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Monday, October 25, 2004


The intricate details of our complicated world cannot be understood by even the smartest among us because our brains are really quite weak and pathetic. This is where science comes in. Science is all about glossing over the details by building models and making metaphores about the world around us, so that we can try to understand how things work. The models we learn about in elementary school differ only in their level of detail from those we learn about later on in life. Every so often, it's comforting to forget all about the complicated models and convoluted metaphores that I have to grapple with every day at the lab and go back to the colourful, albeit simplified, models and metaphores that had attracted me to science as a kid. Yesterday, I had the chance to relive my dorky childhood with a few other grad students when we went to the Ontario Science Centre.

The OSC is very much like Science World (soon to be called the, I'm serious) in Vancouver. The centre is divided into zones -- Space, the Body, Communication, and so on -- and each zone has various displays that demonstrate a basic scientific principle in a kid friendly way. To be honest, I don't think the OSC is a place to learn about science because kids generally don't like to read about the science behind the "fun". But that's not the point. The point is to get the little suckers hooked on science when they're young so they eventually become graduate students who work long hours when I become a PI with my own lab one day...muahahahahahahahahaha.

Your Favorite Jerk

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Be a bouncer? Yeah, I can do that

I have a bit of free time on my hands in the evenings these days and since I like to stay true to my industrious Chinese roots, I decided to apply for a part time job as an evening/overnight proctor for the 89 Chestnut study room. The requirements for this job seem straighforward: sit and watch over anxious undergrads while they study for their finals. To be honest, this job requires no real skillset besides being able to sit still and be quiet (a skill I have already mastered early on in my formative years). Nevertheless, an excess of applicants meant that all potential proctors had to be interviewed by the residence office -- presumably, to see who can sit quietly with the most poise.

I went into the interview with very little mental preparation, and this may have affected my "game" a little bit. I wasn't expecting tough questions like: "why do you want to be a proctor" -- you mean besides monetary gain? -- or "what challenges do you expect to overcome as a proctor" -- no one told me there would be this some kind of joke? Thankfully, my ability to wiggle/weasel/writhe (why do all the good evasive verbs start with 'w'?) out of tough situations carried me through most of the interview. In fact, I thought I was doing pretty well until DK -- the 6'5" Jamaican "Don of Dons" -- asked me how comfortable I would feel about confronting obnoxious students and how good I was at "conflict managment". I know euphemisms when I hear them, and I knew the real question was, in fact, "Yo mutha----er, when the ---- be goin' down, can your skinny --- can handle the heat, dawg?" So I replied, "Hell ya, mutha----er! When the ---- go down, I be there till the end! Oof oof". At this point, I stood up, flashed my aZn pRide gang signs and was promptly asked to leave the premises. No seriously, I think that last question essentially told me they were looking for someone who could fill a student bouncer role and, quite frankly, I don't think I fit the bill. We'll see how it goes, but when they told me I looked like a "studious" individual, I think they were dropping some pretty obvious hints that this job isn't for me.

Your Favorite Jerk

Thursday, October 14, 2004

I don't live in the Ivory Tower, I just go up for the view

I first heard of the term 'grad student' when I was in my first year of undergrad at UBC. My TA's in "Intro to English Lit" were grad students and they looked and sounded very scholarly. Everything about their appearance suggested countless hours spent at the stacks of the library, studying anaphoras, anastrophes, antistrophes and other bunk rhetorical terms. I admired these learned beings and I so desperately wanted to move into the Ivory Tower, from whence these scholarly men (or women) gazed down upon the unwashed masses in the Real World below them.

Alas, genetics grad students do not resemble their English lit counterparts in scholarly appearance. Everything about our appearance suggests countless hours spent at the lab, doing minipreps, pcr's, western blots and other bunk biological experiments. In fact, in all my years at UBC, I have only been to the library twice for research purposes -- both times for History 270 (you rock Dr. "pick three out of nine preassigned topics for the final exam" Woodside!) -- because almost everything I need to read is available as an e-journal online or a textbook on my desk. In fact, up until today I had not lived the dream I had as a wide-eyed undergrad. But today, all that changed because a book I needed was neither available online, nor in my small personal library of textbooks, so I had to go to the Gerstein Library to "borrow it" -- correct me if I used that term wrong; I am not familiar with library jargon.

