April 13, 2014

Thoughts on the reigning technological cult

Everywhere you look these days, electronic devices are invading human life: computers, laptops, tablets, smart phones, dumb phones, MP3 players, Blu-Ray players, etc., etc.. The list is endless. I remember not so long ago (but long enough to make me uncomfortably aware of the march of time) when a time with MP3 players, particularly iPods were just emerging as the epitome of cool in classrooms and malls everywhere. By that time I was in high school and authority figures in charge of children were having enough trouble getting control of cell phone use to be overly concerned with the coming tide of portable technology. Just abut the time iPods hit the adolescent scene, I had only just gotten over my envy of everyone else's much fancier portable CD players. In fact, I thought I would be part of the early adopter crowd of a new technology that would be become ubiquitous: the minidisc. Although the minidisc did enable me to put up to 4 hours(!) of MP3s on a single disc, the technology never really even achieved being in the general awareness of the populace. It was, I think, a matter of poor timing because not long after minidisc players became more widely available, MP3 players washed ashore and devastated everything in their wake.

The rise of the iPod (which I use here to refer generally to all MP3 players, both ubiquitous and rare), was the beginning of a landslide of portable electronic devices that would occur, taking over for outdated and bulky technologies and permanently altering everyday life and human interactions. At this time laptops were beginning to become more powerful, lighter, and smaller, making the idea of lugging one around on a regular basis almost conceivable. Cell phones began to transition from being merely phones to being music players as well as personal schedulers vis a vis the Blackberry. Wifi became prevalent and widely accessible, and technology began to cut cords out as much as possible. And all the while, devices were getting smaller, more powerful, and more integral to modern life. Indeed, by the time I was in college, trying to meet someone without the use of a cell phone left you feeling stranded, helpless, and alone.  And less than a decade later we arrive at the present with smart phones and tablets largely replacing the everyday use of computers or laptops, the general inability to witness life events with our own eyes rather than through a small screen, and the introduction of internet addiction disorder to the DSM-V.

My purpose, however, is not to examine the alarming impact of technology on humans, but to explain my preference of one group over another. The Mac vs PC rivalry existed long before those TV commercials put a face to the stereotypes and brought the issue to the general public's attention. In the past decade or so, however, Mac has achieved unprecedented popularity and, in my humble opinion, created a cult (whether intentional or not we will ignore for the moment). I personally am a PC person. I was raised on PCs and so obviously have a bias, but in my limited experience with Macs I have never found them intuitive or easy to use or frankly anything but frustrating. My feelings toward the company used to be much more neutral than they are at present. I will not deny that Mac products, while exorbitantly priced, do appear to be of good quality, can be useful, and reliable. The company as a whole has brought many innovative products to the market and is a leader in portable technology.

Fitzy and my apparent dinosaur
Where I take issue with Apple as a company is not with the products themselves, but rather with the frequency with which they bring out new versions of products and the brief duration of support of their products. Apple has attained cult status with people lining up for hours eagerly awaiting the debut of every new (or new variation) of their products. The frequency of their debuting products encourages materialism, particular among the most devout of their followers and an unpardonable generation of electronic waste as devices that are perhaps 1 or 2 years old are replaced with the latest and greatest. Of course, I was willing to tolerate the follies of Apple fandom before I was personally affected by the company's character. I received a 1st generation iPad upon starting medical school in the fall of 2010, just a few short months after its release in April of that year. As it was a gift, I determinedly used it in school. While I am not the best about updating my electronic devices as promptly as I should, you can imagine my surprise when last year I attempted to update my iPad after finding many of my apps no longer worked properly only to find that Apple no longer supported my device! And not only that, but that they had ceased to support the 1st generation iPad in the fall of 2012, just over two years after its release! I continue to struggle on with my 3.5 year-old iPad with its poorly functioning (or in many cases non-functioning) apps and frequent crashes because, call me old fashioned, but I do not think that one should be expected to replace a $500+ device after so short of time as two years.

Why do I bring this up now? This past week, Microsoft announced that it will no longer support its Windows XP operating system which was originally released in 2001, nearly 12 years ago. I could not help but notice the stark contrast between a company supporting a product for 12 years and one that supports a product for 2 years. I understand that newer versions of the iPad have many features that the original does not such as a camera, microphone, ability to Face Chat (is that one word or two?), etc., but the lack of these features does not make the original iPad any less useful of a device for those who are not bothered by its deficiencies. While the lack of these new features certainly contributed to the decision to cease to support the first generation iPad, this stodgy old PC user cannot quite accept a turnover time of 2 years when accustomed to potentially six times as long.

RIP Windows XP. Here's hoping for another 12 years of Windows 7 (and hopefully by then the horrors of Windows 8 will have been improved, though I have my doubts).

Fortunately, there are so many other things to distract me from such frustrations as these.

March 27, 2014

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Coffee Buttercream

And so it seems I am going to be a pediatrician after all! I've spent so much time, energy, and brain capacity agonizing over  The Match the past two years I hardly know what to do with myself now. Years of work and planning and countless hours of anxiety, stress, and feelings of unworthiness culminate on this single day. And in a matter of moments it's all over, the future is set, the unknowns and what-ifs disappear. It is both calming and unsettling all at once.

