Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Waiting Game

This may be All Hallow's Eve, but for me it's also the eve, perhaps, of finding out if I have been successful in gaining a place in an MD course. It was meant to be today, but the admissions people couldn't finalise the national student allocations in time. Thankfully they're getting up early tomorrow, so hopefully there will be some news to wake up to!

I'm not stressed. I'm not even particularly excited. I know that getting in will mean I've signed up for years of stress, and very little time for friends and relationships. It might mean leaving my family behind, as I move interstate. I am looking forwards to finding out though, but not in the fanatical way that other people are. It's important to not just want something because it's difficult to attain. There seems to be a philosophy in med applicants, that getting an offer means that you've 'won'. Better to always remember the real reasons why you're there, so that you can stay objective about whether it's for you or not.

In other news, we were given free pizza today in a unit, so life's pretty great! Aside from a splitting headache, and quickly worsening vision in my left eye, and all the assignments I still have to do (I really need to give my eye a rest, but there's no chance if that any time soon).

Wish me luck!


Saturday, 27 October 2012

It's Snowing...

...snowing assignments.

In the free time that I've had in the past few weeks I've watched a program that I've taped called 'Living With the Amish', and it has been truly eye opening. There is a teenager on the progrom from England that I have felt I can partially relate to -- he is heavily educated at Eton and has enormous pressure on him to succeed, which is more my scenario than the others, who seem to have been chosen simply because they don't represent the best of English youth -- so it has been great to see them from his eyes as well.

Basically, the Amish for the most part live as though technology doesn't exist. They hand make all of their clothes, they work the farm by hand (not a hard and fast rule, but some of them do), and they drive around in horses and carts. They do use dollars, but I presume they don't need to apply complex economics to anything. And while on the face of it you might reel in horror at the thought of living without say, electricity, these people are the happiest group of people that I have ever seen. It may be that I have a hidden side where I actually love getting in the dirt and working a hard day, but it has made me think on numerous occasions that living with the Amish actually wouldn't be so bad.

It has been interesting to watch something like Living With the Amish at a time when my university workload has been dialled up to maximum. I yearn for that simple life, where you can take things on face value and the amount of money you bring home depends on how hard you work, not on the relative demand for your work (these things are intrinsically linked, but in reality they are far apart sometimes). I yearn for the simple life, but I'm propelling myself into certainly not an easy profession to either get into or stay in. In the name of passion? Passion may yet prove to be the most dangerous fuel.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Joys of Android

The joys of android are many, but one of the most vaunted ones is the vast room for customising it to be exactly what you want it to be. I came upon a site that lets people share their minimal android set ups, and some of them are almost breathtaking. You can find them all here, at minimalandroid.

That was just a short post, because I just wanted to get that out there!


The Really Inconvenient Truth

I was reading through wikipedia the other day, as I love to do. I somehow started reading the article 'what wikipedia is not' for some reason or another. That got me onto something else, which got me onto something else, etc etc, which got me onto the articles about Malthusian theory and the Malthusian catastrophe. Of course these sorts of theories have been around for a while and can't be claimed to be the thoughts of a single person, but they serve as a nice succinct theory to refer to here.

In a nutshell, these theories predict that when unchecked population growth outgrows our agricultural capabilities, a number of inevitable processes will work to reduce the population in various horrible ways, not the least of which is famine on apocalyptic levels. It makes sense -- reports have found that the population of the world will likely exceed our abilities to feed by 2030. That's 18 years, not meaning to be sensationalistic about it.

Now think about it in a different way. Running out of food in 2030 relies on levels of famine and poverty remaining what they are today or increasing proportionally. Read that sentence again, and let it sink in. If we were to attempt to give ever undernourished person in the world a typical day's food intake of a modern western urban family, as is the ideal scenario, we would likely already be past our ability to supply the world with food. Right now there are more overweight people in the world than there are undernourished -- with both groups likely now at or above 1,000,000,000 people -- so there is some slack that we can take away from Western cultures to feed the poor. And if we somehow reduce the immense amounts of waste in the world then we could survive a few more years of continued growth. But the truth of the matter, the hard cold inevitable truth is that the world, as it is, relies on a seventh of the world's population going hungry. Is the malthusian crisis something that will happen in 2030, or are we simply in its birthing throes now?

