Archive for the '[Etc]' category

Final Friday Thoughts

Aug 22 2014 Published by under etc

I just read a post about the sexual and racial politics of the latest videos from Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj. The author saw waaaaay more in these presentations than I did, although I found both songs and videos entertaining.

  1. "Shake it Off" is pretty much what you would expect from Taylor Swift if you have ever encountered her stuff before EXCEPT it is clearly not a country song.
  2. "Anaconda" may set a record for most phallic symbols in a video.
  3. How do they do that with their butts?
  4. While both tunes are catchy, it is unfortunately the work of Ms. Minaj that has provided today's earworm.

I will be off in a bit to do whatever it takes to get the phrase "My anaconda don't" off of continual replay in my head. I think I pulled a muscle trying to emulate some twerk moves as well.

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What I Am Reading: Dystopian Future

Aug 21 2014 Published by under Uncategorized, What I'm Reading

CircleRemember reading 1984 in high school? Big Brother is watching you so you must conform to society's standards! The Circle tells the story of the genesis of an internet-age totalitarian society much like the one Orwell created.

I doubt that this one will make the jump to "literature that should be taught, but I might be wrong.

What is The Circle? Imagine that Google, Facebook, Twitter, Paypal, and every other major internet service were mashed up into one giant corporation. This company controls an online identity system that keeps people from participating anonymously or pseudonymously online. This led to complete internet civility (of course!). It also allowed more secure payment systems, even leading some to suggest that all cash be eliminated for Circle-based payments. Employees at the company propose new uses of The Circle to make life more pleasant and secure all the time. The one thing no one seems to do at The Circle is code or actually do computer stuff. Hmmmm.

The story focuses on Mae Holland, a new employee at The Circle. Through a friend who is in The Circle's inner circle, she secures an entry-level customer experience job that allows her to escape a mind-numbing position at a local utility company. The Circle resides on a California campus with all the bells and whistles we expect from an internet company: game rooms, free cafeterias, gardens, sports fields, the works. In addition, their seems to be multiple social events for employees every evening, some of which are mandatory. The campus also boasts beautiful dorms where employees can stay and give up life outside The Circle all together.

May starts out treating her employment like a job. As time goes on, she discovers that she is expected to participate in The Circle's ongoing social media (internal and external) as well as "extracurricular" activities or she will be viewed as "antisocial" and "not part of The Circle." May succeeds, and rises in her department, eventually resulting in 6 or 7 separate screens on her desk for various components of her work. Eventually, events occur that prod May to become "transparent." This means wearing a live web cam at all times so her life while awake becomes an open book. Nothing can be deleted from her video feed (even when she catches her parents having sex).

The leaders are intent on "Closing the Circle" which should make May ask some very critical questions. However, despite the obvious impending loss of freedom (and the reader screaming at her on the page), May seems disinclined to see anything but the rosy picture her supervisors paint. Even when someone brazenly spells it out for her, she fails to see the danger of the situation.

The use of tiles at the company echos parts of 1984. Instead of "Big Brother is Watching," we have "Secrets are Lies" and "Privacy is Theft."

We often look at totalitarian states and wonder how the regular people let this obviously bad government happen. This book tries to explain that, and does a reasonable job. I wish there had been a few more examples of resistance, other than an ex-boyfriend who I found generally unappealing. If anyone else has read this book, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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What I Am Reading: Blast From My Past

Aug 11 2014 Published by under What I'm Reading

First, Some Background

I come from a family of non-athletes. In high school, my interest in sports mostly involved cute boys playing them. I had to learn about basketball in gym class, but watching my tiny high school football team taught me little about the game.

I then left for Kansas City. As part of the University of Missouri system, my boyfriend, an actual athlete, took me to football games at Mizzou. I began to appreciate the strategy of the game. The Chiefs were pretty bad in the early 1980s, so tickets could be bought at reasonable prices. I loved sitting in that bowl at Arrowhead as part of the crowd in red and gold, even if victory often fell out of reach.

In 1984, that same boyfriend (now my spouse) moved to Chicago to start his residency. The Bears were coming of age that year, especially dominating with their 46 defense. I moved to the Windy City in the summer of 1985, ready to cheer on a new team.

