about who won! This is a good thing. I think that compulsory voting (like Australia has) is the way to go. Even if it doesn't force people to think about politics and the future, what it does achieve is to modulate the influence of the lunatic fringe(s) who seem to have a disproportionately large influence on US politics with their single-issue lobby groups. It's sad to see election turnouts down in the 40% range. Especially when the people who don't vote tend to be the disenfranchised people who most need the government's help.

But Obama did win. Isn't it great that Barbra Streisand won't have to move to Canada now?

Three good things - Part II

I had a great day today because three good things happened. I'll cover them in chronological order. This is the second one.

At the moment we're learning stuff about inheritance and chromosomes and such things. It's been a bit wild and woolly for me so far since I have absolutely zero background in biology. I've never studied it at all, not even in high school. I am of course aware that we have chromosomes, and that they are kind of X-shaped, and that they are somehow related to DNA. But that's about it.

So it was a pleasant change of pace today to spend the entire afternoon, including a free sausage sizzle at lunch time, talking to families from the Down Syndrome Society of South Australia. We were plonked in groups of 6 into rooms with the families and given two hours plus to talk about anything we liked. No tutors, no guidance, no oversight, no agenda. It was great!

I was expecting it to be a bit awkward, but (in our room at least) it all went really well. The mother and grandmother of this little boy with Down syndrome and his little brother were there and they were really open and friendly and happy to answer all of our foolish questions.

I really admired the way they weren't fragile or defensive about Down syndrome and its consequences for the little boy and for them. She told us that if she'd known her baby had Down syndrome before he was born she would probably have chosen to terminate the pregnancy, but now in hindsight she's really glad that she didn't have to make that choice because she loves her son so much.

It takes a strong person to be able to sit down with strangers and bare your soul like that. But as she said, she's had to do a lot of growing up very quickly since he's been born. She'd been through an awful lot in the past few years but her attitude was incredibly positive and optimistic. Inspirational stuff.

This medical course is only four years long and we're constantly hearing about practical classes that are no longer done or lectures that they had to cut out because there simply isn't time or funding for them any more. So I'm really pleased that the medical school thinks that this kind of touchy-feely stuff is worth doing and that they are willing to put in the effort to organize it and also have a bit of faith in me and my Esteemed Colleagues to make the most of it.

This course is tops.

Three good things - Part I

I had a great day today because three good things happened. I'll cover them in chronological order. This is the first one.

My class had the final embryology lecture today in a series of 5 over the last week. Doing embryology in 5 hours is a bit like being shot out of a cannon. The launch velocity smooths the wrinkles out of your forehead but you have to keep your mouth shut or your cheeks will get ripped off.

Fortunately, the classes were run by one of my favouritest lecturers. I really enjoy his classes because he manages to organize his lectures very well so you learn a lot without really having to try hard. He concentrates on the big picture (which in embryology is about 1/10th of a millimetre across) and tries to get us to understand key concepts rather than obsess over detail. All good in my book.

The thing that makes his classes enjoyable though is that he clearly enjoys teaching them and has a great passion for his subject matter. Today after giving us a 55-minute lecture, he told us that the remaining 5 minutes was optional and we didn't have to stick around for it.

I thought he was going to talk to us about recent research, or about the exam. But instead, he talked about how interested he is in the history of anatomy and biological science, and told us about a famous case of conjoined twins born in Florence several hundred years ago, and the resulting paranoia, damnation, and curiosity which swept the city.

Then, even more extraordinarily, he read to us a poem in seven parts that he had written about the case. Each part was told from a different point of view, for example the mother, the clergy, the citizens, the philosophers. It was very eloquent and intriguing to listen to.

What really impressed me about my fellow students is that nobody walked out, everyone listened quietly, and at the end we all gave him a big round of applause. To be honest I wouldn't have expected this response from a bunch of gunner med students. He looked almost sheepish at this reception, which was quite endearing to see.

How lucky I am to be able to attend this Fine University amongst such fine people!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Steve: a tribute

My Smaller Half and I went to check out used cars on Saturday. It was an extraordinarily painful experience because the used car salesman we got seemed to have been sent direct from central casting with instructions to be sure to not under-act.

He was an enormously tall and fat ruddy-faced English bloke called Steve. All fine so far. But then he opened his mouth. Steve talked non-stop. And whatever came out of his mouth was either idiocy or lies.

For example, first he was trying to push on us a car with 200,000 km on the clock. His argument was something like this:
Mate, if a car is running this good after 200, it'll run forever. That's a bargain that.
But then, when trying to push on us one with only 75,000 km on it, his argument was:
This is a real find. Only 75 on it. Just like a brand new one.
So apparently the total mileage (kilometrage?) is of no relevance in the worth of a car. And apparently if you never say the word "thousand", people won't notice that the car has been driven to the moon and back.

Another classy thing Steve did was whenever I leaned down to inspect any of the various dings and scratches on the cars was to lick his thumb, rub it vigorously over the blemish, and announce:
Nah mate, that'll buff right out, won't even show. I'd have done it already but I'm that busy. Still, must have been a woman driver eh? Eh? Oh 'allo, the missus not listening to me? I been married thirty years. And you only get fifteen for murder! How's that fair?
He had a whole host of jokes like that that he showered us with all morning, like the contents of a chamber-pot gently falling from an upper-storey window.

