dal niente

Month: December, 2010


I was taking an nap in the breakroom today when I was woken up by a heated debate.

Unfortunately, it was about iPhones.

The thing I hate most about iPhone debates and iPhone users is that generally, what they’re so impressed about isn’t the iPhones– it’s smartphones in general. I mean, the ability to play chess on your phone? To play a labyrinth type game on it, where you use tilt-controls? The ability to ‘swipe’ your screen? Having an onscreen keyboard? Browsing the web? These aren’t things that are exclusive to the iPhone, but you’d think from hearing iPhone users that they were.

The problem, really, is that iPhone debates are usually conducted by two kinds of stupid people. On one hand, there are the people hate iPhones just because they’re so popular, and they’re a bunch of luddites who say things like “pfff, why would you watch youtube on your phone when you could do it on a computer.” On the other side, there are people who love iPhones because iPhones took their smartphone virginity– and now they’re discovering there’s a whole new world out there.

But essentially, it’s a zero sum game. The vast majority of people who champion the iPhone are doing so because it’s what they enjoy– but objectively, factually, it is not the only phone that does what it does. There are some phones that do some things bettter, and there are some phones that do some things worse. It’s as simple as that. If you want to have a discussion though, you should have some knowledge of the alternatives to your point of view– like, maybe you should try and pick up a smartphone from a different brand, with a different OS?

What’s worse is when an iPhone user tells you how great their phone is compared to this stock, 0$ free phone that the companies offer with a 2-year contract. That’s like saying your ivy league son is smarter than some third world child. That’s like comparing a motorcycle to a bicycle in the context of racing. It’s like saying you don’t like living on the moon because the air is a bit thin compared to in Cuba. It’s a useless argument because the comparisons are categorically misaligned.

If you want to make any interesting comments about anything, it’s not enough to discuss a thing in the void– there need to be comparison, and comparisons need to be relevant. Compare your 800$ phone to an alternative, 800$ phone, and then we’ll see which phone is better. In the mean time… shut up, if basically all you intend to is be a partisan. I’d rather take a nap.

Up and At ‘Em

Waking up today, I feel physically a lot better. I’m still a mucus factory, but my head feels mostly clear, my lungs aren’t too bad, and I feel well rested enough. I have two days to finish my paper, essentially. Not that my paper is due this week, but, with work and holidays, chances are pretty high I won’t have time to do it once I go back to work on Thursday.

Just need to keep my focus…

I’ve done making my summary of the 14 primary articles for the paper, I have my secondary 4-5 articles, I have basic outline for the overall structure of the paper… now all I need to do is start writing this monster into life.

There’s probably a lot of you out there who are dealing with some stressful stuff out there right now– good luck to you too!

Santa Claus is Comin ta Town

… so I’ve been extra diligent.

I’m feeling pretty good about myself right now. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the past few weeks– been a stressed out, nervous wreck, which isn’t really like me. Just overworked.

But today? Today I feel good. Catharsis, or something.

Though that could be in part thanks to whatever is in the cough syrup I’m taking. It’s making me feel a bit… wonky and hyper, and that alternates with making me drowsy and dizzy. I passed out earlier in the afternoon when I applied my head to a pillow, and woke up 3 hours later wondering what had happened. It felt like I had just blinked.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been a paper writing machine. Like, I have been the OG of graduate school, churning out so much writing like you wouldn’t believe. Bitch be trippin’ writing, is what I’m saying.

But that’s not amazing on it’s own. The other part is that I’ve been working fulltime while doing my grad studies, putting in anywhere from 4 to 8 hours of overtime per week at work to deal with backlogged projects at the hospital, and, to top it off, I’ve been resisting illness. My grandfather and my dad have had bad coughs for weeks and I managed to resist for the longest time, although it finally caught up to me really bad a couple of days ago…. felt like their simple coughs though had mutated to a full blown flu. Had headaches, fever, nosebleeds, super congested sinus (couldn’t breathe or sleep). But I basically, like duct tape, applied time test methods– drank boiled ginger, downed a few pops of tylenol every few hours, wore 3 layers of clothes in my own bedroom (including a bathrobe over sweaters), read and wrote from under the warmth of my down feather blanket…

I’m telling you, I have been a really good boy.