MonstersThe Book

Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football occupied two evenings of my vacation. I could not put this book down, although I do not know if someone without the type of background above would love it as much. The author, Rich Cohen, grew up in Chicago and during his senior year in high school managed to get SuperBowl XX tickets and make his way to New Orleans for this big game. He captures the mood of the city at that time perfectly, and provides great background for those of us (like President Obama) who were new to the way of "Da Bears."

Yes, there is a component of memoir to this text, but also of history. I knew Papa Bear Halas, thanks to his obituaries, had been instrumental in founding the National Football League, but I never realized how much the game owed him. He was the first coach to use the "eye in the sky." One game an assistant took a message to his wife in the stands. He came back to the sidelines in awe of what that view afforded him. What looked like guys grinding it out in the mud took on patterns and logic when seen on high. The next year Halas stationed an assistant at press box level and installed a phone from there to the sideline.

Even after he "retired" from coaching, he often hung around the facilities. One day in the locker room, some players recall him beginning to lecture them on varying strategies depending on where the ball was being played. He divided the field into blue, white, and - wait for it - red zones, the first time anyone can recall the term "red zone" being used.

We learn a lot more about Iron Mike Ditka (other members of the family had simplified the Polish surname to Disco, if you can imagine that) and Buddy Ryan. The latter, of course, brought us that amazing defense that never quit. At the time, I knew these men did not like each other; I never realized how much they disliked each other until reading the book. The details also seal my everlasting admiration of Samurai Mike Singletary, a guy tough enough and smart enough to run that defense.

McMahon salutes authority

McMahon salutes authority

Cohen does not shy away from the aftermath of the game, either. He discusses the difficulties with injuries many of the players continue to have, including Dave Duerson's suicide in 2011 while suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy and Jim McMahon's ongoing issues with mental function. As he finished his interview with the forgetful but still punky QB, he asked the money question: Was it worth it? McMahon said, "I'd do it all again in a heartbeat."

Postlude

I still remember that Sunday morning. I took call overnight in a now gone Chicago hospital that Saturday, caring for sick infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). I was anxious to get home because we had friends coming over for the game. All that stood between me and departure were handoff rounds. As we entered the NICU, we were delighted by every infant having a piece of tape (paper or adhesive, as tolerated) with "Rozelle" or a player's name or just "Bears" written across it in marker. Just remembering it brings a smile to my face and makes me want to dance the SuperBowl Shuffle.

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What I Am Reading: Free Market Edition

Jul 28 2014 Published by under MedicoLegal Concerns, What I'm Reading

Click for Amazon

Sigrid Fry-Revere is a lawyer and a medical ethicist. She has played an advisory role to organ donation organizations in the US. Her latest work explores the kidney "exchanges" in Iran where a very different approach to organ donation has produced a surplus of living kidney donors.

The approach in most of the world has been to use deceased donors for transplantation as much as possible. Kidneys provide a unique opportunity for living donation, since most people have two and can live nicely with only a single organ. Our system requires these kidneys be donated from purely altruistic motives, usually because of relationships between the parties involved: husband - wife, parent - child, or other relations. When relatives or other close parties cannot donate, a donation "circle" can be set up. In this, one party cannot donate to their loved one, but they are a match for someone else whose relatives cannot donate. In the simplest setting, the donor exchange is paired; however, chains of up to 19 donors and recipients have now been orchestrated to give dialysis patients a better life.  While many donor expenses are covered by medical insurance, donating may have unseen expenses, including weeks out of work and the potential for complications of anesthesia and surgery.

Despite harvesting deceased organs, matching services for donor chains, and availability of dialysis, 20 to 25 people in the US die every day awaiting a kidney.

Iran has taken a different tactic to alleviate kidney shortages, namely paying organ donors. The powers that be in the US have assumed that this system is coercive and unfair. Dr. Fry-Revere decides that a program this successful is worth learning about. She spends several months on the road in Iran with an expatriate nephrologist, Dr. Bahar Bastani, a former colleague of mine at Saint Louis University. They bravely recorded video and audio interviews with doctors, nurses, donors, and recipients throughout Iran, generating the first account of this system by Western experts. The resulting book is The Kidney Sellers: A Journey of Discovery in Iran.

In Iran, the national government provides a cash payment for a kidney. Additional compensation varies by region. Most regional centers provide health coverage for a period of time for donors. The donor can then negotiate with the seller through the regional bureau for additional cash; if the recipient has no means to pay, the center can often tap donations for the funds needed.