Then we started talking money. He'd been telling us all about what a great deal we could get because it was the end of the month and this and that. So when he tells us the listed price for this car we were interested in, we offer him two grand less, as a starting point for negotiation. So he has to go and call his boss, in another room, to "spin him a bit of a yarn and get a good price" for us. Of course - because he's our best friend!

He comes back in, shaking his head. Unfortunately there's been a terrible mixup and the boss is furious! The car has been listed at the WRONG PRICE! Gasp! So not only can they not consider our lower offer, but after today they'll have to increase the price so it's going to be $2000 more expensive than it is today. We are just so lucky!

After this egregious insult to our intelligence, we simply stood up and walked out. Steve looked a bit surprised, but I could hear him still talking behind us as we left, trying to ham it up with various bystanders, exclaiming about how this fantastic car that was just like a new one was accidentally priced too cheaply and my goodness what a bargain it was and he'd buy it himself if he was allowed and they don't even make them like this anymore, these days they're all plastic and Korean and you can purchase a warranty at a great price but why would you want to since it'll run forever especially since it was just like a new one.

Sigh. As you can see, my scars run deep. But not as deeply, I suspect, as his lobotomy scars.

Free cheese

I went to a function tonight where awards were handed out for the tutors who were voted the best by the medical students at my Fine University. I went because I had voted for my Illustrious Tutor from last semester and was hoping he might win. He did win, but unfortunately didn't go to the function so wasn't able to accept his award in person.

There was an ulterior motive for me to go though. There was free cheese. There was a lot of free cheese. And even better, a lot of people there seemed to think that some of the cheese was too strongly flavoured.

Ha! I laugh in the face of such a concept! Cheese that is too strongly flavoured? Impossible! That just sounds like the kind of excuse peddled by those who think that cheese should come pre-sliced into squares rather than heaved around in wheels the size of your head.

The upshot of all this is that I got to spend a good 2 hours eating cheese. Yummo.

Anyway, there was a reason that I started talking about all this, but now I can't remember what the relevance was. I should write my ideas down.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Taxing times

Just finished doing my taxes. That was tedious in the extreme. One of my Esteemed Colleagues reminded me today that I could have gotten it done for free by a local accounting firm that sponsors the medical students society. I came up with some pathetic excuse, but the truth is:
  1. I am very manly, and real men do their own taxes without help,
  2. I am hopelessly disorganized, and most of the work involves rummaging around our store-room looking for old letters and financial statements, and
  3. I forgot.
Now that I am no longer a government employee, I think it's fair to say that taxes are way too high, public servants are just a bunch of shiny-bummed fat-cats who are leeches on the public purse, and the sooner Kevin Rudd takes a hatchet to every gubberment department that starts with "Department of ...", the better. Chop chop!

Remember how I recently swore that for my next set of exams I would do the work as I went along rather than leave it all to the end? Well that's how I'm going to do my taxes next year. I'm going to put everything in a box as I go, and on D-day I'll dump it all on someone else's desk and tell them to do it for me for nuthin'.

And I will laugh like this: "muahahahaHAH!!"

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Marx and mangoes

When I was a kid, I read a great book called My Friend Mr Leakey. It was full of stories about the author's good friend (Mr Leakey) who was a magician living in London. They had all sorts of interesting encounters.

I can remember very little of the book apart from the name, the illustrations, and a piece of advice within it - namely that mangoes should always be eaten in the bath so that the mess is manageable. On many occasions since I have advised people to do so, although to be honest I have never done so myself since I shower rather than bathe, and as such I have nowhere to put the mango but in the soap dish, which seems unhygienic at best and stomach turning at worst.

I have just now returned from so advising one of my Esteemed Colleagues, who was lamenting the messiness of mangoes in his own blog. In so doing, it occurred to me to google(tm) the name of the book to see what I could find out about it.

As it turns out, My Friend Mr Leakey was written in the 30's by JBS Haldane. I looked him up and discovered that he was one of the great geneticists of the 20th century, as well as a devoted Marxist for much of his life. In fact, it was he who, when asked what might be inferred about the mind of God from the study of nature, replied that God clearly had "an inordinate fondness for beetles". As a result of such smart-arsed remarks, he was a bitter enemy of the devoutly Christian CS Lewis, whose book The Screwtape Letters I just finished reading. What a strange coincidence.

JBS Haldane was apparently also able to blow tobacco smoke out of his ears because of the residual holes in his eardrums caused by him accidentally rupturing them during his experiments with a hyperbaric chamber. A most accomplished man.

(Those of you in the biological sciences may have heard of the Haldane effect - describing how the deoxygenation of blood increases its ability to transport carbon dioxide. This was discovered by JBS Haldane's father.)

As a result, I've spent the last hour not doing my embryology learning issues. I think what I have learned is much more interesting though, wouldn't you agree?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tim Winton no dud

I wish to publicly apologize to Tim Winton for privately vilifying him for years. I was sent a copy of his book Breath by my Aged Mother and now that I have gotten around to reading it, I am really enjoying it. This guy can write!

Somehow I have been labouring under the impression that Tim Winton is a dud. Some kind of Bryce Courtenay clone whose work should appear only in extracts in The Women's Weekly. I don't know why as I have never read any of his books before. I suspect that my innate suspicion of popularity is to blame here. His books were so popular, even amongst people who I knew were not normally avid readers, that I assumed that they must be garbage.

