Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Why do you think I am British?

So the results are in for the poll "Why do you think I am British?" that was instigated by this post and once again it's been a big success. First, it's my most popular poll ever. 14 votes cast, so either I have 14 readers or else one avid fan who found 14 different machines to vote from. The first situation is one I'm comfortable with, the second - not so much. If it is just one person out there can you please contact me with your full name so I know what to write on the restraining order?

No-one voted for "sallow skin" which was a small surprise but does help to dispel my lingering suspicion that I suffer from Gilbert's syndrome.

Only two votes for "eloquence and sophistication", which I choose to interpret as a resounding rejection of the eloquence and sophistication of British people rather than a resounding rejection of the eloquence and sophistication of myself. So that's fine. Just fine.

Three of you voted for "queueing skillz". I am flattered that you noticed. It's something that I have worked hard on and I pride myself on my achievements in this field. Not everyone is born with A-grade queueing potential but it's incredible how much improvement you can see with discipline, focus, and the right attitude.

Four of you voted for "yellow teeth". Hmm. Maybe I should drink less coffee. Or use that whitening toothpaste. But you know what? People with white teeth look kind of fake and freaky. Teeth aren't white. Ask any dog.

And the narrow winner, just edging out the yellow teeth, was "air of superiority". Yeah baby, that's right. I think I'm better than you. Heaps more betterer. You know why? Because I am.

Read it and weep.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

More self-satisfied claptrap from your friendly neighborhood trapclapper

You probably already know that I am fond of sites on the internet that allegedly analyze blog feeds for "information" about the blogger. Here are two more that I found today:

Over at they claim to be able to tell you which classic author you are most like. I am most like Lewis Carroll, author of Jabberwocky. The coiner of the phrase "vorpal sword" is a good guy in my book! Disappointing that I'm only 34% alike though. Aaah, I see - a quick check on Wikipedia tells me that Carroll's genre is that of "literary nonsense". I'm obviously only similar to the "literary" bit of that, leaving his "nonsense" behind to choke on the dust and smoke thrown up by my spinning conceptual wheels.

Meanwhile, the Mood Analyzer tells me that I am 77.6% happy and 22.4% upset. That's actually a lot happier that I was expecting, considering that much of this blog consists of me deriding various people, places or things. Perhaps it could tell how happy that makes me.

I realize that this is probably about as fun for you as reading your friends' results in those Facebook quizzes that tell you which brand of frozen peas you are most like. Why not complain to me directly in the comments section below?


A big day today. Today was the first time I took blood from somebody. Somebody else. With a needle. On purpose. With their consent. For medical reasons.

Monday, May 25, 2009

nursing = tiredness

So tired! I've spent the last three days on my nursing attachment, meaning I follow nurses around in the hospital and get baffled, bored, and bewildered in equal measure. The worst part is that it involves getting up before 7am. 7am is my break-even time for sleeping. If I know I have to get up before 7 I am always tempted just to stay up all night and run on adrenaline. This is actually a really bad idea so I just slept shortly and badly and ran on awful Imperial Roast coffee.

Saturday I followed a nurse around on the regular wards, which was briefly interesting but mostly a vindication of my decision to study to be a doctor rather than a nurse. Sunday I was in the emergency department dealing with lots of non-emergency situations and taking incredibly shoddy histories from patient patients.

Today was especially high on the bewildered scale because I spent the day in the operating theatre with a urologist (not, as it turns out, a neurologist) who was reaming out a lot of prostates. He was a really nice guy but I understood very little of what he said. Partly this was because surgical masks take away the visual cue to understanding speech, making everything sound like "ba ba - ba ba - ga ga". But mostly it was because I haven't even thought about the urinary system since October last year. So we had a lot of conversations like this:

This next bloke is interesting. His PSA is 1.5 which in a bloke of 78 you'd be pretty happy with. But if you'd relied on that and hadn't palpated the prostate you'd have missed the hard nodule on the right which is probably going to be Gleeson's type 7, 8 or 9. So always put your finger in it!

What's a prostrate?