Procedures vary from region to region. In the best situations, donors are carefully screened to make sure that their financial issues cannot be solved through other routes.  Potential donors interviewed in the book often had a debt to retire or needed capital to start a business; marriage often necessitated a cash infusion. Donors often expressed mixed emotions about the procedure. Many got their money, fixed their financial issues, and moved on with no regrets, but some felt guilt or shame that they had to sell an organ to make their lives better.

Recipients sometimes formed bonds with their paid donors, but for the most part this was a market transaction that ended when it ended. Many stated that they preferred a paid donation to an altruistic one from a relative; the latter would have left them indebted for life, while paying cash let them feel the debt was paid. They could then move on with better health and less guilt.

The book can be a bit repetitive at times, but it paints a wonderful picture of a society and system we know very little of. As I watch my own patients on dialysis, waiting months for a deceased donor kidney, I wonder if the Iranians just might have a good idea. I recommend reading this work for a thought-provoking take on our organ donation system.

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Better than the BBB

Jul 09 2014 Published by under etc

Our bathroom needs some work on the walls.

We have some peeling and chipped paint, some holes that need repair. The toilet paper holder was not appropriately anchored. It looks like our predecessors in the house glued one bracket to the wall when it pulled out. Its now unstable, to say the least.

I got a couple of recommendations for painters, and I had one come by yesterday for an estimate. She came in the house, and the cat came out to sniff her feet. Dottie, the feline, then rubbed her ankles and presented her belly for a rub.

How can I not hire someone who gets that kind of approval from the cat?

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What I'm Watching: Steampunk MacGyver

Jun 30 2014 Published by under What I'm Watching

Murdoch Mysteries have captured my attention for the past month or so. The setting is the late 1890s in Toronto where Detective William Murdoch employs the latest scientific techniques to catch criminals. He is assisted by a young Constable prone to flights of fancy. For example, when they fight a microwave death ray (aided by Tesla, of all people), Constable George Crabtree immediately perceives its commercial potential for food preparation. When reminded of the size of the equipment, he speculates that in the future, houses may have a room dedicated to "potato cooking." On another case, as the Detective maps the potential murder weapons and murderers in a model of a grand home, the Constable sees the potential for a board game in the proceedings.

The series includes strong women as well. The original coroner is a woman, as is her eventual replacement. Various romantic entanglements occur over time, of course. Right now, my interest has been captured by the efforts of the women physicians to distribute information about contraception. Discussing periodic abstinence or any other strategy to plan pregnancy was quite illegal. Yup, these ladies get to see the jail cells from both sides of the bars.

This plot line seems especially important at the moment when the rights of women to control their fertility are coming under fire from so many directions.

The first 3 seasons can be streamed via Netflix; all available episodes can be streamed from Amazon as well.

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Update from the Waterbath

Jun 27 2014 Published by under Recipes

My husband really appreciates the flavors I can achieve with the new sous vide setup. I do find it annoying that he now walks into the kitchen and asks what I'm annealing for dinner.

Tonight's menu includes pork tenderloin and corn on the cob, both completed via sous vide. Photos will go up on twitter.

Happy weekend, all!

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Dinner Dare: Under Pressure

Jun 25 2014 Published by under Recipes

At last week's meetings of the American Diabetes Association, we stayed at The Intercontinental and dined at Luce, their restaurant featuring sous vide cooking. Literally meaning "under vacuum" in French*, this cooking technique involves sealing ingredients in a bag and then cooking in a constant temperature water bath for prolonged periods of time.

Think about how we usually cook a piece of meat. We expose it to temperatures far above those at which we will consume it, either on a grill or in an oven. We then wait until the interior reaches a temperature at which proteins coagulate and bacteria are killed. Often this means overcooking the exterior of the meat. With sous vide, the meat can be cooked to the temperature desired. Most pathogenic bacteria can be killed at these lower temperatures; it just requires a longer period of time. In addition to avoiding the dried, overcooked exterior, the sealed cooking chamber keeps the flesh moist and allows seasonings to fully permeate the meat.

Sous vide won't give you a crusty carmelized exterior or crispy poultry skin, but these can easily be added just before serving with a quick trip on the grill or a blast from a kitchen torch.