Tim, I am sorry. And I also apologize to anyone who has previously tried to get me to read a Tim Winton book and has had to listen to me ignorantly pooh-pooh their taste in books. How you refrained from punching me in the nose I have no idea.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Modern life

Was making chilli con carne for tea tonight. Well into the swing of things. Opened up fridge door to get meat out. No meat. Hmm.

Open freezer door to look for meat. No meat. What?

Look again in fridge. Look again in freezer. Look again in fridge. Look really really hard in fridge. Even move the butter around and look behind it. And under the parsley too. No meat.

Think for a while.

Go to shopping basket in laundry. Meat in bottom of basket. Since Saturday. When it was 37 degrees.

Drive to shops to buy more meat.


If you've never been to Adelaide before, you're missing out! Here, the bus tickets have inspirational sayings printed on them.

You know how exciting it is when you walk past a church and there's a big sign out front saying something like, "The most important vitamin for Christians: B1". Well in Adelaide it's like that every time you buy a bus ticket. Except multiplied by three because that's how many pithy little sayings you get on each tiny little ticket.

It's like a fortune cookie but without the horrible cookie bit.

Here are some of the life-improving messages I have found on my bus tickets recently:
  • To know one's ignorance is part of knowledge. (Definitely relevant to my recent exams, where I demonstrated mastery of the ignorance.)
  • You'll never get rid of a bad temper by losing it. (Because your mum wrote your name on the label.)
  • Every ending is a new beginning. (Confirmation of the Oscillating Universe cosmology theory?)
  • Insert this way. (Always a good rule to follow.)
  • Nothing makes people go into debt like trying to keep up with people who already are. (Adelaide Metro foresees the subprime mortgage crisis years in advance.)
If you've read anything profound on a bus ticket, fortune cookie, or church billboard, I'd like to hear about it!

Friday, October 24, 2008

A bit of commitment please

My feet hurt. And tomorrow I'm going to be hobbling around like an old man.

I played basketball today for the first time in at least 10 years. I had heaps of fun and didn't even throw up too many airballs. Speaking of throwing up, I am spectacularly unfit. I didn't actually hurl but if I had played for much longer I might have. I've done it before and it's not pleasant.

The first time was when I was in high school trying out for a representative basketball team. We'd played all our matches for the day and I didn't think I'd played that well so I went off and bought a litre of ginger ale and drank it all in about 5 minutes. Then it turned out that I got selected into the "possibles and probables" match so I had to play again.

I was pretty uncomfortable but somehow managed to play well enough to be chosen. Then I went outside and chundered up all that ginger ale that had been sloshing around inside me during the game. Yuk.

The second time was at uni when I was running in the 800 metres at a collegiate carnival. I got the time of my race wrong and had just finished eating my second plate of veal parmigiana when someone told me my race was about to start. I ran about a kilometre to the track, got there just in time, and took off!

I led for the whole first lap. I had visions of breaking records and going to the olympics. Then with about 200m to go my legs turned to jelly and everyone ran past me and I finished last. As I staggered across the line I barfed up all that veal parmigiana. Ew.

So never let anyone tell you that sport isn't character building. Dean Jones made a double century in India and was immediately hospitalized for severe dehydration. If there more players like him (or me!) in the current Australian team we wouldn't be 0-1 down with two to play.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

You just keep me hanging on

Good day today. Funny how when you slip out from under the burden you've been carrying, at first you don't notice that the weight isn't there. Or you do, but it doesn't feel right. You start to miss it in a funny way. Freedom feels confining.

I mentioned this to my Smaller Half today over breakfast. I compared myself not unfavourably to Nelson Mandela, and remarked that when he obtained his freedom at last he probably didn't really know what to do with himself either. My Smaller Half paused, realized that I was only half-joking, and curled her lip at me. She observed that apparently Nelson Mandela did know what to do with himself because he subsequently became President of South Africa. I thought this was a bit unfair since I only finished my exams yesterday and I'm not even a South African citizen.

The first true pleasure of today was in wasting it. I can't account for the hours at all because I spent the day deliberately not looking at my watch.

The second true pleasure of today was walking halfway from Glenelg to Brighton at super-low tide with my Smaller Half this evening. The beach was surprisingly empty. There were a few families there and the obligatory dog walkers. It was warm, not a breath of wind. The sea was flat as, bro. It was very peaceful.

The third true pleasure was returning to Chips, the hamburger joint on Jetty Rd, Glenelg, that one of my Esteemed Colleagues introduced me to just yesterday. I took my Smaller Half back there tonight and we bought burgers and chips and sat on the wall watching the tide turn and the sun set. These burgers are seriously awesome. To the max! They put onion jam inside them and mayo and fried eggs and bacon and cheese and all that good stuff that gives other people heart disease.

The guy that works there has some attitude though. He doesn't look at you when you order, he just stares off at an angle looking bored. And he wanders slowly around the shop taking aaaages to make you your food. As if he's some kind of new wave subversive burger artist and he can't believe that these bourgeois customers keep coming in for food. It's worth it though. They are the best burgers I've eaten since the truck stop at Holbrook.

Perhaps even better.

Life is good.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008



I just got back from the post-exam celebratory drinks at some scuzzy Adelaide pub. It was so flipping loud in there that I might as well have put my head in a sack, got everyone to kick it, then eaten some sandpaper to rough up my vocal cords.

We were all crammed into a tiny room by the bar. In an adjacent tiny room a DJ played deafeningly loud "music" (I'm a grumpy old man, I'm entitled to use quotation marks like that) which he seemed to be scratching together at random. From time to time, just to make sure we were listening, he'd get this screeching feedback going that made your bowels turn to water. Happy days.