The procedure itself involved taking a little circular wire, sticking it up the Johnson inside a frightening large caliber tube, heating up the wire until it's red hot, and scooping out little nuggets of prostaty goodness. The room filled up with the aroma of searing meat. It made me quite hungry and then quite nauseous shortly afterwards at the thought of it. Luckily lunch was vegetarian pasta.

The anaesthetist was great and let me poke various tubes down people's gullets and he even said "well done" to me, which must surely be the height of generosity because I can't really see how it could be done poorly. Still, I'll take the compliments as they come.

I felt like a complete fish out of water in the OT. I could tell it was going to be an awkward day because I managed to make a twit of myself in the first minute by trying to put hairnets on my feet and a shoe-cover on my head. Still, it could have been worse - I could have been trying to jam a wellington boot on my head. I tried to just stay out of everybody's way, and failed at that too. I have an innate knack for stepping in the wrong direction when trying to avoid someone, and we inevitably end up doing the two-step back and forth for a while.

It was a good experience though, because by the end of the day I was a little more familiar with the room and all the expensive machines and how it seems to work. My moment of glory came when I suggested removing the tourniquet from the arm of a patient whose failed cannula insertion site kept wanting to bleed. They all looked surprised when I did my Happy Dance but some of them joined in eventually. I also solved some of my long-standing body-image problems. Spend enough time in the company of naked elderly men and you'll feel much better about yourself quite soon. Finally, I learned to listen carefully to the theatre music. The fact that the first deprostatification began to the strains of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper was highly amusing to me.

Tomorrow I'm back in the emergency department again for my last day. It's been interesting so far, but I'm really looking forward to sleeping in on Wednesday.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Deafeningly loud vitally important

Every now and then I check my google analytics page to see how many people came to this blog, how they got here, and what they looked at. Oh all right - I check it obsessively every hour, just waiting for the day when I become Last Week's Big Thing.

Anyway, that's how I noticed that one of my readers arrived at the page by following a google link after searching for "deafeningly loud vitally important". It really made me laugh. I think if I am ever asked to summarize my blog in just four words I will choose those words. It's strange though, because although that's a great potted summary of this blog, in fact of me as a whole, I can't imagine what google chose to direct them to that I wrote. I could easily look it up myself I suppose but that would ruin all the fun.

Another reader arrived at my blog by searching for the words, "ouabain murder for hire", which is downright bizarre. I did write about ouabain about 9 months ago, but I don't recall ever casually mentioning murder for hire. Unless it was my evil twin Skippy. He's right into that kind of thing.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Today I was tragically denied my entitlement to hummous in my morning tutorial. Even worse, it was my damn hummous! I had brought it in, along with a stack of lebanese bread for people to dip. But disaster struck (for me at least) when the first person to get stuck in turned out to be a double-dipper! Ewwww!!!

He folded up a whole piece of bread and repeatedly dipped it back into the hummous where the juice from his filthy mouth-parts was free to disperse throughout my food. So really he wasn't just a double-dipper, he was a sextuple- or heptuple-dipper at least. I really should have said something, but of course by the time it has happened it is already too late, and I didn't want to cause a fuss because I am quite British.

The interesting thing about all this (apart from the fact that I finally got to use the term "mouth-parts") is that I realized that I have a complete double-standard when it comes to chopsticks. When eating with chopsticks I have no problem with people serving themselves straight from the shared plate with the same chopsticks they are eating with. I do recognize that this does gross out some other people though, so when we're in a group dining situation I try to remember to either reverse my chopsticks for serving or else use the stupid spoon. But sometimes I forget.

So what happened to me today was just karma I guess. Some people get reborn as bugs - I end up in a tute group with a double-dipper.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The taste of freedom

What is the taste of freedom? In my opinion, the taste of freedom is the taste of coffee poured from your very own thermos. Ahhhh!

Yesterday I was delighted to see that one of my Esteemed Colleagues brought in a thermos-like-device full of coffee for her afternoon tutorial. I think things are really looking up for her. If any of you are feeling down in the mouth, why not try using a thermos for a week or so? I really think it will help.

