Thursday, January 7, 2010

Follow-Up: Part 2

OK... now for the 2nd half:

environmental health

Having thoroughly turned my career trajectory on its head (or knocked it appropriately to its ass) by withdrawing hematopathology fellowship applications, I was left, about a year ago now, looking for a new direction. As described previously, I entertained the idea of pursuing additional training in biomedical informatics. I wasn't entirely convinced though and figured that if I was considering a major shift, I really ought to explore other possibilities too. Art, journalism, law and public policy all made the list of ideas at one time or another. I wasn't ready to write off my medical training altogether though. Way back before I even started medical school, I studied public health for a year. One of the most enjoyable courses I took was on environmental health problems in developing countries. Environmental health (EH) is that segment of public health that deals with identification, quantification and elimination (or at least mediation) of the environmental determinants of disease and death. The classic subfields of EH are toxicology, water, sanitation, disease vectors, air quality and food safety. More recently, the health impacts of climate change has become a major focus as well. So the more I considered all of the various facets of a potential career in EH, the more it seemed to fit my needs. It stands at a strategic intersection of medicine, public health and the environmental sciences. It would provide me with the skills, knowledge and credentials to join the fight against climate change by helping to demonstrate its potentially devastating effects for humanity.

red mars

An old friend of mine, who is known to this blog as Munjaros, loaned me a trilogy of books by Kim Stanley Robinson: the Mars trilogy. So far I have only read the first one, Red Mars, but it was one of the best books I've read. Like many great science fiction books, it is both inspiring and depressing. Inspiring because it presents a very plausible picture of how we humans might proceed to expand our domain beyond this earthly gravity well; depressing because it reminds me of just how much time, energy and resources we've wasted, and consequently, how far behind we are. Behind who? Our potential. I am looking forward to reading Green Mars and Blue Mars. Thanks Munjaros.


George is a fellow science fiction fan, and in particular a great fan of the works (and person) of Ken MacLeod. I first became acquainted with George through comment streams on Ken's posts. At some point, I think either he made reference to problems in health care or I mentioned that I was connected with medicine. He then shared with me a shocking tale from his own life of a hideous health care failure in a country that has long had a reputation for providing some of the best care in the world: the Netherlands. I was honored to be of assistance to him in getting the story posted on a population health forum in the US, and have since been delighted to see it posted elsewhere as well. George is passionate about health care, human rights, workers' rights, and exposure of injustice anywhere. He is constantly sending me links to important articles -- the kind that are usually ignored by mainstream media, but that need to be read. Several of my blog posts have been inspired by links from George. There is much more I could say about George (and if you keep reading my blog, you'll see plenty of comments from him), but for now, I'll just say thanks. Thanks for the continual flow of information and analysis and thanks for your friendship.

climate change likely the greatest threat that the human race has yet encountered. The data to support this statement abounds and is readily available for "him who has ears to hear." I'm frequently overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem and constantly overwhelmed by the enormity of the stupidity of those who deny it. I have learned much about climate change and the near hopelessness of the human plight from Areophany, one of the co-writers of the blog, Martian Utopia Cafe. I hope that he's wrong in his assessments of the situation (he's frequently said that he hopes he's wrong too), but overall, I think he's right, which leaves me with two options: give up or fight (possibly) in vain.

forged steel

My love of steel goes back to long before I ever worked with it at all. It goes back to my childhood fascination with swords and knives. As a teen I used the money that I made working in my father's wood shop to purchase a welder and some other metal working tools. Along with friends Munjaros and his brother Zech I had all sorts of fun playing around, making stuff out of steel. The most technique for working steel is forging: heating it in a furnace (forge) and beating it to your will with a hammer on an anvil. I've only done a VERY little bit of this. I built a miniature forge out of firebricks, a barbecue and an electric billows when I was 16. I had plenty of hammers, but my anvil was a chunk of railroad track and I had to resort to charcoal briquettes for fuel. I never made anything useful or even remotely functional, but I can still feel the thrill of pulling a piece of red-hot steel from the forge and watching the sparks fly as I reformed it with energy transferred from my arm to the hammer. I haven't forged anything since. Zech, however has. One of his pieces stands elegantly in my living room. Many more of them, including some truly beautiful hand-forged knives can be seen on his blog site.