At this point, I'd like to send a big shout-out to my Esteemed Colleague whose feelings were deeply hurt by not being mentioned yet in this blog. Hi there Esteemed Colleague! How's your wheeze?

As befits the day of my renal exam, I got severely dehydrated this afternoon. Because I knew there would be questions about urination on the exam this morning, I deliberately didn't drink anything beforehand so as to avoid the insidious power of suggestion during the exam. Unfortunately, the only fluid I had for the rest of the day was two cups of coffee and a couple of schooners, topped off with a huge salty burger and chips. By the time I got home this afternoon I was practically peeing stock cubes I was so dry.

Hmm, I shouldn't type tired. I haven't planned this post very well. I started at the end, then went back to the beginning, and now I'm stuck in the middle with nowhere to go. Any advice on how to resolve this compositional dilemma?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

One to go

Respiratory systems done. Phew!

It was an exam from Bizarro-Land though. There were only four questions on it.

One question was on something we covered in one tute for about 10 minutes. So that was fun.

Another question was all about what muscles you use to breathe. Hopefully I got the full 1o marks for "diaphragm". About a mark per letter seems fair.

There was a question about predicting all sorts of fancy-pants science things like pH, partial pressures of oxygen and CO2 and haemoglobin saturation for some poor woman who had diabetes and let her blood sugar get too low and OD'd on heroin before smashing her car and choking on the exhaust fumes in the smoking wreck! I just wrote PROGNOSIS NEGATIVE!

And the final question was, for some strange reason, nothing to do with respiratory systems at all. It was about some theoretical model for caring for chronically ill patients which we apparently had a lecture about at some stage. Whoops!

Seems to me that the primary goal of the course co-ordinator (who in the Olden Days we would have called a lecturer, except that this one doesn't lecture. At least not that I saw) was to minimize his marking burden. Kudos to him, I say, as long as my exam burden is minimized too (ie: I hope I don't fail and have to sit a sup.)

I got to the exam a little late and most of the seats were taken, so an invigilator directed me to a free seat. Which was right underneath the asthma poster that I mentioned in my previous post. And there was nothing about asthma on the exam.

This country is stuffed!

Monday, October 20, 2008


Cardio exam is all done with! Hooray!

It was an okay exam. There were a few questions which I had seen before but decided not to look at in detail because I thought to myself, "no way, that'll never come up". Whoops!

On the plus side, there were a few questions that I did guess might be in there even though they hadn't been examined before, so I should do pretty well in those.

Onwards to the next one: the respiratory system! I fear this exam because it is only an hour long. This means that it'll be a pretty busy hour, and if things start to go pear-shaped it could be unpleasant.

Amusingly, the only poster on the wall of the exam room is a health promotion poster titled, "Managing your asthma". I think it has a whole lot of different drugs on it and when to use them. I wonder if they will think to remove it before tomorrow morning? There could be a rush for the left side of the room.

First Australians

If you haven't been watching First Australians on SBS (8.30 pm Sundays and Tuesdays), do yourself a favour and tune in. It is an incredible series all about how the Aboriginal nations of Australia have been repeatedly screwed over by the white settlers.

One of the many strengths of the show is that they get the opinions of a wide variety of expert historians, some Aboriginal, some white. There's a broad range of responses mostly concerning the character and motivations of some of the major historical figures. It's really interesting to see the same person described as incredibly selfish and manipulative by one historian, then as wonderfully altruistic and honorable by another. The uncertainty and debate is what's great about history, but you seldom see it shown on TV. Yet despite the uncertainties, the terrible facts speak for themselves.

I was surprised to find that I knew almost nothing about Aboriginal history. I had thought I was well-informed and well-educated yet almost all of this story is new to me. By comparison, because of books like Dee Brown's Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, I have a much better sense of the native American experience of invasion and conquest. However, the sense I am getting from this series is that unfortunately many of the themes are the same. Disease, murder, lies, broken promises, prejudice, denial of autonomy, genocide. It's a tragic story.

One of the historians on the show (whose name escapes me) has an understandably angry and hostile air which sometimes makes for uncomfortable viewing. She maintains that the reason that this history is not taught in Australian schools is because Australians could not face up to the truth and would prefer to lie about history instead.

I think that on this point she is mistaken, although perhaps the truth is worse. I think that the real reason this history isn't taught in schools (at least not in my day) is because all this violence and crime and genocide is simply considered to be unimportant, of no impact, not worth knowing about because it happened to "those people over there", not "us".

This is terrible because not only does it deny the basic humanity of the victims, but it hides from us an awful truth - that by perpetrating and perpetuating these crimes our society has something monstrous at its heart. That's a lesson that we are fools to ignore.

I've watched three episodes so far and it has had such an impact on me and my Smaller Half that I decided to contact one of the show's interviewees, Bruce Pascoe. If you've seen the show, Bruce is the guy with the white hair and long beard who in my opinion has the most interesting things to say out of all of them.

I emailed him telling him how amazed I was and thanking him for his input to the show. He emailed me back today, saying:
"Good on you [PTR]. I'm glad you enjoyed the show. Please help us change the outlook of australia. This is a great country and we can be a great nation... with the application of intelligence and compassion. Bruce"
If you've missed the episodes so far, you can watch them online at the SBS website.