So, assuming that we are utterly unsuccessful in solving the poverty crisis, and assuming that population growth doesn't increase any more, we have 18 years before we can't feed ourselves. 18 years to before you, reader, having a good meal might mean that my family doesn't eat tonight. Given enough nights of that, I might think about taking some of your food no matter what it takes. And that will play out on a global scale as major food producers such as the United States and Australia will seek to reduce exports to improve standard of living. Other countries will flex their muscle because food is a basic human necessity that, when it's in short supply, is more valuable than anything else that can be traded, and so other exports are worth nothing. And thus we will find ourselves stuck in a Malthusian catastrophe, where through famine or plague or war, our population will reduce back to the point where we can feed ourselves. It is not something that is immoral, or unethical, it is simply something that will happen.

Unless something changes. And that, my friends, will be the subject of a post hopefully in the next few days. Or I might make a series of posts about this whole issue, because I have a few things to say about it. We'll see.

Stay Circular,

Friday, 12 October 2012


Ciao my friends,

When you do something enough it becomes normal, and that's the case whether it's driving a car, or a plane, or a spaceship, or whether you're washing the windows of a skyscraper, jumping out planes, performing lifesaving operations. This is the main argument used by those who argue against violence in our tv programs and video games -- we don't want our children to grow up thinking it's better to shoot people in the head than in the body, because that devalues the choice of whether to shoot someone at all. That is a different matter, but it leads in to what I want to discuss in this post.

I do anatomy at university. I love it. For the past few years I have looked forwards with eagerness to third year because that is when we can do a dissection unit. With scalpel and forceps in hand, for 8 weeks of this semester we have taken apart a human being. Actually, because the class was so large we took apart 7 humans. We named our man Walter, and felt rather proud of him because he was young and had much larger muscles than the other people which made our work much easier. Was that hard for us? Not really, because since first year we've seen body parts. The only thing that was new about this was to see the whole body before any work had been done to it.

The thing is, when I tell people about what we've been doing they almost invariably can't stand to hear much beyond "I've been doing a bit of dissection on this man". That has made me look back on myself numerous times recently, trying to find where that part of me has gone. Is this normal to me now? When I look at my own arms and wish I could see what's in my arm, is that normal?

After our mid semester break we finished our human dissections, and started the part of the unit that I was most apprehensive about -- animal dissections. We have learnt a lot about human anatomy now, so it was time to correlate that with other species. We walked into the room and were hit by a wall of air, so thickly hung with formaldehyde that it made our eyes sting and stream. There was a tub, filled with monkeys and gibbons and chimps. Spreading them out across a few tables, we tentatively began. In exactly the same manner as it had happened with humans though, it wasn't long before what had been a monkey was, to our eyes, muscle and nerves and bones. My mum had told me that she didn't want to know when I did anything on monkeys, Where had that part of me gone?

And then this week has been about dogs and quokkas. I love dogs, but I didn't mind dissecting into one's body. My mum on the other hand would have baulked at the idea, had I told her. We all made jokes to try to take some people's minds off it -- a pretty standard thing in dissection rooms the world over.

Recently I had my interview for medicine, and one of the questions was: "what will be some of the difficulties you face when in medicine". I responded with some things they've probably heard a thousand times, but I also told them something that has been on my mind for a number of years -- It doesn't matter how hard it is to learn how to save patients, it is going to be harder for me to learn how to lose one. I have been through a semester of dissection, and I have learnt a lot but I feel like I have lost something as well. If I head into medicine, I am going to do everything in my power to retain that sense of my patient being a real human being -- not simply a bag of muscles and nerves and bones that are acting up.

Thank you Walter. Somewhere out there I hope you have a family that think of you always. I will try to use what I learnt from you to save at least one person's life.


Thursday, 11 October 2012

Sad Days

Comets struck the earth at the slightest flick of his fingers, columns of lightning blasted even the great dragons of old from the sky. He had travelled to realms that the mortal dare not, and returned a hero in both lands. He owned property all across the realm, but his home in Whiterun set on end the hair of all who passed it -- it was said that many dark, dangerous and ancient artifacts were kept there, guarded by a warrior princess so awe inspiring that even the hero of this tale trusted her. His services were sought after by all for it was said that no task was too great, nor any risk too far for this God amongst peasants -- but woe forbid you slight him, for tales are told of great vengeances that have befallen such ignorant, hapless fools.