I've been feeling really positive about thermally insulated beverage containers for quite a while now, as you may know if you're a long-term reader. I wrote about them last year, but in that post I was concerned more with the thermos as a symbol of nerdiness. Since then I have fully embraced my inner nerd so I've been able to travel further down the road of thermos appreciation than before.

I'm sure that many of you are fellow travellers on that road, yet I was still surprised when another of my Esteemed Colleagues complimented me on my thermos last week. We had a short discussion of its qualities and how it lent those qualities to me, its user. Carrying a thermos makes me seem outdoorsy, as if at any moment I might just propose that we all go camping or hiking. It makes me seem prepared for anything. For example, if I were to suddenly need a drink of coffee - well how about that? I have one right here! And the thermos is anti-establishment. It's a voice crying out for the home-made, the scrapbooked, the DIY "I think I'll glue some shells to that and spray it gold!" mentality that is so crushed by the concrete conformity of modern life.

If I had to sum up the qualities of the thermos (and hence its carrier) in one image, it would be the image of the survivalist nut living in a bunker in the woods with ten thousands tins of beans buried under the winter snow. It's tough, independent, wrassles bears and for all I know smokes its own bacon. The taste of the coffee from that thermos is the taste of freedom.

Sadly, on Monday the taste of freedom was sullied by some chunky bits because the milk was off. When I poured the coffee into my Willie Nelson mug (Australian Tour 2000) in class, I noticed that it came out a bit lumpy. It smelled okay so I figured I'd just let it settle down and then drink the thin stuff off the top. That plan worked out okay until I forgot about it ten minutes later and absent-mindedly picked up the mug and drained it all in a gulp.

The sensation of the blobs of congealed milk washing around my mouth was so unpleasant that I had to immediately get up and leave the room. But that's okay. From time to time the Tree of Liberty must be watered with the Vomit of Patriots.

Monday was a bad day in another way too. I woke up to discover that the bedroom door had swung shut so the cat had been trapped in the bedroom all night. This is a cat that is smart enough to wake me up when it wants to crawl into the bed with me. Unfortunately it's not smart enough to wake me up when it really really needs to access the litter tray in the laundry. And apparently the next best option is right on the bed.

The smell of cat pee is not a very nice thing to wake up to. Nevertheless, it's the smell of freedom! Why? Because you spend the rest of the day wondering if you yourself smell like cat pee even though you showered for what seemed like hours. But if you did smell like cat pee, you'd smell a little bit like that survivalist nut with his ten thousand tins of beans. Freedom! Ahhhh!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Best of British

While at the pub celebrating a friend's birthday recently, I found myself standing at the bar next to another friend of his whom I had not met before that night. Feeling the need for conversation, I was about to tell her the faskinating story of how they'd run out of Toohey's Premium Dry and I felt like I was in a Slim Dusty song ("Pub With No Beer", in case you're wondering), when she spoke first.

Are you Australian?


Oh. I thought I noticed a bit of an accent.

Sometimes people think I sound British because I'm so eloquent and sophisticated.

And she looked at me like I was a complete wanker and at that point the conversation kind of ground to a halt. I must try to remember that conversational gambits that might look good in a blog aren't necessarily successful in person.

The funny thing is that it's true - on several occasions I have been asked to my face if I'm British.

The first time was when my Smaller Half and I were staying in a B&B in Victoria and we were ordering our breakfast from the proprietor. I ordered the tea-smoked kippers because they sounded so absurd. I then asked the proprietor how big a kipper was because I had never seen one and he was flabbergasted that I hadn't. It turned out that he was flabbergasted because he thought I was British, and apparently British kids have to pass a kipper identification test to enter high school.

The even stranger time was when my then-Boss and I were in the US on a work trip. We decided it would be funny for we two Australians to go to the Outback Steakhouse - a cheesy Aussie-themed chain restaurant. When the waitress came to take our order we had to repeat ourselves several times because she had difficulty understanding us. Then she said, "Wait - are you guys English?"