Do it.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

New quote

"I am trying to read in the succession of things presented to me every day the world's intentions towards me, and I grope my way, knowing that there can exist no dictionary that can translate into words the burden of obscure allusions that lurks in these things." - Italo Calvino

Sorry Mr Calvino, but I'm retiring your quote. As much as I like what you're saying, it's just not punchy enough for a hip, modern blog like this. I'm bringing in something from the 21st century.

Do you like sport? Do you like mathematics? Do you like sport and mathematics? Then why not come and see my collection on the Isle of Man!

Alternatively, read Moneyball by Michael Lewis. It's the gripping, unputdownable story of how nerds revolutionized the running of modern baseball teams by applying hard analytical models to player performance and dispelled generations of accumulated folk-wisdom on who the best players were and how the game should be played.

I picked it up on Friday and ended up reading the whole book that day instead of studying. I can't recommend it highly enough!


I haven't posted since Thursday - whoops! No wonder world financial markets are collapsing. There are probably rumours circulating like wildfire that I am dead or have had my fingers broken, and as a result shares has plunged. Millions of readers left stranded! Turmoil on-line as content gap leaves geeks reeling!

It's been a funny few days. Ever since my prac exam I've had real difficulties studying. I think I've become accustomed to having my exams all back-to-back, so my brain woke up on Friday and announced that it was going to have a long weekend.

Well, the joke is you, brain, because tomorrow I am going to ride you around the exam room like a motorbike! And I'm going to do the same thing on Tuesday and Wednesday too!

I'm going to work harder next semester, I promise.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How to win at exams

Prac exam done. I'm pleased that's over because now I can concentrate on the scary exams next week. It's nice to think that I've already earned a good chunk of marks towards passing. If anything goes haywire in the exams next week (for example, I blow a fuse and wipe out) I think an adequate showing in the prac exam is kind of like a gesture of goodwill from me to the lecturers, so they won't really be able to fail me.

Isn't it funny the little lies we tell ourselves, just like that one, so that we don't freak out too much?

Anyway, a lot of people have been saying to me recently, "PTR, you're my role model. What tips can you give me?", to which I reply, "Sorry kiddo, fashion isn't a game for the faint-hearted. If you don't have the guts to step out on that catwalk on your own then you don't deserve your own line of designer underwear."

And then they say, "Actually I was thinking not so much about fashion as about the way you seem so calm before exams." And I say, "That's because I don't drink or smoke or kiss girls, just like Snoopy". And that seems to satisfy them because they stop asking me questions after that.

But for those of you who need them, here are PTR's Study Tips For Poise And Style!
  • Shave every second day, at about 11am. Don't shave every day, it's a waste of razor-blades and being smooth-skinned isn't hot right now. Don't leave it too long though because then you'll start feeling like a slob. And slobs don't win. 11am is the best time to shave because it fills in that awkward gap between breakfast and lunch when you might be tempted to open a book and scare yourself. Don't furrow that brow!
  • Study the curriculum in reverse order. While this will confuse you and waste plenty of time, it creates the impression of vast knowledge and implacable power when you casually mention something from the final week of semester while everyone else is struggling over week 3. Who knows, maybe by the time the exam comes you will get to the second last week of semester!
  • Eat meat pies and drink flavoured milk for lunch. You deserve it! And in case you have to get a job as a bricklayer you'll fit right in, so that's one less thing to worry about.
  • Breathe circularly, as if playing the didgeridoo. It's a well-known fact that people who are cool and calm exhale slowly and steadily, so do it for minutes on end to show people just how calm you are. You may need to carry and use a small harmonica if they aren't noticing.
  • Spend heaps of time on social networking sites like FaceBook. Make sure you leave an identifiable trace of activity, preferably spread evenly throughout the day. I try to post a message to someone every 17 minutes between the hours of 5:45am and 12:30am. The messages should indirectly show how unconcerned about things you are and how much spare time you have. For example, rather than saying, "I am freaking out!!!!", say something like, "Wasn't the third US Presidential debate a fascinating indictment of modern democracy?"
  • Arrive late to your exam. Nothing says, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" like being late.
  • Conversely, it's vitally important to overdress. People who dress casually will be momentarily stunned by your sartorial splendour. They'll wonder how you found time to starch your spats while they wasted their time learning about adenylylyl cyclase or whatever.
  • Hire a special car for the day so that people notice how laid back you are. A pink stretch humvee is good. If the car park isn't visible from the exam venue, consider crashing your pink stretch humvee through the wall of the exam room.
Well, that's just a few of my tips to keeping your poise in this tricky exam period. Good luck.

Adios, amigos! Yeeee-ha!

Milestone on the road to nowhere

I'm about to head off to my prac exam. In the next 3 hours I'll have to dissect a heart, take a patient's medical history, identify various weird anatomical things, and maybe even multiply some numbers together or something. Fingers crossed.

And we've passed 1000 page views as of noon today. Excitement!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Do not pass "Go".

I realized last night that I had stopped trying to learn new things and had entered the final phase of the study cycle: damage control.

I realized this because I was looking at some drug info and noticed that lots of drugs, for example the antibiotic gentamicin, are nephrotoxic. That is, they give your kidneys a good hard pounding and that can be enough to stop your kidneys working.

This is a useful thing to know. But rather than continue on and try to learn more useful things, my reaction was to immediately pick up some past exams and try to figure out exactly how many different types of question I might be able to avoid answering simply by writing down, "gentamicin nephrotoxicity". This is damage control at its finest.