Unassailable, unstoppable, immortal, unbeatable in combat, wearing ancient and dangerous armour, commanding all the powers of nature, this hero was truly the greatest legend of our times. He was the Dovahkiin.

And thinking I was cleaning up how many saves I have, I just deleted all of the saves I have.

Dat feel... I'm rather pissed off.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

And Now For Today's Science News...

Namaste! I thought I'd share something that I've been thinking about for a while. Warning: it may only apply to Australian broadcast TV stations, but I'm fairly sure it doesn't. Let me know in the comments if this doesn't happen in your country, and if you'd like to see it!

TV stations all across the world broadcast news as an integral part of their daily programs (indeed, there are many channels now dedicated to news, which highlights its special importance to an increasingly global and connected world). The origins of news is difficult to find -- in my short time researching I found references saying it was mandated as a public service in America, and then soon spread. Others say that the earliest radio programs didn't have sponsors, so newspapers paid them to promote their papers and thereby spread the news that the newspaper was carrying. Whatever started it, it now is a very important source of information and a critical part of keeping a country's population up to date with current local and global events.

So what do we see on the news? Without fail (you count), you will see probably at least 5 people get injured. Sure the general news section has some good news, but for the most part it's people getting charged, people getting stabbed, another paedophile or drug bust, all things that are important to hear about but not exactly things you let your children see. Following the main news is the sports section. Here in Australia 80% of the sports section is Australian Rules Football (AFL). After all those car crashes we just watched, AFL is much more pleasant but it doesn't really have much importance in the grand scheme of things. I don't mean to say that sports is not important. I'm trying to say that the news is missing something.

The news, aside from the weather, is mostly based on what has happened. Whether it be murders or war crimes or who won the game last night. I propose a new paradigm in nightly network news. Besides covering current affairs and sports, the news must cover, I believe, the breakthroughs that our scientists make. What got me thinking was seeing a news item the other day where a team at Melbourne University had found a molecule that potentially could be applied as a cream that killed melanoma cells and left healthy cells alive. It struck me that we never hear about important scientific discoveries unless they're either done by an Australian university, are causing ethical concern, or are just so big that it couldn't not be covered (eg the work at the LHC). If the prestigious journal Nature can find enough to publish over 100 pages of broad interest breakthrough science every week then there is enough happening in our labs to fill a 10 minute period in a general news broadcast.

To increase the general public's grasp of current events in the local and global community is a general goal of our benevolent Government, then I strongly believe that higher scientific literacy should be at least at the same priority as them. After all, science is the future of our species, technology, machinery, medicine -- every single aspect of our future is influenced by the work being done right now. A lot of research done now is complex and based on the results of similarly complex past research. But if the news can adequately explain melanoma cancer treatment research then there should be no reason why other fields couldn't be made accessible. If you skip out the terminology and detailed techniques, most experiments can be explained relatively simply -- after all, it's much easier to get a simple, easy to understand method published than a convoluted one. Facebook pages such as this one are doing a great job of bringing science to a broader audience in an original and exciting format, so it is possible.

So why not, I say. Why don't we have people talking in the streets saying 'ooh, did you see the work that Smith and colleagues are doing to find out how smell recovers after we've had a blocked nose?? How interesting!'. Or 'did you see the story last night about the lab in America turning skin cells into working heart cells?'. I get excited by science, as do many, and I firmly believe that if we push science to the front of the public spotlight the general public will see that the money they put into charity events such as the Multiple Sclerosis Mega Home Lottery doesn't just put you in the chance of winning a house -- it enables truly ground-breaking research that is fascinating and highly worth spending the money on in its own right.

Am I crazy? Maybe. But I envision a world where scientists can join the general ranks of the heroes we celebrate on our news stations. Where they don't need to spend half of their time going after grants, because the general public actually knows the importance of the experiment that they want to do and will bay for blood if they don't get funding. I want kids to say that they want to be scientists because they've seen all they can do, all the problems they can solve and see that the world has actually been improved because of their work. Because I fear that nowadays the only thing that people see moving forward with any pace is technology.