To be honest I really don't know why people sometimes mistake me for a non-colonial. Ahh - brainwave! I'll make a poll about it and let you tell me. Internetz for the win!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Angry brain

My progress as a budding neurologist is being severely hampered by the fact that the human brain has lots of faces hidden inside it. Take a look at this:

See the angry face in the middle of the brain there? His lips are all pursed up like some kind of furious Frank Spencer. "Oooh!", he's saying, "oooooh!".

I get so distracted by stuff like this that it takes me twice as long to do anything. Ooooh!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hall of mirrors

I had one of those "Am I about to be locked up" moments today. I'm sure you know the feeling.

We'd been in our psychiatry tutorial and had just seen two patients interviewed (by two of us). Both patients were suffering from psychosis and had very strange delusions, but one was in the midst of it while the other had apparently recovered from it recently. We were discussing their cases with the psychiatrist afterwards and I took the opportunity to ask him something that I've been wondering for a while. Namely, do people ever get higher order delusions, or meta-delusions?

The psychiatrist asked me what I meant, and I explained that I meant would it be possible for someone to have delusions regarding their delusions. For example, could someone falsely believe that they had recently suffered from severe delusions but were now recovered? Likewise, could someone lack insight into whether or not they have insight?

To me, this seems like a perfectly reasonable question. In many fields of study asking these sorts of meta-questions or considering things in a recursive way can be really helpful.

However, it seems that psychiatry is not one of those areas. The psychiatrist gave me a very very strange look. Perhaps he thought I was trying to be funny or was trying to play semantic games with him, but I was perfectly serious about it. I suppose it's sufficient to know that the person is simply delusional and the exact degree of reflexivity of those delusions is irrelevant - how dull.

Fortunately, before he could forcibly detain me, the fire alarm went off. I cracked the mandatory "Can anybody else hear that noise?" joke (it's funny once you've been doing psych for a while, trust me) and then we all trooped outside and the tute was over.

A narrow escape!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Assorted complaints

I spent most of Tuesday being enraged at my lecturers. No - enraged is not the right word. Annoyed is probably more like it. But I think I need to work on being more tolerant. Once I get annoyed at a lecturer I find it very hard to listen to them and absorb anything, so I usually spend the rest of the class doodling on my notepad.

Pretty good doodles though - one of them had a cannon shooting a guy holding a giant hammer that would fall on another guy who would release a rope holding up a big weight that would squash yet another guy flat! And there was another one with a lion attacking a guy who was machine-gunning this other guy! Hmm, maybe I was enraged after all...

In the first lecture I got annoyed because the guy wasn't finishing his sentences before changing his mind and launching off on a different tangent. It really bugged me because when people do that it stops me from if you want to do that why not just start a blog, huh?

The second lecture was more insidious. I was okay for the first twenty minutes but the tension mounted until I couldn't take it any more. The problem was that she wouldn't stop using her extended metaphor of the eye as a video camera. It's fine the first time you hear it, but around the fifteenth time I heard her say, "the optic nerve, which is just like a video cable, right?", something in my brain burned out and that was the end for me. Like Dubya said, patronize me once, shame on you - patronize me twice, shame on ... you.

And the third lecture was so awful that I had to walk out halfway through. He didn't actually teach us anything, he just mentioned things. "Piaget - you've probably heard of his work. Or perhaps not. Very important stuff though. Very important." Not as important as my sanity though.

And while I'm busy complaining about stuff, why can't some patients just answer the damn questions you ask?? I recently spoke to a bloke who seemed to be afraid that I'd lose interest in him unless he had a fascinating story to tell me in response to every question I asked him. At a party he would be lots of fun. In a hospital it's just frustrating, because I have a hundred questions to get through and they all tend to go like this:

Do you have diabetes?

No, but my brother's mate, he was a big bloke, weighed about a hundred kilos, he lost a lot of weight, they made him do it, it was too much, you could see it in his face, so thin, I mean he was down to eighty, his diabetes went away though but you could see it in his face, it was no good for him, so he put the weight back on and he looked much better, the diabetes came back of course, he loves his cream buns he does.