Gentamicin nephrotoxicity appeals to me for several reasons:
  1. Each word is polysyllabic and hence sounds very learned.
  2. The mechanism is either poorly understood or outrageously complex, hence I don't have to bother to try to remember anything.
  3. Lots of people take antibiotics, so it's broadly applicable.
  4. By singling out a particular drug it gives the illusion that I have carefully considered this specific scenario rather than used a blanket Get Out Of Jail Free card.
The other thing I've been doing as part of my damage control is spending lots of time praying to the Exam Gods that I get asked questions about stuff I know and understand (for example: physics, the Napoleonic wars, vintage sci-fi) rather than stuff I don't (for example: the content of lectures).

If I had spent half the time studying that I have spent worrying, I wouldn't have had to spend half the time worrying that I have.

Monday, October 13, 2008


There is a controversy boiling over regarding the imaginary nation of Tangeria and its national anthem. A recent commenter asserts that the anthem of Tangeria should be something more tangential than Led Zeppelin's "Tangerine", even with my proposed new lyrics.

However, if you go to Wikipedia's list of national anthems you'll see that most countries do have non-tangential anthems. In fact, some are downright eponymous. For example, Djibouti ("Djibouti"), American Samoa ("Amerika Samoa"), and most notably Eritrea ("Eritrea, Eritrea, Eritrea").

I'll award a near miss to Canada ("O Canada"). Maybe that's a typo.

It's reassuring to know that with their new anthem, people in Tangeria will be shakin' djibouti on the dance floor well into the future.

No plan C

"Yea, Lord we greet thee, born this happy morn." There are no atheists in foxholes, right?

I got up this morning thinking to myself, gee - my exams start next Monday. That doesn't seem to leave me much time. So I sat myself down and wrote up a timetable for my study. I'll spare you the details, but the salient point is that I have about 3 hours to revise each week of the semester just gone.

I found that so frightening that I immediately jumped on FaceBook and played some Scrabble and sent people some messages and then came here to write this. Ayayayay!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fictional country name

Meanwhile, if I ever write a spy novel, the evil adversary country will be called Tangeria. It sounds like a country doesn't it? Perhaps that's where tangerines come from.

In praise of weeds

Gardening is great! More specifically, my garden is great! That's because it has weeds in it that are taller than me!

We hadn't weeded it for about a year, because all summer we were in a terrible drought and weeds didn't grow. Then it rained all winter, and spring has been mostly sunny but with rain every now and then to really get the weeds revved up.

We kept looking at it and saying things like, "We really should weed the garden this weekend". This kind of comment is right up there with "I'll work harder next semester", and "I'm never going to eat so much ever again" in the Self-Delusion Stakes.

So of course, the weeds grew up higher than my head.

We finally decided to attack it. So far we've filled up one wheelie bin and 4 wheelie-bin-sized plastic bags. We're about two-thirds done.

The reason I think it's great is that it has given me a great de-stressing activity which I can do daily to blow off steam and tension that builds up while studying. When all you're doing is pulling up weeds your mind goes pretty blank. It just mosies along and stops to admire the finer things in life like grubs, dirt, beetles, and more dirt, rather than the less fine things such as ... oh, exams, say.

And the great thing about the weeds being head high is that you have a real sense of achievement as you go because you're liberating whole cubic metres of garden from tyranny.

So if you have exams coming up soon, try my patented de-stressing technique: a year before, stop weeding your garden. It does take some foresight, or good luck, but it's well worth the effort.

Friday, October 10, 2008


I was fascinated by the results of the latest poll on how you think of clouds. Three people, including myself, indicated that they see clouds as ice-cream castles. No-one saw clouds as bows and flows of angel hair, or feather canyons everywhere. Is this perhaps a reflection of the prevailing westerlies here in Adelaide in spring? Moreover, in a startling rejection of the poetic school of meteorology, four voters chose "None of the above".

I wonder if perhaps they think that clouds only block the sun and rain and snow on everyone. Let's face it, there are times when I thought that there were so many things I could have done but clouds got in my way. Perhaps people might care to add a comment indicating their own view of clouds.

We all know there are two sides to clouds. In the end what you recall is their illusions and you have to admit that maybe you don't know clouds as well as you thought you did.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Whine and cheese

Sometimes I really look forward to getting up in the morning. Today I am really looking forward to going to bed.

I'm trying to count my blessings, I really am. I know that I am lucky to even have this opportunity to be able to study medicine, I know that I am in excellent health and I am only temporarily sick in the most minor possible way, I know that my upcoming exams are passable and that realistically I will be fine as long as I work hard, I know, I know, I know. I know.

I'm just a bit fed up with this crap today, that's all.

Do you know which word I have used most in this post? "I". As such, I diagnose myself as being a selfish little brat.


Damn you Rolf Harris!

I'm exhausted! For some reason, the last couple of nights I have had real trouble getting to sleep. I haven't been tossing and turning, just lying there with the same two or three thoughts running around my head. Typically, these thoughts will be:

1. A song. Usually at least 10 years old. Usually one I don't like. Last night it was the ballad "Wild Colonial Boy", as sung by Rolf Harris.

2. A medical fact that I failed to learn during the day. Last night I spent what seemed like hours speculating on what the pressure might be in the pulmonary trunk during diastole, like this: 10? No, 15. No! 12. No, it must be 8. No! 12 is right. No, it's 30. ... and so forth.