Science literacy should be something that our Governments strive for! I dream of a world where I can switch to the news at 6pm and see what has happened in science.

So what do you think? Is the general public interested enough to watch this every night, or would they prefer that scientists just work in the background? Would you watch a science section in the news? Leave a comment!


Monday, 8 October 2012

Wikipedia Editing


I've come to rely on wikipedia (hereafter called wiki) for a lot of my research into the human biology that I'm learning. Far from the days where the information it contained was put there by vandals or non-expert editors, wiki now enjoys a large audience of passionate editors who can and will get into heated edit wars over the smallest fact in an article. It is now, arguably, the foremost source of knowledge on the internet (I was going to say information, but really Google has to claim that crown). I like wolfram alpha, but it doesn't really offer much more and it doesn't have the glorious blue links that take you on a 3 hour long journey of discovery like wiki does. I am still laughed at in my university classes when I say that I heard something on wiki, but I have no doubt that the time will come when wiki is a valued source of general scientific knowledge in the next few years. Plus, you know that even if they don't admit it, almost everyone uses it.

But there are just those times when it doesn't have exactly what you're looking for. Take the example I'm currently struggling with -- I want to find a good, labelled diagram of the mouth with an elevated tongue. Simple, you'd think. The wiki entry for 'human mouth' is our first stop. Of course here the main picture of interest is the Gray's anatomy drawing -- an all too common sight on human biology pages. While these are generally very well labelled in bone/muscle related articles (pictures like this one are just on another plane of helpfullness), when the topic is anywhere bordering on niche they quickly defer back to the unlabelled form, which doesn't even represent an attempt to cover bases. Without a picture the article is not of much help, but even the text doesn't help very much. It covers only the basics of the biology, and barely any anatomy. Who searches up the wiki entry for the mouth wanting to find out how to use it? This is, as they call it, a stub.

What do we do when wiki fails us? If you're anything like me then you reel for a moment, to think that you're going to have to go back to that search results list and have to sift through any number of useless wikianswers results to find a reputable second source. Having been in and out of several pages (some of them copies of the wiki entry, of course) you finally find the exact thing you're after. You write it down, and move on to the next question, right? That, my friends, is the crux of this post: the fact that we just move on. How many of us have laboriously clambered over the exact same obstacles, only to leave them on the road for the next hapless person to come across? I could very easily edit the wiki entry on the human mouth to make it much more knowledgeable and helpful, and it wouldn't take very much of my time. Certainly less time than it's taken to write this blog post. But the thing is that I don't even remember that it needed working on. Once I leave the page to search elsewwhere, it vanishes into nothingness in my vacuous head. And this is a problem for our beloved friend, the great wiki.

This editing crunch, so to speak, has not escaped the notice of active editors on wiki. This great piece by wiki user Timeshifter shows the dramatic drop off in editor numbers, compared with how many more articles there are. There simply aren't the incentives to stick around and share what you learn after you have to trawl through the 'unclean' web. I have the knowledge (not meaning to sound arrogant) to make the human mouth page much more useful. I could even label that gray's anatomy picture. But will I? Will anyone?

Do you edit wiki articles when you find them lacking? Do you not, but then get annoyed when they don't serve your needs (like me)? Leave a comment! Leave a comment if you can think of any ways this can be solved, too. Perhaps an API, much like the ubiquitous facebook 'like', that would send the text you highlight to a 'database' for the wiki page you designate so that it can be reviewed later by someone editing it?


EDIT: Ok, the drawing on that page isn't a Gray's anatomy drawing, but it sure looks like it.

Aurora 4x vs. Exams


My attitude when it comes to preparing for exams is second to none. Every exam period without fail I've found some interesting thing to absorb 90% of my time. Last semester it was a fantastic game called Dwarf Fortress (one of the best games of the century, if you ask me) -- this time it's another great game called Aurora 4x.