Halibut with Citrus Buerre Blanc - Click for recipe

After a couple of delicious meals at Luce, I began reading more about the technique. Soon my own water oven was en route. Last night I cooked my first real meal with it, using a recipe from Sous Vide Supreme Blog, a valuable resource for ideas with this technique. Three halibut fillets were sandwiched between slices of grapefruit and lemon in a 1-qt vacuum bag with cubed cold butter. These were cooked in the water bath at 132 degrees F for 20 minutes, producing moist flaky fish with a light citrus flavor. While the fish cooked, I made a citrus buerre blanc starting with the juice from the grapefruit and lemon not used for slicing:

Citrus Beurre Blanc (From Sous Vide Supreme Blog)
Yields: 1 cup (8 fl oz/237 ml)

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons (1 fl oz/30 ml) dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon (0.5 fl oz/15 ml) fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1 tablespoon (0.5 fl oz/15 ml) fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon (0.5 fl oz/15 ml) fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon (0.5 fl oz/15 ml) fresh orange juice
  • 1 small shallot, finely minced
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 8 ounces (226 g) cold butter, cut into 16 cubes

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a medium saucepan bring wine, citrus juices and shallots to a boil. Reduce to about 1 ½ tablespoons (0.8 fl oz/23 ml) of liquid.

  2. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Pull the saucepan from the heat and whisk in 2 cubes of butter; as it melts whisk in one more piece.

  3. Set the pan over the lowest heat setting and continuously whisk one piece of butter into the mixture at a time, making sure that each piece is melted prior to adding the next.

  4. Pull the saucepan off of the heat when the last piece is melted.

  5. Spoon immediately onto serving plates and top with fish. Alternatively drizzle over the top of fish.

A sauce this rich and delicious deserves to adorn more than perfect fish, so I put brown rice on the side to soak up some of its loveliness. Served with a green salad and a melange of red raspberries, blackberries, and white nectarines for dessert, it made a refreshing late meal when my husband's plane got in an hour late.

I will be experimenting with my new water bath and posting recipes this summer. So far, sous vide is a winner; I have never been able to produce fish this delicious any other way!


 

*Yes, a vacuum really isn't pressure, but you get the air out of the bag with a negative pressure. Work with me here...

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Name That Demon!

Jun 23 2014 Published by under etc

DemonThe Roman Catholic church rolls out saints on a regular basis, even though I rarely encounter anything remotely resembling saintly behavior in my daily life. However, demonic tendencies seem downright mundane, yet we do not denote it with any sense of shame...or achievement. Today I present my nominees for demons capable of transient possession to help explain some of the bad behavior we encounter on a regular basis. Please add your nominees in the comments.

Declinus Barometrus

This imp possesses my cat just before and during storms, leading her to race through the house like someone is about to bathe her. When excluded from my presence old DB produces howls such that one can only imagine a feline on fire, thus allowing her into the bedroom where she disrupts sleep ALL. NIGHT. LONG. The demon leaves with the thunder, and the cat immediately becomes cuddly as if to make up for her fears. Regular indifference resumes with the first light of day...

Ragius Stockcarus

A less benign devil, Ragius displaces the normally friendly soul of most Oklahomans the minute they slide behind the wheel of a car. Displays at first seem mild, like "rolling" stops or a bit of extra speed through the school zone. Once on the interstate, the full rage and horrible glory of RS can be felt, as normal drivers feel compelled to pretend they are on the Texas Speedway, going for the win. Exorcism of this spirit merely requires turning off the auto's engine and stepping away from the vehicle.

Reviewerus Treyus

Scientists who normally judge others with a fair and impartial mind become unreasonable fonts of minutiae and additional experiments once this bad boy enters their beings. Five years of experiments become mere preliminary data when the eyes are clouded by the third reviewer from the netherworld. If it's your manuscript under review, you better pray that your editor has the power to sense this evil presence, since good judgement is really the only countermeasure.

What other modern demons need to be named?

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Fair Warning

Jun 11 2014 Published by under Blog Maintenance

Tomorrow I am off into the friendly skies again, headed for that city on the bay for the 74th Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association. That means my posts for the next week or so will involve diabetes and its complications, especially kidney disease.

Other random shiny objects sometimes catch my attention when I travel, so get ready for those as well.

 

 

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