3. An obsessive fixation on a trivial detail of a book I read when I was a child or a game of chess I may or may not once have played.

It's a real bunch of laughs let me tell you.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fingers crossed

I reckon I'm going to be fine in these exams. As long as they ask the right questions.

The problem I am having is that my hyper-distractable state of mind, my curious and wandering intellect, and my propensity to use wikipedia for study purposes are all combining synergistically to ensure that I am seldom learning anything that is actually relevant to my course.

On the off chance that any of my lecturers are reading this, here is a sample of some of the types of question that I will be able to answer.

1. Which endangered animal is immune to effect of ouabain, used for poisoning arrows in some parts of Africa?
A. The panda
B. The galapagos tortoise
C. The orange roughy
D. The bilby

2. Expansion of the lungs is best described by analogy to the military campaigns of which ancient leader?
A. Spartacus
B. Hadrian
C. Pachacutec
D. Julius Caesar

3. Removal of what organ results in the regrowth of the thymus?
A. Testes
B. Parathyroid glands
C. Prostate
D. Gall bladder

Get the idea? Bizarre + useless = good. Relevant + useful = bad. Please please please Mr Doctor-Man, write some exam questions like this. I may not pass even then, but at least I'll have an interesting hour or two.

Answers: 1.B 2.D 3.A (Kudos to J. and L. who alerted me to questions 2 & 3.)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Let the study commence

I've got exams in just over two weeks. Actually, one of those exams is in 12 days, since it has been thoughtfully placed right in the middle of swotvac. Fantastic.

This week I was good. I actually worked quite hard. For me.

This is because my Smaller Half had to start at thoroughly ungodly times such 7:30 (in the morning!), while on many days I had my whole morning free. So in fit of uncharacteristic discipline I got up early, drove her in to uni, and plonked myself in the library and did some work.

That's how I discovered that the library doesn't open until 8:30. No problem, I thought, I'll just grab a coffee and sit in one of the tute rooms until then. That's how I discovered that the cafeteria doesn't open until 8:00.

I was deeply shocked.

But on the bright side, it motivated me to work really hard this week, because I am going to pass my exams, graduate from medicine, work as a doctor and climb to top of my profession so that one day I can be in charge of running that fine Medical Institution. And when I do, I will make them get to work early and open the cafeteria at a civilized time, like 7:29 am.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I love a mystery!

Today we had a couple of pathology lectures from a guy who looks like Kevin Rudd with a beard. Eerie.

As I have mentioned before, I like the way pathologists speak. This guy is extra great because not only does he used all the crazy pathology words, but he drops little teasers into his lectures. For example, he'll say things like this:
"Renal cell carcinoma also occurs in the rare, but fascinating, von Hippel-Lindau syndrome."
Does he tell us anything else about it? No. He blithely sails on to the next topic. We were left knowing absolutely nothing about this condition except that it:
  1. is rare,
  2. is fascinating,
  3. has a strange name.
It reminds me of the fantasy and sci-fi writing of Jack Vance. His books frequently introduce strange, almost frivolous-sounding terms, such as toince, deodand, or gaun, and don't bother to provide any detail beyond describing the character's own reactions. So you learn that deodands are dangerous and cunning, but little else.

So when I find out about some heretofore unknown condition, with a name that evokes images of giant airships, and I learn only that it is rare and fascinating, my imagination runs wild!

Which is a shame because it turns out that von Hippel-Lindau disease is quite awful.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Dental hygiene makes rodeo clowns tough!

I like mnemonics. I can still remember the mnemonic for the main sequence stars from high school physics: Oh be a fine girl kiss me now = O, B, A, F, G, K, M, N. For some reason this is still in my brain despite the fact that I have never used this information in any practical way.

On Monday my Smaller Half told me a great mnemonic for remembering the bones of the wrist. So long to pinkie, here comes the thumb = Scaphoid, lunate, triquetrium, pisiform, hamate, capitate, trapezoid, trapezium. They are listed as the proximal four then the distal four, lateral to medial and medial to lateral, respectively. Awesome! I'm sure that some day I'll win a lot of money on a game show by knowing that. Like that nut on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire who knew all the kings and queens of England since day dot with some crazy mnemonic.

Since I have a huge amount of study to do, I spent this morning making up some mnemonics of my own instead. Here are some of them:

To remember the symptoms of anaemia:
Why's this pale person falling down? = Weakness, tiredness, pallor, postural dizziness, fatigue, dyspnoea.

To remember the family history risk factors for kidney disease:
Dad's gout has produced renal calculi = Diabetes, gout, hypertension, polycystic kidneys, renal disease, calculi.

To remember the personal history risk factors for non-ischaemic heart disease:
Dental hygiene makes rodeo clowns tough! = Dental work recently, heart disease, murmurs, rheumatic fever, congenital heart disease, thyroid disease.

To remember the personal history risk factors for respiratory disease:
Ask patient to raise his shoulders = Asthma, pneumonia, tuberculosis, respiratory illness, HIV/AIDS, sleep apnoea

Looking back on them now some of them seem pretty ridiculous, but they really have helped me to remember these lists without leaving things out. I suppose the bogosity of them helps the images to stick in the mind. In fact, I may have to axe the more sensible ones and make them far more foolish. More rodeo clowns I say!