Violent as this sounds, no blood is shed in its use... at least not directly. I believe that if taken excessively, it could result in a skull splitting headache the next morning, but in moderation, it is a nearly perfect substance (even more nearly perfect than chocolate chip cookies). I discovered skull splitter at D.B.A., a bar in the Marigny, New Orleans. It's the best replacement I've found yet for my beloved (but sadly no longer imported to the USA) McEwan's.


...isn't all its cracked up to be. In fact, when it comes to being a chief resident in the pathology department at the University of New Mexico, it can be quite a crock. It does have its perks though. In addition to the additional pay, it means a little more control over my schedule, as I'm the one in charge of making the schedule. It also means a whole lot of meetings with a whole lot of people, where I have to discuss a whole lot potential changes to the residency program or sort out a whole lot of dumb interpersonal failure-to-communicate type issues. Looks good on a resume though, and for better or for worse, it seems that I'm pretty good at it (some sort of natural talent for diplomacy and negotations). I sure haven't gotten bored since becoming chief... and I sure am looking forward to surrendering the mantle of authority at 12:01 a.m. on April 1, 2010 (not that I'm counting down or anything).

Another book that I read in the past year. A book that haunts my dreams at night and my thoughts throughout the day. Part period novel, part science fiction, in The Cloud Atlas David Mitchell performs one of the deepest and most affecting explorations of the human experience that I've encountered. It's up there with Haruki Murakami's Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Julian Barnes' History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters.


The most unexpected xmas/birthday present that I received this year was an Amazon Kindle. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, given my love of books and gadgets, but given that I hadn't ever mentioned the Kindle to my wife or her parents, it was quite a treat to receive it from them on xmas morning. You can read all of the reviews of it elsewhere, as well as the head-to-head comparisons with the Sony Reader and the Barnes and Noble Nook. Suffice it to say, that they all have the pros and cons, but I'm very pleased with the Kindle and find reading from it to be quite enjoyable. It's also an incredibly dangerous device, in that it is WAY too easy to buy books for it. Oh... and here's the shocker: I've actually managed to turn it to some academic purposes as well. Amazon will convert documents in .doc or .pdf formats to their proprietary Kindle format for me and send them to the device, so now I'm reading all sorts of toxicology papers and textbook chapters on the Kindle. The vast majority of my Kindle's content is currently science fiction though.

Well... I've now addressed all of the topics on my original list. In doing so, however, I've discovered that there are some very important ones that I neglected, so there will have to be at least one more installment, in which I'll cover the following (and possibly other topics as well):

vibram five fingers


Munjaros said...

Don't look at the Mars trilogy as a loan, look at it more as a visit from a wandering storyteller. When you're done reading the books, feel free to pass them on to another who you think will appreciate them. You could even register them over at before passing them on as I should have done.

ilorien said...

Thanks Munjaros. I will do so. I can already think of several people who haven't read them but should.

Areophany said...

I would love to read your thoughts about the trilogy when you're done. Or before, even.

What made the Mars trilogy so powerful for me was the sense of a real history unfolding, in which alternative social and economic and technological developments happened in a realistic, organic fashion that might actually occur in the real world, one day. Some SF feels, to me, too much like an artificial construct slapped together by the author like a plastic model kit. KSR's fiction felt like life.

My half-baked theory as why his writing is different than the more stilted works of other SF authors: KSR has a PhD in English literature, whereas other SF luminaries tend to have backgrounds in physics, astronomy, engineering, and the like. It makes sense to me that someone with a background in the humanities would produce more lifelike worlds and people in his writing. Just a thought.

ilorien said...

Areophany - Having only read one of his novels so far, I can't claim much expertise on KSR, but I tend to agree with you about the positive influence of his English Lit background on his plot and character development. This touches on the whole question of SF versus literature that was recently discussed on Ken MacLeod's blog. There are a number of amazingly able writers out there who have written SF-esque works (recent ones that come to mind are Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland, but all too often they lack the scientific rigor that makes great SF both exciting and plausible. KSR, however, has done something fairly unique: he has stepped out of his niche and learned whole other worlds of thought to a degree that I think most English Lit folks would find quite intimidating. When I even vaguely dream about writing SF, I feel my lack of math, physics, geology and cosmology training as a terrible handicap... and I've got a background in "the sciences". I can hardly imagine the amount of hard work and dedication required of KSR to embrace the hard sciences so fully... and then to integrate them so well into an elegant and engrossing work of literature. If it's possible to call one's self a fan after just one book, then I call myself one.