There’s something different about this year though. I remember working like a madman when I was in South Korea during the summer intensives, when we worked something like 10 hours per day, 5 days a week for a month straight– at some point, I remember feeling dizzy at my desk, and barely able to stand without leaning, and i was in front of all of my students… I was feeling really, really hellish. And when I got home, I’d just collapse in bed. It was a downpoint in my existence I think. By the time Paladin came to visit me in SK, he was commenting how I looked like I looked like I was dying.

There’s a difference this time around though. The amount of work I’m doing feels similar, the conditions feel similar, but this time around it feels like I have some support. CM has been really good about being there for me– and I say that really importantly. She lives half a planet away, perhaps more, but she still manages to make me feel as if I can do it. The encouragement might just be a little line or two of text in Gtalk, or it might be the time she takes to watch a movie with me or something– but it reminds me that all the hard work isn’t just going to be endless and without any goals. Her being there for me makes me feel like I can do it.

Forever Young

I was listening to a CBC Radio One podcast of Quirks and Quarks, and the subject was about how science is attempting to discover the secret of immortality. There were a lot of issues brought up about how in the last century, science has upped the average lifespan of people by about 30 years, and we’ll continue to make advances in the years to come. I didn’t actually find it to be all that interesting of a show though (though usually, Q&Q has some pretty fun stuff).

In my head, I was wondering more– are we ready for immortality?

And I think that part of the answer lies in the way that we define “we.”

The fact is, we differenciate between “them” and “us.” Through my grad studies, I’ve been increasingly reminded of this idea of the “Western” world versus “Eastern” values. Usually this is defined loosely along some stereotypes, in which the west is characterized by science, capitalism and democracy, wheras the east is all about history, mysticism and culture, but there’s are a number of way of reconceptualizing the world we live in.

There’s another way of cutting the planet up though, in terms of a Global North and Global South. This is a more postmodern approach in which we’re not talking about culture, but more about economics. Basically, when you think about it, North America and Europe (Australia is normally included in this idea even though it’s Down Under) are where you find the vast majority of decently well-off people. People South of the Equator are where you find the most human rights violations, the most disease, the most poverty.

We all like the idea of democracy, and of liberty, and all that… and upon that we build systems by which we can democratically exercise those liberties. Out of the passions we persue we find increase wealth and health, art, science and technology– but that’s our Global North take on things. How does the Gobal South feel about the way the world is going?

I was just commenting in a discussion circle that my class had regarding modern popular culture. One of them has to do with the idea that we can make ourselves happy with material things. Right off the bat, whenever I start a discussion like this with anyone, a bad taste comes up in their mouth– people don’t want to hear about it. They really don’t.

I just think that life is a matter of time– we’re defined by our mortality. The time that we spend on this or that is precious. We spend a fair amount of time sleeping, and a fair amount of time eating. That’s pretty important stuff. There are a few other things that are primarily linked to basic living that we all hold in common.

But how do we choose to use the time that we have for everything else?

Basically– if we had immortality– what would we do with it?

One difference between a child and an adult is an understanding of the increased complexity of systems, and the power that the person has to effect changes or interactions with those systems.

So, how do we spend our time?

And if you lived forever– would you be forever young, always playing with no sense of consequence?

Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Remix

Warning: You may not be interested in any of this in the slightest unless you use Linux.

My sister downloaded Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Remix for me the other day while downtown. Why does she have to do that? Because for some reason, every copy of Ubuntu I download at work gets corrupted (fails the MD5 checksum test), and the internet conenction at home, shared by three people, would just get killed if I tried to download something like that. Plus, it would take like 4 hours.

Anyways, here are my thoughts, in comparison to other current OSes.

First of all, making the bootable USB was a total pain. There’s a bug in the 10.10 .iso that, when created with Ubuntu 9 (or in my case, the Linux Mint derivative) the linuxconf.sys file has some errors in it, and that means manual tweaking. Not exactly impressive for what’s supposed to be an instant burn and go live USB experience. I can kind of overlook that– but I don’t feel that having problems even prior to clicking ‘install’ bode well.