Match Day has become ritualized at most medical schools across the country. In general, they fall into one of two camps. In one camp students will gather and open their envelopes all at the same time, celebrating together but preserving the privacy of reading the contents of that envelope. The others make a ceremony of it, asking students to (voluntarily) open their envelopes before an adoring crowd of classmates and family and read the contents aloud. Which is the better way? I always thought I would prefer the first, but the latter does have it's redeeming qualities. While it is somewhat cruel to put students in the spotlight during such an emotionally charged life event, somehow the ceremony makes the day grander and more exciting. It's fun to see the each person's reaction. The key to the success of the ceremony, however, is the mutual agreement among students to participate for the benefit of everyone despite the discomfort. Attending the ceremony without reading your own envelope is taking advantage of the spectacle at the expense of the participants. My school does the ceremony and, yes, I got up and read my envelope. Leading up to the envelope opening, I was extremely anxious (complete with psychogenic chest and abdominal pain for nearly two days!), but it was fun to participate. It really wasn't that bad. I only wish that the 40% of my class who didn't participate had decided to make themselves a bit uncomfortable and join in as well.

Now that I'm in the truly best part of med school (or possibly my entire education), I've  had plenty of time to get back to baking and being human. These cupcakes are moist, chocolate-y, and the frosting will make caffeine-addicts swoon.

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes (very slightly adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World)


1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup AP flour
1/3 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder (I used Hershey's special dark)
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Oven temp: 350 F  Bake time: 18-20 minutes
1. Preheat oven & prepare muffin pan
2. Whisk together almond milk and vinegar in large bowl. Set aside for a few minutes.
3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
4. Add sugar, oil, and vanilla to almond milk mixture. Beat until foamy.
5. Add dry ingredients to the wet in two batches, beat until no large lumps remain.
6. Fill liners 3/4 full. Bake 18-20 minutes or until toothpick or knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting. 

Coffee Buttercream Frosting (not vegan)
1 1/2 Tbsp instant coffee granules (or 1 Starbucks Via packet)
1 1/2 Tbsp water
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 c (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 c powdered sugar
3 Tbsp milk

1. Combine water, coffee and vanilla. Set aside.
2. Beat butter on medium speed until fluffy (1 min).
3. Decrease speed to low. Add powdered sugar in 3 batches, mixing in after each addition. Increase speed to medium, beat 2-3 minutes.
4. Add coffee mixture and milk. Beat on low to combine then increase to medium and beat 3-4 minutes.

June 12, 2013

My Misty

Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened. 
- Anatole France

Today my beloved pet, Misty, passed away to greener parks. She had been fighting for her life, most probably against a gastrointestinal cancer, for the past six weeks or so. Somehow knowing that her time was coming and that it would deliver her from pain and suffering has not made her passing any easier. When she came in to my life, a little white fluff ball with bright orange ears, we had just lost our first family pet, Muffy. In the midst of our family grief, my grandma found an ad in the newspaper for some poodle puppies. We piled in to my mom's van and drove down to one of the less inviting areas of town and that is where we first met Misty. I picked her out. She was hard to resist with an almost comical appearance, a feisty spirit in her eyes, and boundless energy. She sat on my lap on the way home and stuck her nose in front of the air conditioning vent as if it were the most glorious sensation on earth (and let's face it, in Fresno in the summer it pretty much is); she never did stop loving car AC vents. Although I was excited about our new puppy, once we got her home I didn't quite know what to think. She was playful, but tenaciously so; I was almost afraid of her eagerness and energy. As time went on, the exuberance of puppyhood mellowed into an energetic and companionable adolescence and young dog-hood. She loved jumping to catch balls in the air, playing fetch, going for walks, and chasing ducks in the backyard. Her unabashed delight in life frequently spoiled her elegant appearance such as when she would come inside with green legs after falling in the lake accidentally chasing a duck or when she would sheepishly attempt to hide her soggy paws after miscalculating a jump and falling in the pool. With her larger than life personality and intelligence, she became and integral part of our family, and it has been a wonderful 12 years of Misty Mocha Creme (can you tell I named her while I was in junior high and coffee culture was on the rise?).

In memory of my sweet, loving, persnickety little cuddle bug. I am grateful that you have been delivered from your struggles. Thank you for fighting so bravely. I hope you have lots of toys to rip open in the great beyond.

Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.
-Vicki Harrison

December 8, 2012

Reindeer Games and the Importance of Flour

Every year when the holidays come around I find my head (and my computer) overflowing with ideas of what I want to do this year for the holidays. Ideas collect throughout the whole year, are forgotten, are remembered, and occasionally I even attempt some of them! Some attempts are more successful than others. As you can see above, my Christmas kitty scarves were a success where as these reindeer cookies....

This is what we should look like!

 ....not so much.

And that, boys and girls, is why you should always be sure you have enough flour for your cookies before you start to make them. Don't be like me. Don't preheat the oven, make most of the dough, and prepare all the decorations only to realize you're 2-3 tablespoons short on flour. It doesn't end well.

Bonus tip from your local absent-minded med student baker: Don't forget the baking powder in your pancakes or they will be thick & dense instead of fluffy.

As always, I'm happy to provide these valuable life lessons any time, free of charge.

Happy pre-holiday time fun everyone!

October 30, 2012

Halloween Time in photos

It's all in the eyes

The Husband Unit has much better sticker placement skills than I do.

She's watching you