If you're ever in hospital being interviewed by a medical student, please don't do that to them. It makes them feel all itchy inside.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Frequently Asked Questions Answered

Why do you scorn the letter E?
Alas, am I so transparent? I had hoped to hide this foible of mine from the world, but as they say, "In bloggo veritas". I scorn the letter E because it is so common and, as such, entirely unsuitable for a person of my distinguished breeding. In closing: E - pfft!

Have you ever thought about becoming a veterinarian? How about an actuary?
No, and yes. For some reason being a vet never occurred to me. It's possible that this is because I grew up on a small farm and came to associate vets with the imminent destruction of animals. Then again, perhaps not. I have fond memories of one vet who treated my pet mouse Devondale for depression-related self-harm, so he would have been quite a positive role model. As for being an actuary, I briefly considered this following a conversation with an odd bloke in Toowong, Queensland when I was 19, who told me of his life as an actuary. It sounded quite interesting right up until he started talking about insurance. In hindsight I think he might have been trying to chat me up, but I suppose we'll never know the truth about that.

Have you ever cooked a savoury dish using vanilla pods?
No, they all turned out most unsavoury indeed. However I do have an excellent track record of using cinnamon in curries.

If your relationship with your smaller half were to be represented by a tattoo somewhere on your person, what would it be (and where)?
The easy answer would be a tattoo of a wedding ring on my left hand ring finger, but since I've got an actual wedding ring serving that function already, I'll say that I would have a tattoo of Vasco de Gama over my heart, to symbolize the great voyage that we are on together through life. Either that or a picture of Johnny Blaze - Ghost Rider - with his grinning skull engulfed by flame, all the way down my back, because that would be real badass, just like us.

As a secondary question, can you confirm that your smaller half is indeed a person, and not some tasteless euphemism?
Haha - you clearly have great talent in the field of tasteless euphemisms. Please visit my blog more often and post comments with vigour. Yes, she is indeed a real person. You can see a picture of her shadow in my profile picture, thus demonstrating that not only is she real, she is also not a wampyr.

Is it acceptable to name your children after pets?
Not in my opinion. But that's because I come from the school of thought that holds that pets should have foolish names such as Devondale (my mouse), Gigantor (one of my snails) or Erskine (my goat). Children also should have foolish names, but of a different calibre entirely, such as Moon Unit or Bean Curd. However, the book is not closed on this issue since I don't have any children yet. Time will tell. Hmm, the more I think about it the better Devondale sounds as a kid's name...

Is it true that you're a technical script adviser to Lawrence Leung's "Choose your own adventure"?
If only that were true I would be a happy happy man.

What would be the menu for your last supper?
It would be a printed brochure showing the options available for the diner to select. Haha, just having a little fun there, I know what you really meant. It depends if I was to be imminently executed or not. In a Death Row situation I would ask for a steak sandwich from Gus' cafe in Canberra, followed by my Aged Mother's steamed pudding - comfort food all round. In a less punitive setting I would eat Peking duck followed by a large bowl of fruit salad (no bananas) to really freshen me up.

Scrunch or fold?
Fold. I make tiny little origami dung beetles and set them to work. It's kind of like that film, The Mummy.

How long is a piece of string?
How long do you want it to be, cowboy?

How many people would you kill to bring about world peace?
Human nature being what it is, I suspect it would have to be N-1, where N is the world population.

Let me rephrase ^ that. ^ How many people would you be happy to kill, if it gave the world, world peace?
Except in the highly unlikely scenario of everybody in the world bar one person being passionately devoted to securing world peace, and that one person happening to be a really bad type of guy, the answer would be zero since I tend to be a hopelessly impractical idealist. Actually, even in that scenario the answer would still be zero since although I might consider killing the bad guy from a utilitarian perspective, I definitely wouldn't be happy about it. I'm pretty sure that Yoda said something clever about this sort of thing in Return of the Jedi but on reviewing my google searches it looks like he plagiarized JRR Tolkien. Jedi Fail!

Which prime time news reporter do you like the least?
Since I don't watch TV news I am grossly unqualified to answer this question. However, since that isn't generally an obstacle to me voicing an opinion, I'll just say whichever one is least like Chris Bath. Probably some idiot sports reporter I suppose.