The "stacks" at the Gerstein Library are similar to the stacks in the old UBC main library (I'm not talking about naturally lit Koerner Library here). It's the sort of place the Navy might rent for a weekend to acclimatize new submariners to life in a tiny vessel hundreds of feet below the sea. The lighting is dim, the space is tight, and the floor makes a hollow metal clanking sound when you walk around. But I was ready to put up with these minor inconveniences to enter the Ivory Tower, from whence scholarly men (or women) gaze down upon...okay, okay you've had enough. Anyways, to make a boring story short, I got my book and I genuinely felt like I was a "scholar". Sadly, my stay at the Ivory Tower was cut short when I looked at the title of the book I had borrowed -- "Immunoinformatics: bioinformatic strategies for better understanding of iummune function" -- and realized that as a science geek I was never going to be like the English lit grad students, who were my childhood heroes (them and the Power Rangers, specifically the pink ranger with the special moves and the...I've said too much). Medical genetics grad students don't get to live in the Ivory Tower...we work in the basements of the tower and are let out once in a while to enjoy the view.

Your Favorite Jerk

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

My kingdom for a spoon!

When you live at home all your life, you take certain things for granted. I'm talking about little things that you just assume are going to be there, like...a spoon for example. I bought some instant coffee at Staples (of all places...don't ask) yesterday and decided to make myself a brew of Fodger's classic roast this evening. Just as I was getting ready to take my hit of caffeine, it suddenly occured to me that I need a spoon to scoop out the coffee and to stir the beverage. Alas, I did not possess this implement and I was forced to find a pair of chopsticks to mix my drink. Note to self: buy a spoon before winter makes utensil shopping difficult. Do they even sell spoons individually? Oooo, the debate is on...I'm signing off.

Your Favorite Jerk

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Explosions in My Ears

I like to think I have acceptable taste in music. My music collection is fairly eclectic, though fully devoid of works from Biggie or Sean Puffy/Puff Daddy/P.Diddy Combs. I am open to listening to new music and, if ticket prices are reasonable, I am also open to seeing a band that I have never heard of before. Several weeks ago, Jonny asked me to go see 'Explosions in the Sky' perform at the Horseshoe Tavern. I trust Jon's taste in music -- he is doing a Masters in musicology, afterall -- so I decided to give it a shot.

The Horseshoe Tavern is steeped in rich Canadian music history, having hosted almost every big act in Canada at some point in their careers. The live music room inside this venue has a posted maximum occupancy of roughly 250 people but this appeared to merely have been a suggestion from the fire department. The actual maximum occupancy number is more likely to be about 300 to 400 people depending on how many people can be crammed into the room.

Before the opening act came on, Jon asked me where I would like to stand to take in the performance. Being ever so naive and trusting, I told him I would be happy to follow his lead and stand where he stood. It really wasn't so bad standing at the front row right next to the amplifiers and massive speakers at first. The opening act -- a British group calling themselves Adem -- did a very mellow set that was very reminiscent of some of Cold Play's works. The lead singer even warned the audience that they were using very quiet instuments and hoped that everyone would be able to hear in the back. "Boy", I thought, "Jon sure is smart to have us stand so close to the front".

As Adem left the stage and 'Explosions' was setting up for their act, Jon told me I would like the 'Explosions' because they were all instumental. Not really understanding what instrumental meant, I pictured Eric Clapton playing an acoustic guitar on MTV Unplugged, singing Layla in a whisper quiet voice. I pushed forward a bit closer to the stage so that I could get to hear every last nuanced note. In hindsight, seeing the performers plug thick wires into the amps and hooking up 4 or 5 different effects pedals should have clued me in to the fact that instrumental and accoustic mean completely different things, but at the time rushing to the front still seemed like the wise thing to do.

'Explosions' started off gently, causing the audience to gently sway their heads as if being lulled to some sort of peaceful slumber. But just before everyone reached Nirvana, these guys pulled out all the stops and let off an aural assualt so loud I thought my ears would bleed. For a good 5 minute stretch the noise level hovered around 130 decibels (I know this because 130 is the pain threshold for the human ear and my ears HURT like @$#% for those five minutes). This was followed by a painful, high pitched guitar solo interlude for about a minute before the decibels were back at 130. It quickly became apparent that standing 4 feet away from the speakers was neither a smart nor healthy thing to do.