Election results

At the close of counting, the Fish was pronounced the animal that most people would like to be (4 votes). Filling in the position of vice-Fish will be the Pig (2 votes). And the deputy vice-Fish is the Mule (1 vote).

Exit polling revealed that the Fish was the preferred candidate primarily because of the perceived lifestyle advantages of most aquatic vertebrates. This was in marked contrast to voter perception of the alternative choices, both domesticated ungulates, as being required to either work excessively hard (Mule) or wallow in their own faeces (Pig). Interestingly, supporters of the Pig quoted this same factor as a positive.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Quote of the day

"Most blogs are a waste of time; at best of interest to close friends and family, at worst vanity-driven ego sops full of posts by the same half-dozen people plus a couple of trolls." - Jody Kline


Monday, September 29, 2008

Big Pedant

Oh, and one more thing. Today a lecturer told us that patients with kidney stones are "invariably" men. And then he told us that a quarter of them are women.

Obviously he was using the word "invariably" in some kind of specialized medical way to mean "variably". Right?

Sourdough report

I sliced my first ever sourdough loaf this afternoon after spending from 7:30 am to 5 pm at uni. I was pretty zonked out by that stage so I was expecting the worst but guess what? Against all expectation, the sourdough bread worked! Repeat: it WORKED!!

It was pretty dense but not inedibly so. There were identifiable pockets of gas in the parenchyma of the loaf, but not so airy as to be emphysematous. It had a nice sour taste which was noticeable but not overwhelming.

I toasted it lightly and we ate it with butter and honey accompanied by a cup of tea. Yummo! Best of all were the words of praise from my Smaller Half: "You made bread - just like Jesus!"

Since this blog is not titled "Prone to sourdough" I won't bore you with further bready adventures after this. Unless my secret plan for adding pumpkin seeds works out. That would be exciting!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Let them eat cake

This is my first ever loaf of home-made sourdough. It looks good! It smells great! And it is the size of a golf ball and weighs as much as a pony!

Well - not quite, but it certainly is very dense. You know how when you pick something up that is heavier than you expect it to be, your mind momentarily asks itself if perhaps you're in the vicinity of a black hole and the gravitational tidal forces are about to tear you apart and you get a sudden surge of adrenaline? That happened to me with this bread.

There seems to have been some kind of hitch in the rising process. After it rose overnight and I pounded it back down again it failed to rise again today. Instead it just oozed out sideways, losing the charming loaf shape that I had carefully crafted. I had even slashed the top in a quaint checkerboard pattern. You may be able to see this faintly in the picture, but it is pretty smoothed out by now.

I was heartbroken that it didn't rise properly but I decided to chuck it in the oven and try it out anyway. Much to my surprise it roughly doubled in size during the baking process, so I suppose I did something right. If, at this point, you are laughing at my total baking naivety, please understand: this is the first loaf of bread of any type I have ever made. I once made scones under my mother's supervision. I haven't even ever made a cake that isn't out of a box. Although I am quite good at friands - the recipe does claim that they are "idiot-proof" and I still managed to stuff them up once.

Anyway, the loaf is cooling on a reinforced support platform. We plan to bust it open later tonight and attempt to eat it with butter and honey. Such excitement!

Three things

1. I just made my first batch of sourdough from Brett. It's going to rise overnight (I hope).

2. This morning I found 5 dead bees on the floor of the study and on my desk. Is this some kind of creepy omen? Or perhaps a message of good fortune from the gods? Any theories?

3. While listening to the Johnny Cash song Folsom Prison Blues I thought I heard him sing "I shot a man in renal just to watch him die". I think my brain is obsessed with the current block at uni: renal. Of course the (fictional) man was actually shot in Reno. I may the first person to ever report this particular mondegreen. What an achievement.

Thanks for your attendance.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Vote you scurvy dogs!

In case you didn't notice, there's a new poll to the right of your screen. Vote now, or accept the consequences of an arbitrary allocation to a new genus.

Don't say you weren't warned.


We had an interesting lecture today on the legalities (or otherwise) of abortion. I learned that medical practitioners have the right to refuse to provide abortions on the grounds that they are conscientious objecters (and I learned how to spell "conscientious"). I asked if this was true for any other medical procedure. Turns out - yes! According to our lecturer, doctors can conscientiously object to providing any medical service.

Now - this just strikes me a bizarre. Professionalism is (and I quote my lecturer directly here) "putting your patient's interests ahead of your own". It seems to me that professionalism requires that doctors put aside any and all of their own personal views when treating patients.

Obviously it's not that simple as doctors are not robots or Vulcans or merchant bankers or other such soulless automatons. Nevertheless, the general principle seems valid. In a more practical sense, doctors should be able to either provide the service requested or provide it indirectly by referring onward in a sensible way. Refusing outright to be involved at all strikes me as being extremely unprofessional given that the profession itself presumably provides education to its members on how to perform the procedure.

A doctor who refused to give analgesics because of a personal belief that suffering ennobles the human spirit and gives dignity would be deregistered and would be unable to practise except in regional New South Wales or perhaps Queensland. Why is it that more "mainstream" personal beliefs are somehow exempt from considering their patient's interests and wishes and are permitted to withhold treatment?

When you sign up for a life of doctoring you should be aware that sometimes you're going to have to act contrary to your own personal sense of what's right. Tough luck. Lawyers defend clients they believe are guilty because our system of justice requires them to play that role. Public servants implement government policies that they believe are wrong because they know it is part of living in our type of democratic society.

It's called professionalism.