The installation program, thankfully, is much nicer. I mean, it looks friendlier and smarter. Most of that is cosmetic (like how you can click to advance the features slideshow while installing, which wasn’t possible in previous Ubuntu versions). But one part that is smarter is how it gives you the option of downloading updates while you install, which is a godsend for people who want to save time and who have relatively slow internet. The ‘advanced’ menu for setting up your hard disk partitions hasn’t gotten any more intuitive though, that’s still about as fun as using a sledgehammer for nails. It’s the same installation program for the last couple of revisions, just skinned differently.

once you get to the main desktop, you run into something pretty much like what you found in previous Ubuntus.

But wait. Where did Unity go?

The Unity interface was the whole reason I wanted to give Netbook Remix a whir. It’s supposed to be to optimize screen real estate and performance for netbook usage of Ubuntu.

Because I neede to download proprietary graphics card drivers (who wouldn’t?) I started off without 3D support, and without 3D support, Unity is shut off. So, really, what I have is standard Ubuntu. After installing the appropriate drivers, Unity didn’t come back on the next time– I had to fiddle around a bit to turn it back on at the login screen (which, I had to enable also, since I prefer automatic login by default).

Before we discuss Unity, I’d like to say that one of the main reasons why I don’t use Ubuntu is because it tries really hard to be your best friend. That’s fine in some circumstances, because it’s eager to please and it has a lot of tools meant to do just that, but if you’re running it on older machines, you want something that just does what you want it to do. That might mean a bit of extra settings turned on to your customized wants. I do find it better to add what I want instead of having to remove what I don’t want though. So, that’s kind of annoying. This has gotten a lot worse lately– Ubuntu has really gone all out with social networking, so it tries to add a lot of integrated functionality by default for things like Twitter and Facebook. I don’t hate Evolution and Empathy, but the programs are built into the bars and I don’t like that so much. It’s extra overhead on loading for things that I feel people will choose to load themselves when they run an initial setup, service by service.

Unity itself isn’t such a bad idea– but it’s nothing special. It’s basically a dock on the side of the screen that replaces the taskbar at the bottom. Added to it is a GUI sort of popup overlay, which replaces the standard GNOME menu (the one you could bring up by hitting Alt F2). It looks nice, has a lot of fade effects and stuff. A big plus is it finally adds the live text search that Ubuntu has always lacked (that MintMenu from 9 and bove does so well). The problem is– it’s horrendously ressource intensive.

My laptop is more powerful than the average netbook– but the Unity HUD really grinds slowly, and the effects are sluggish. I think it’s because Unity somehow uses live rendering of all the complicated lighting and icon effects rather than just using simple pre-rendered substitutes. In this case, it’s not a plus.

There’s also this mysterious drain of CPU processing power at bootup, reminiscent of Windows (“you’re booted up and can see the desktop, but you haven’t started doing anything yet and your CPU is running at full speed for another couple of minutes or so”). Yes, I can actually hear the fan on max for quite some time at bootup, and it annoys me. I like my box to be a silent machine.

Certain programs are also hidden from the Unity HUD… things like the Terminal. Sure, you can access it by typing Terminal in the automatic live search field, but should I need to know the program’s name to be able to use it? I suspect this is done to reduce clutter, but they could have at least put an icon somewhere for all the ‘miscelaneous’ stuff. Plus, as far as I can tell so far, the Unity HUD cannot be customized.

The Ubuntu Software Center is better than what I remember Ubuntu using though.

Ubuntu One, the built in, free Ubuntu Cloud service, is a cool idea– but annoying in some other ways. For example, when using the integrated Ubuntu One Music Store (meant to rival iTunes , I guess) you can download music– but it’s stored in a hidden folder. This is because your main folders are auto-synced to Ubuntu One (if you set it up) and you’re not allowed to put synced folders within synced folders, or something. Long story short, it’s a pain to find your music. Plus, the music store only charges in british Pounds, and that doesn’t seem to be changable.

General Conclusion: Pretty lackluster for my uses. It is probably the first distro that seemed really interesting in a while that actually seems to go out of it’s way to piss me off.

2.54 bags of sugar

Every now and then I turn into something terrible.

I’m not certain that most people know what I mean by terrible, nor would I likely show them. For me, it’s a state where I have a surplus of energy, my mind is going wild, and I’ve lost all sight of what it is that I want to accomplish. At that point… the only thing I have to save me is discipline. During terrible times, discipline is the only thing that keeps me from being as scared of myself as I am angry.