You may have heard of the 4X genre -- eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate. Basically, it's probably closest to the hardcore gamer's holy grail, that is a game in which you can do whatever you want. The holy grail of the 4X genre is a game in which you can not only walk across the surface of planets a la skyrim or GTA (where the whole surface is interactable, etc), but then you can take off in a ship that you designed and visit any of the stars that you can see. Even just typing that sends a shiver down my spine thinking of how fantastic that would be! These games just capture my imagination, which is exactly what my procrastinating mind is after. (Hopefully, it's that sort of game that Minecraft creator Notch is working on: 0x10c)

So, Aurora 4X. What is it? In four words, it's a space game. It's poor in graphics, so don't look it up to replace your X3's or Endless Space. By poor, I mean that even the biggest most elaborate ship is represented by a dot on the screen. You'll spend most of the game looking at buttons and spreadsheets. But beneath those non-existent graphics lies a game that almost fully simulates what it would actually be like to control a space faring empire (or pax utopia, or stalin communist nation, or benevolent dictatorship, etc etc). 

Terraforming is a much vaunted feature of Aurora, but the depth is everywhere. Want to kick some alien butt? You'll need to make some ships for that. Want to build a ship? Better get your scientists and research labs all set up, because you're going to buckle down for several years of research. Lets kit your ship up with some lasers. They're good because they tunnel straight down through armour, gouging deep holes that can maybe penetrate to the ship components underneath. So, a couple of technologies are needed straight up. What focal size are we going to be talking about? They range from 10cm all the way to 70 cm. 70 cm lasers are going to do massive damage and have long range, but then they're going to be massive, and weight of your ship is something you need to consider. Also, it'll take you approximately 793863948634 years for your scientists to progress their research to the point of giving your a 70 cm laser. Lasers lose power as they travel through space too -- the longer their wavelength, the worse it is. You can leave your laser as a near infrared laser, or you can invest many years to research better ones. You can take it all the way to far gamma lasers, but again that'll take you 9379343893 years. Lasers require power, so you need to research power plant technologies. For lasers and power plants there are various efficiencies that you can research as well. So, lets say after 100 years of research you have a fantastic bad ass laser that you whack on your ships and send them out to show them aliens who's boss. You've forgotten one thing -- your ship, and your weapons, need to be able to see the enemy! That's where sensors come in. Active sensors allow your ship to see the enemy, and have about 4 technologies to research to high levels. Fire controls are sensors that give you weapon locks, and again have various technologies to research and balance. Seem tedious? Not a chance -- this is what gives you ultimate control over every aspect of your ship designs. It means that when you engage with the enemy -- typically something that happens at several million kilometres -- all the stuff that you've spent years researching finally comes together in a concert of machinery, to ace that size 40 missile coming at you at 10,000 km/s from 3,000,000 kms away.

There's so much more to it, but I'm afraid this post is already long enough. In short, there's planetary constructions, diplomacy, surveying, colonisation, ground unit combat, espionage, officer management, black holes, nebulae...if you think a 4X game needs it, it's probably there in one form or another. This isn't a space game: this is the space game. It's just a shame about the graphics, because I think that's all that holds it back from being the ultimate game out.

Aurora 4X is a game of tedium married with vicious, unbelievably exciting moments. It's exactly what this brain needs, when I'm trying to do anything but study for my exams.

Aurora 4X: 5 stars.

Leave a comment below if you've played Aurora before, and let me know how it went for ya!


PS if you get stuck on the interface, as most do (myself included) then check out this video as it's enough to get you started.

PPS per the title of this post, aurora is currently beating exams hands down unfortunately!

[interesting title]

*static* Come in, come in, this is *static* to Earth, paging... anyone *static*

This is the mandatory first post. Hello there! I'm a student in Australia, currently 20 years old. I've got a keen interest in medicine -- that's what my undergrad degree's been about, and I'll maybe be starting in an MD course next year. What makes this blog different to all the other medical school student blogs out there? Nuthin! I'l try to write about things that are interesting enough that you might stick around though! Since I have about 15 years of education to go before I'm fully qualified I anticipate being able to share a great many interesting things in the years to come. One little thing I hope about starting this blog is that it won't just be another of those blogs you see that fades into obscurity due to neglect by either the author or audience...

Since life continues outside of studies too (sometimes that's hard to imagine!) this blog will be a place where I write about other things too. It won't be a day to day this-is-what-I-ate-for-breakfast ordeal, but will feature some things (time permitting).

So, here's to the years to come! Sleepless nights and life changing moments, coming right up.