As I covered my ears and cowardly ducked my head to protect myself from the auditory thrashing of my life, I saw with amazement the rest of the audience (Jonny included) bob their heads, blissfully unaware that they would likely be deaf before hitting their 30th birthdays.

I would have been happy to have covered my ears and cowered my way through the entire performance if I didn't have to watch over my shoulder for a drunk 'fan' who was getting into a shoving fest with some other members of the audience. Eventually, he started convulsing to the music and knocked over a girl standing immediately to my right, before receiving the beating of a lifetime from the audience and the bouncer who roughly escorted him off the premises...when he sobers up he'll have some bruises, but at least he'll still have his hearing, which is more than I could say for the rest of us there last night.

When the music faded (actually it just stopped abruptly when the lead guitarist threw down his guitar to signal they were done), my ears felt really warm and there was a noticeable ringing sound in both of my ears. If I ever go to another 'instrumental' performance, I'll be sure to stand way in the back with earplugs snuggly in ears.

So if you like pain and you enjoy putting your ears right up to the pain threshold, go see 'Explosions in the Sky' live. If you want to hear for more than five or six years, buy their CD and listen to them at a safe volumn in the comfort of your own home, free of drunk punks and sweaty people in close proximity to each other. If you really want to reproduce the effect of seeing 'Explosions' live, cram into a crowded subway train during rush hour and crank up your iPod until your ears hurt. Then bob your head back and forth with your eyes closed while you start pushing and shoving the other passengers. For added authenticity, drink five or six beers before you board the train.

Your Favorite Jerk

Monday, October 11, 2004

Escape from the city

When I lived in Vancouver, I didn't enjoying going downtown very much. I didn't like having to find parking and I didn't like having to navigate around throngs of tourists that descend on Vancouver in the summer. But now that I'm in Toronto, I have very little choice but to love downtown...because I'm living smack in the middle of this concrete zoo. I think it's the body's way of dealing with change. Something in the back of my mind must have figured out that I was faced with two choices: learn to love living downtown, or face crippling depression. Thankfully, self-preservation always picks the option that avoids crippling depression. So now, instead of thinking about all the negatives of living downtown, I think only of the positives. Like how convenient everything is -- almost everything I need is a ten minute walk from my place -- and how there's always something to do. But despite this newfound love affair with the urban landscape, I still enjoy the occassional escape from the suffocating density of downtown Toronto and yesterday I had a wonderful opportunity to do just that at my uncle's cottage near Peterborough.

The last time I was there it was still officially summer, so seeing the scenery around the cottage and the lake in the Fall was a nice change. Of course, last time I was there the night time temperature didn't drop to 5 degrees either, so you can't win them all. On a related note, I'm quickly discovering these days that my counterfeit The North Face jacket and fleece that I bought in China for about 50 bucks is not going to hold up well in the winters here...I'll have to get a real winter coat. Anyways, before the sun set and the temperature plummeted, I got a chance to pick some apples from an apple tree in the yard. It hasn't really occured to me prior to yesterday that apples didn't just grow till they were ripe and fall to the ground into crates ready to be shipped off to Loblaws. I had to get a ladder and climb up to the top to reach most of the good fruit. It seems to me the whole process of fruit picking forces the picker to expend far more energy than he would gain from eating the fruits of his labour, as it were. But my short attention span and passion for novelty made me a happy worker for about 30 minutes, which, incidentally, is the maximum amount of time I can do something without becoming very bored.

All in all, yesterday's excursion was a nice break from the city. I wish I could go again, but I don't think the weather will permit another trip to the cottage until well into spring. Here comes winter...weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

Your Favorite Jerk

Sunday, October 10, 2004

I'm free!!!!!

Five minutes ago, my jock jaw unlocked! Finally, I can yawn again. Those of you who know me will know that I yawn an average of 5 to 10 times every hour, so not being able to yawn for 3 days was torture. I don't really have much to say right now...but I do feel very very relieved. Happy Thanksgiving everyone =) Butterball turkey, here I come!

Your Favorite Jerk

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Jaws Wide Shut

My jaw has been in a "locked" position for the last couple of days. I can only open my mouth about 3/4 of a inch, which means eating large morcels of food has become a painful and frustrating experience. My strategy for eating anything thicker than my thumb is to open my mouth to maximum aperture while stuffing the food into it with a good deal of force. This is making me a rather unpopular dining companion, I would imagine...sorry Jonny.