I’m of the opinion that from birth, people are naturally amoral. We’re not social. We don’t seek companionship. The only reason why parenting kicks in is because in children, we recognize a state of vulnerability that we were once in. Or perhaps we see some clay that can be moulded. But the child? The child makes no decision to be born– nor does it make any efforts to be socialized. From an early age though, the child learns that he’s not enough: not strong enough, not fast enough, not tall enough, not smart enough. That’s why he seeks help. Because he has nothing, and asking for help is his only recourse. The difference then between a child and an adult is in capacity to act, as agents of their own will.

When one is an adult and has nothing, his abilities are different from that of a child– for one thing, an adult has developed power.

Power = work over time.

It seems reasonable then that without power, one can’t reduce work. And with limited time, work takes more power. Lately, I’ve been lacking in power and time, and having too much work.

The basic form of discipline is when challenged, one evaluates one’s principles and tries to see how to apply his power to the challenge. The highest form of discipline is when, lacking the mental capacity to perform such an evaluation, one reverts to good habits to stall for time, until that capacity for reason returns. Basically– try not to do anything stupid.

Everyday, I come in, and people ask me: “How’s it going, [Jinryu]?” or “How are you?”

“Not bad,” I reply. And most of the time, I mean it. I’m a positive person. I naturally wake up feeling there’s a lot in store for me. I work at a job I believe in. I work towards goals that I think are good and worth pursuing.

Occasionally, I feel bad chi rising in me. If this were me less than ten years ago, I’d be doing something… undisciplined. I think that was when I first learned about this kind of thing, first hand– about how an imbalance of heart, mind or spirit could lead to an overwealming surpluss of energy and power produced, that could not stay bottled up.

Back then, I found a solution. I skipped class, and, more than likely, I’d be putting myself through a sensory overload. It was the arcades. My lungs would be filled with second hand cigarette smoke, a limited edition nostalgie that new generations can never have because it’s from an era before public smoking was banned; my head would be ringing from the pulse of overhead music, only it’s basslines recognizable as the lyrics, though probably popular, were made intelligible by a dozen simultaneous coin-ops set on maximum volume; my skin was always either too cold or too hot. In short– it was non stop bludgeoning of the senses. It’s like taking one of those white noise generators, and facing it straight at my skull– all I feel, really, is oblivion. It made all intelligble thought impossible– the only that that was left was to turn to the practices that I had developped so deeply that it was reflexive. At the time, that meant playing video games that I knew.

It was en environment so loud that you could scream, and nobody would hear you. The games? Well, you could smash bone– and nobody would really get hurt.

And therein lies the addictiveness of addictions– because they are the only thing that allows you to truly supress the rage you have at … being who you are.

I’ve gotten a lot better over the years. I can say that I’m mostly “clean” despite quirks of personality that make me seem obsessive over single things, I’ve learned not to fall back on addictions to the point where I am mesmerized by them. I’ve leanred to live a balanced life, investing my time across my interests, professional life, friends and family. Sometimes it gets a bit tough, and I’ve gone on binges to really purge the energy from my system.

That’s what a binge is, when you really think about it. Whether it’s chocolate, alcohol, video games, sex– if you’re binging, it’s a means of numbing the sensibilities or senses that you don’t want to feel, and self destruction to break down everything about yourself, who you don’t like at the moment. Then, when you’ve hit rock bottom, there’s really no worse that it can get.

So, binging has it’s purposes. But nowadays that kind of method is tough for me. I’ve gotten older. I can’t deal with feeling so sorry for myself that I resort to binges– and to top it off, simply, it’s unhealthy. More than that– it’s just dangerous.

The downside of living a balanced life though is that when it comes to big problems, one doesn’t have the big methods to counter big problems. I know that over the years, I’ve become less impulsive, less brash, and more calculated in my responses to situations.

So what happens when it’s the first time in a long time that I’ve got so much of this black energy coming up?

I was in just such a situation today. I don’t have any methods of coping, to be honest with you– I’ve given up the binges. I’m a better person now for it. But how do I diffuse then?

I don’t have an answer to that. My “mature” strategy is just to take my time to let it wear itself down. Today, I got a bit lucky– I was looking for a patient’s chart to verify some discrepencies in a post-operative report. It just so happened that the patient is located at neonatal intensive care. I’ve never been to 9C before.