Is punching someone in the dark a victimless crime?
I can see why you ask. Your previous two questions were about justifiable homicide and hostility towards celebrities, so the fact that you seem to be seeking my permission to assault people fits right in. I'm happy to disappoint you in this regard though - punching someone in the dark is not a victimless crime. Unless you're a professional footballer. Apparently they're allowed to do whatever they want.

Is the phrase 'down pat' or 'down packed'?
"Down pat". What kind of moron says "down packed"? (Unless you're talking about doonas.) This touches on an important issue, which is how enraged I become when people mispronunciate words or phrases. Chief among the offenders is Coles, which has a sign (or it used to) telling you which aisle you could find "Box Chocolate" in. Several years ago I wrote an indignant letter to the Sydney Morning Herald about it but they didn't publish it. The bright side is that their myopic editorial policy is one of the things that led me to start this blog where I could rant on topics like this to my heart's content.

Having been tempted with very expensive jars of duck fat, I am at a loss with what on earth to do with said fat. Any suggestions?
I would fry eggs in it. Yum! Or meatballs. Otherwise I'm sure Mr Google will be able to help you.

As you made reference to utilitariansim would you subscribe to a system of a mandatory organ donation society where you would be forced to donate, perhaps terminally, IF through the collective goodness of your innards, the useful life of the recipients outweighed your own?
Short answer: no.
Long answer: I don't subscribe to the utilitarian point of view. I made reference to it earlier purely to illustrate that even in an extreme scenario I think that the utilitarian toolkit is a few spanners short. The idea of living in a society where people are coerced into donating their organs is grotesque.

have you ever rated your poo?
Honestly people. Let's keep the tone up. Next question please.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


I reckon what this blog really needs is an FAQ. I love FAQs. When I used to organize the Non-Denominational End Of Calender Year Gift Exchange Program at my old workplace I would publish an extensive FAQ addressing not only the Q's that were F'ly A'ed, but also lots of Q's that should have been asked because I had thought up great answers to them, but hadn't been asked because most people didn't have hours of free time to make up stupid shit in their work time like I apparently did.

When I realized that this blog needed an FAQ I was tempted to just make the questions up but then I thought to myself, "Self, some of the comments you get on your blog are pretty interesting. Maybe you should get readers to submit questions themselves", to which I thought back, "You know Self, you're smart as well as handsome".

So this is a call for questions. Ask away. I'll insert some sample questions in the comments section myself, just to show how it's done.

(As an aside, I reckon this will generate either incredible amounts of worthless crap, or nothing at all. It's up to you really.)

Mexican cat flu

I think I have Mexican cat flu. Here's the evidence in support of my hypothesis:
  1. On Friday night I ate Mexican food at a friend's house. (It was, by the way, delicious.)
  2. On Saturday my cat sneezed on me.
  3. Today I feel rotten.
I think that's pretty conclusive, don't you? Mexico + sneezy cat + flu = Mexican cat flu.

The symptoms include:
  • sore throat
  • snoring
  • ineffective thermal homeostasis
  • tiredness
  • lethargy
  • inability to complete Learning Issues
  • marked resemblance to Hollywood stars
  • grumpiness
  • hirsuitism
As far as I know I'm the first patient in the world with this, so I'm being pretty experimental with treatment. I've put myself on a rigorous course of Strepsils, tea, oral bacon therapy, and plenty of bed rest. Even without the clear health benefits I would be recommending this to you.

A reminder: don't forget to vote in the cake cutting poll. And if you're going to vote "Other", could you please explain your answer in the comments section of the "Cake Cutting" post from Friday? If you don't, the terrorists have won.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Cake cutting

A special treat for you all today - a dissertation of my thoughts on how best to cut cakes up. This was prompted by my recent celebration of Willie Nelson's birthday and subsequent devouring of a large and delicious mudcake over the course of several days. I'd been thinking back on the various strategies of cutting up cakes and the principles underlying those strategies. For the most part they are principles of economy of action or aesthetic considerations, but some could also be considered political principles or even ethical principles.