Yesterday I decided to get a diagnosis from the local doctor. I live in an area with something like 4 hospitals -- possibly the most concentrated hospital area in Canada -- but I can only go to this one walk-in clinic for U of T students. I went in at 11 in the morning and saw around 30 students sitting in the waiting area. Two hours later, they called my "check me in." Two more hours later -- at around 3:00 -- I finally saw my doctor. Her diagnosis: I have a problem with my jaw. You think? Look doc, I didn't wait for 4 hours to hear you state the obvious...I need medication, preferably a panacea of some sort. Thankfully, the doctor understood the Chinese philosophy that not getting medicine after seeing a doctor is tentamount to having been ripped off, and prescribed some anti-inflammatory meds to help with the jaw situation.

It seems my jaw problems stem from a teeth grinding habit I have while I sleep. I attribute this to pent up anger that I store up during the day because society and its laws don't allow me to vent in public. There is only one solution for this: random, sporadic acts of anger directed at people I come in contact with during the day...or I could get a mouthguard to prevent my teeth from grinding (my doctor seems to favor the second approach...rats).

So far, the meds haven't really been helping but the pharmacist told me they wouldn't kick in for a couple days. But in the mean time, I'm supposed to watch for symptoms of "rare but serious" side effects such as intestinal bleeding. So for now, I'll have to play the waiting game...and the "Check Your Stools for Blood" game, both of which I don't enjoy.

The timing of this locked jaw isn't great since I was really looking forward to the Thanksgiving dinner this long weekend at the Chestnut. Oh well. I'll look at it as a blessing in disguise since my locked jaw will likely prevent me from gorging.

Your Favorite Jerk

Monday, October 04, 2004

Honk if you're horny...or just really upset

Regular readers of this blog will recall that I live near a popular parade route in Toronto. Being this close to "the action" has its benefits, but this morning's Parade of P/O'd Cab Drivers showed that it's not all roses living near Dundas St. To get a better idea of the scene this morning, picture an entire street filled bumper to bumper with Taxicabs that are ALL simultaneously honking their horns. Now, normally I like a good mass-honking as much as the next guy, but 9:00 in the morning is a little too early to be cranking up the decibels. Apparently, City Hall has passed a new bylaw that says all cab drivers must buy new cars from now on. Chinese people have been doing this ever since Ford made the Model-T, so I don't see what these guys are complaining about.

Your Favorite Jerk

Friday, October 01, 2004

Dialup and Hooters

The internet is like air or water (or maybe crack); You don't miss it until it's gone (or your dealer has been arrested and you have no where to turn for your next fix of sweet sweet cra...uhhhh nevermind). For the past three days, the internet, has been out of service at the 89 Chestnut, and boy did I miss it. By day three, I was so desperate, I signed up for UTorDial and used dial-up to get my fix of Slate and Google. The last time I used dial-up, a group of Mexicans was chanting "Gore in four!" on CNN.

Sadly, dial-up/methidone is no substitute for the hard stuff like fibreoptic access and I was left with an even stronger craving for digital 0s and 1s than before. Thankfully, internet access appears to have been restored tonight, so I am no longer suffering from symptoms of withdrawl, although I do shiver from time to time (I attribute this to having spent 4 hours in the 4 degree coldroom today...more on this in another post, perhaps).

So what were some of the things I did to keep myself occupied during the Great Outage of 2004? Well, I went to Hooters with my new labmates! I don't know what all the fuss is about because to be honest, I don't find owls to be very fascinating animals at all. The restaurant itself can best be described as Red Robins with busty waitresses and a suspicious absence of waiters. If the owners of this restaurant don't change their hiring practices and insist on hiring busty women to the exclusion of flatter but equally capable individuals, they can kiss the idea of expansion into the lucrative Chinese market goodbye because they won't ever be able to find enough servers to staff their restaurants.

In the end, I felt the food was overpriced for a bird-themed restaurant...maybe if the servers dressed up like owls instead of wearing tight tanktops and short shorts, Hooters can offer a clearer message to its audience. As it stands now, the whole owl theme is muddled and unfocused because of these uniforms. The logo says "Owl" but the decor screams NASCAR. Sadly for Hooters, the owl-loving and NASCAR-loving demographics have very little overlap, which may explain why business wasn't so brisk when we were there. It's quite a shame too, because the wings were really good.

Your Favorite Jerk