I took the stairs, and ended up in the middle of the unit. The staff on the floor mistook me for a surgeon because I was wearing my OR greens, and they were pretty expedient about taking me to the kid who I was looking for.

I’m not very good at judging weight. I roughly know how much a 1kg bag of sugar weighs by memory. So when I see the kid’s chart and see 2.54 written in the little undsercored field, that’s what I think. I stare at the kid for a bit.

A few weeks old. More wires and tubes hooked up to it than I’ve had hooked up to me in 28 years of life. He’s in a little plastic box, smaller than my laundry basket, to keep my germs out.

I feel the rage subside for a bit.

I guess I’m glad– it means I’m not a monster, and that some things, simple anonymous things, still have the potential to bring me back to reality. I felt a bit of peace wash over me, the blackness somehow out of my sight.

But maybe I’m not ready for reality yet? Maybe I want to storm, to rampage, to lay ruin, as if my actions were as inconsequential as they feel.

I’ve taken tomorrow off to start work on my final papers, but maybe I’ll come and visit him again the next time I work and see how he’s doing. Maybe I can ask him how he does it.

Dealing with Monkeys

I’m also annoyed that Xanga’s awesome rich text editor constantly eats up the formatting of posts that I write directly in it.

Walking softly

I’m not sure if I mentioned, but I’m technically without a full-time job, even though since my return from Asia, I’ve been working  5-6 days a week at the OR.

One morning, I couldn’t attend a superbeef meeting this because we’re a bit short staffed (nothing new, and that probably made up a tired topic among all employees at the meeting).  I heard a bit about it though and in the following week.  Suprisingly… not many people want to get into specifics.  Was it that big a deal?  What I call the “superbeef” meeting this morning was the discussion of the results following an employee survey. This survey was filled out by over 70 employees from the Operating Room, meaning that it includes clerks, nurses, technicians and doctors.  I didn’t even know that there were 70 people working here to be honest– but I guess that’s possible.  Hosted by an independant consulting company, it is meant to help with service quality control.
Which, if you look at it one way, could spell danger for management.   Generally, survey turnout is pretty low if nobody’s got anything to beef about.  That we apparently got over 70, and I wasn’t even aware we had 70 people total means that there is a hell of a lot of beef!
On the other hand, from personal experience, submission to a survey and outside consultancy is sometimes a method that administration choses as the lesser evil.  It follows this kind of process:
  1. bite a bullet of a one-time forum to air out all the accusations (acknowledge the worker concerns)
  2. make some promises to make changes (involve the workers in the proposed changes)
  3. play the initiatives against eachother, citing lack of ressources as the reason for slow (or non-existent progress) and then, let beaureaucracy kill the rest of the movement.  For bonus points, blame fading worker enthusiasm for the death of a movement.
The fact is, rallying workers together to make a complaint is pretty tough work.  Such moments of decisive action only happen because everyone is angry and riled up all at once– if people get in the habit of justifying bad conditions as status quo, it undermines  the possibility of positive change.  Basic physics tells us that F=ma: force is by mass multiplied by acceleration.
So either people drop out of the movement, or people slow down, and there goes your movement.
A week or two back: a nurse was yelled at by a surgeon in one of our surgical theatres for something that wasn’t her fault.  She tried to explain, but he wouldn’t have anything of it and continued to berate her. She left the room, in tears. She went to her nursing manager, whose response was: “There are good days, and there are bad days.”
Do you think this is an adaquate response?
A few months ago, before my contract ended, there were a number of issues with a software upgrade.  The  bugs were so numerous that it was having a severe impact on my productivity, because I’d have to use manual workarounds.  Just today, someone who works on a government health ministry project gave me a call asking for my help in fixing something that was a problem several months ago, that we’ve only discovered in the past month.  I’m being vague about the details because I’m under a confidentiality agreement… but the jist of it is that for months, nothing was done about numerous reports that I’d made about the problems that the current system would lead to.  It’s only when I was caught between a  two administrative powers that anything happened– I played one against the other, effectively holding my cooperation hostage, until one of these parties could give me a good reason to help them.  It was kinda risky to be honest, but it seems that I got lucky and I came out on the winning team.  A month after I left on vacation, it seems that magically, a fair number of the system issues have been resolved.  And now, other departments are calling me up for help with their miscelaneous problems, because they heard rumors that I’m in a position to help them now.
Now, that sounds like a success story.  It’s not.  Do you think it should be normal procedure in a public health care facility that I have to use such methods to make things work?  Should I need to hold information and cooperation essentially for ransom to other departments, just so I can get help?  Aren’t we all on the same team?
In the over ten years that I’ve been on this blog, during which I was employed mostly at government funded instituations, I’ve come to a few conclusions about the way that we do work.  The first of which is that leadership is infinitely important, and every organization knows that– but many organizations end up following the Dilbert Principle, which is that the dumbest and most incompetent people end up getting promoted to the positions with decision-making power.
All the problems in the OR stem from a fundamental lack of transparency and goal setting on the part of management.  Everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing, sure– so why do internal conflicts within hospital staff occur? Because how our jobs interact hasn’t been clearly-enough defined.  Beaureaucracy to be sure is something that a lot of people frown upon– but it exists because in large organizations, there’s no way to micromanage personal relationships with every network contact we have.  Without rules and a SOP (standard operating procedure) we’re left at the mercy of individual agendas– and while an SOP doesn’t make it impossible for people to exploit the system, frameworks of principles and objectives need to be in place to at least define what the instituation is all about.  
We need standard operating procedures that provides buffers– we have distinct jobs that produce distinct work, which we throw into the stream of beaureacracy, that acts as a buffer, and then it hopefully gets picked up by someone downstream who is doing their job the way they should.
The problem is that managers can’t just be greedy bastards and try to steal ressources from other departments– they can’t just wait for good things to float to them from upstream.  They have a job to talk with other managers– make sure that their own departments are in line with departmental goals. Actually, first of all, as I already mentioned, managers need to set departmental goals.  And by departmental goals, it will need to be more specific than some PR fluff like “to provide the best quality care for life.”  That’s the motto of the MUHC– but while it’s good to show to the public, it’s not nearly relevant to departments who are at the front and back lines.  