First, let's note that this post concerns itself mainly with the circular cake. Rectangular cakes and square cakes are also interesting, but I think the round cake offers a greater challenge to the cake cutter due to its infinite rotational symmetry. An elliptical cake would be a greater challenge still, lacking both the convenient parallel edges of the oblong cake as well as the circular cake's advantage of equi-angular cuts from the centre having equal areas .

However, I can't recall ever having to cut up an elliptical cake so I'll not address it further here except to note that it wouldn't surprise me if someday someone discovered that Johannes Kepler actually came up with his laws of planetary motion while trying to cut an elliptical cake into pieces of equal size. It would be an ingenious party trick to perform but you'd have to come up with some way to calculate a velocity around the perimeter of the cake that was appropriate to an orbiting body. Perhaps if you served the cake on a hyperbolic plate and rolled marbles around its edge whilst observing closely with an accurate timepiece on hand.

Anyway, that's enough of that. On with the cake-cutting fun!

In my youth, I always endevoured to cut a cake into equal-sized pieces, just like the good Mr. Kepler. What's more, I always cut the cake into exactly as many pieces as there were persons present to eat it. I call the Birthday Strategy, because if you're at a kids birthday party this is the only way to cut up a cake without being lynched by angry children. Kids are quite unlike adults in that no child has ever, in the history of the world, said, "I'll just have a very thin piece thanks, I'm already pretty full". Children will eat just as much cake as is made available to them. In addition, children will closely monitor both the relative sizes of all the pieces cut and any available leftover cake, and will view any shortfall of their own piece most unkindly.

The Birthday Strategy works well for these circumstances but it does have some practical difficulties. The worst case situation is when the number of people present is prime. It's very difficult to divide a cake into a prime number of equal-sized portions without measuring instruments. Even having a composite but odd number of people makes it tricky.

For this reason, a meta-strategy that can be effective is to employ the Birthday Strategy for cutting cakes but avoid difficulty by always ensuring that the number of people present is a power of two. I call this the Turing Strategy. The Turing Strategy is very convenient from the point of view of cake cutting because it involves only having to bisect angles, something that is very easy to perform sufficiently accurately by eye, particularly if you have a rotating cake stand available.

For some time in my early twenties I employed a pseudo-Turing Strategy, whereby I always cut the cake into a power of two pieces but made no attempt to control the number of people present. This means that there will usually be pieces left over. This is acceptable when most of those present are adults, as some adults will want only one piece and others will want more. I left it up to the hungry eaters to squabble over the leftovers amongst themselves. The downfall of the pseudo-Turing strategy is threefold. First, if the number of people present is one greater than a power of two, you will leave almost half of the cake as leftovers. Second, once you start cutting a cake into 32 pieces or more, each piece becomes impractically thin and difficult to serve intact. You might scoff at having 32 people there to eat a cake but remember: even if you only have 17 people there you'll need 32 pieces of cake. Finally, people look at you funny if you cut a cake up like this.

Eventually I realized that the pseudo-Turing strategy doesn't really make sense, as it employs a solution to the problem of children but only in the context of adults, for whom there is no real requirement for equal sized pieces. At this point I began to employ a new consultative style, where I moved the knife slowly around the cake like the hands of a clock and asked the person for whom that piece was intended to indicate when the piece was large enough. This is called the Nnnnnow! Strategy.

The Nnnnnow! Strategy works well for small groups of people but not for large groups. It requires the sequential close proximity and attention of the eaters, which can be difficult to orchestrate in a large gathering. It also runs the risk of running out of cake before all people have been served if the early eaters do not moderate their appetites in response to population pressures. The only way of controlling this is to limit the size of the pieces served, which not only requires the implementation of the Birthday Strategy anyway to find such a limit, but requires this to be done iteratively in response to the remaining amount of cake and the remaining number of eaters, thus imposing a prohibitive computational demand.

I also have been known to get annoyed at the propensity of some young ladies to insist on wafer-thin slices of cake which, as noted above, are impractical to serve, for reasons which I believe to be more related to diet propaganda and self-denial than an accurate reflection of their desire for cake. This would then lead me to serve them more cake than they wanted, which in turn led to them becoming annoyed with me in return.