In the past, back when I was at the Montreal Chest, I got into some conflicts with managers because I didn’t like the way they run things, and so I made efforts towards what I considered positive change.  Part of my contributions there, as well as at my previous department at the Children’s (Emergency) was to write up a procedure reference guide– a standard operating prodcedure.  The one I wrote for the Chest resulted in some beaureucrats having their jobs rearranged, but the one I started at Emerg (I didn’t finish it before I jumped ship to join OR) probably fell into political limbo.
… all that said though, without inflating my tires, I do a pretty good job at the OR.  I handle high stress situations professionally– nobody gets to me.  I’ve put some people in their place.  I do my job.  That’s because I believe in my work.
I also believe that management in my department is clearly a countervailing force to my efforts, as well as those of my peers.  But, the question is: will I do something about it?
… and, needing good reference letters for law school applications… can I risk rocking the boat?
maybe nothing changes because everyone carrying a big stick is too busy walking softly.

Format /q

I downloaded a copy of Ubuntu Netbook Remix last week at the office.  For those of you don’t know, Ubuntu is a Linux operating system (an alternative to Windows or Mac OS)– Netbook Remix is a modified version of the standard Ubuntu Desktop made for laptops.  You can find more details at: http://www.ubuntu.com/netbook .


I’ve used Ubuntu 9 in the past, but I’ve mostly been using Linux Mint.  Mint is built on Ubuntu.


Anyway, all that jargon aside, I downloaded the OS at work– the file is about 700 megs as a CD .iso file, which I copied onto my cellphone since I didn’t have my flashdrive with me (I forgot it at home).  I brought it home, plugged my phone into my computer with the intention of using that iso file to make a bootable usb flashdrive out of my USB stick.

I ran the USB boot-disk creation untility, and the program tells me that the destination USB has stuff on it– I’m like, sure, okay.  I know that– it’s got some files that I don’t care about.  So I erase it.


Then the boot-disk creator gives me an error– it says it can’t find the iso.  I’m like… doh.


Seems that instead of erasing my 2gig USB stick, I erased my phone’s 2gig miniSD memory card instead.

Remember folks– just because someone uses Linux doesn’t mean he’s smarter than you.