As a result of these difficulties I then adopted a new strategy for cake cutting, which I call the Amalric Strategy. This involves me deliberately cutting the cake into an assortment of differently sized pieces and letting the pieces fall where they may. Just make sure that some are big, some are small, and most are in-between. Then hand them out and let people swap amongst themselves until everybody is equally miserable.

But recently I have begun to turn against even the Amalric strategy. I've been chafing under the yoke of expectation - people always expect round cakes to be cut into wedge-shaped pieces from the centre using radial cuts. It's much more interesting to just start from the edge and cut out whatever shape you please. I call this the anti-Penn Strategy. The fun thing about doing this is you end up with some wonderfully irregular shapes and jagged edges. There's no need to restrict yourself to any kind of grid or regularity at all.

The anti-Penn works best when the cake is to be cut into pieces but left assembled for people to select their own piece, as otherwise the gestalt effect is lost. I like it because it's a way of really surprising people when they are least expecting to be surprised. Furthermore, it can be a real conversation starter! In fact, you could print out a copy of this article and carry it around in your wallet for just such an occasion and help to popularize the anti-Penn!

So now you are well-versed in the theory of cake-cutting and how some of these ingenious methods arose to address the seemingly intractable difficulties of the day. Why not vote now in the new poll to the right on how you like up your cakes? And if you have a different strategy, I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Public health warning

Hey guess what wildly improbable event happened to me today? I was notified of my exam results, and it seems that I have passed! Phew! I am really stoked about this. I now know everything I need to know about the digestive system and the various endocrine glands. This is good news.

On the downside, it is clear that the standard of medical eddycation in Australia is plummeting. Stop smoking. Eat fresh veggies. And exercise until you sweat from the head, three times per week. Because the next generation of doctors have no idea, believe me.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Get out of jail free

Although I did eat chips tonight, it was not my fault. It was a setup!

We were given dinner for free at a local restaurant, for reasons I can't be bothered to explain, and we had to choose between two main courses:
  1. fish and chips
  2. steak and chips
See how they both had chips? Yeah - so I was basically forced to eat chips and what's more I hardly enjoyed them at all.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

39% man

This week, en route to my psychiatry tutorial, apropos of nothing at all, one of my classmates told me that I looked like Nicholas Cage. At first I was kind of pleased. Who wouldn't want to look like a Hollywood star? Well, me. Nicholas Cage has a lumpy face and always looks like he's in a trance. Exhibit #1:

Later that evening I got a txt msg from an old school friend who asked if I had perhaps been moonlighting as Eric "Rick" Forrester Jr. on The Bold and The Beautiful. I had no idea what or who she was talking about so I had to google up some pictures. As it turns out, there is some superficial similarity there, especially around the region of the rock-hard abs. Exhibit #2:

All this star-comparison threw my thoughts back to last year when a friend emailed me from the US to say that Ryan Gosling had been on the cover of GQ and that he was my doppelganger. I wasn't exactly thrilled since at that point I'd just seen the movie Lars and the Real Girl in which Mr Gosling plays a socially inept loser who falls in love with a blow-up sex doll. Hopefully that's not what my friend was referring to. Exhibit #3:

And finally we come to Frankie Muniz. A few years back, when Malcolm in the Middle was on TV, a work colleague remarked that I looked just like him. I had no idea that Mr Muniz even existed until that moment, when I suddenly found myself bound to him for all eternity. Here is what he looks like. Jolly little twerp, isn't he? Exhibit #4:

Four quite different looking famous people, all of whom apparently look like me. Or me like them, I suppose. Isn't it strange that we don't say, "Hey Frankie Muniz looks just like you!" - it's always, "Hey you look just like Frankie Muniz! Ha ha ha ha!"

Yet when I look at the pictures all together now I do see that there are certain themes. Bad haircuts are right up there. As are big bushy eyebrows. And bags under the eyes. And a certain hang-dog look. I guess I can live with that.

It's closer to reality at least than someone else's assessment of me. The website claims to be able to analyze a blog feed and deduce from it whether the writer is male or female. And apparently it thinks I'm a woman. Although it's only 61% certain.