What I Am Reading: Recent Airport Edition

(by whizbang) Nov 20 2014

I spent a bunch of time in airports recently (thanks, winter), and I read several books. Instead of trying to review each one separately, I will just list them with a short synopsis of my thoughts. 

The Prince Lestat (Ann Rice)

 Ann Rice abandoned her muse, the bad-boy Lestat, and wrote about other things for several years. I am delighted that the non-sparkly vampires have come back to explore their existence. I have been waiting for her to do a history of the Talamasca since Taltos, the conclusion of the Mayfair Witch Chronicles. Waiting, waiting, waiting…and finally rewarded! If you haven’t read any other books in the vampire series, I would not start here. If you read the first 3, you can jump right into this one!

The Secret History of Wonder Woman (Jill Lepore)

Don’t let the size of this book scare you away; almost half of the text contains notes and other references. This meticulously researched history documents the life and times of William Moulton Marston, a frustrated academic who invented an early lie detector, lived with two women, and belonged to the Harvard Men for Women’s Suffrage. This read provides a fascinating history of the women’s movement in the US, as well as the rationale behind a beloved fictional character (yes, the bracelets, lasso, and invisible plane all have a reason). I was sort of sorry when this one ended; frankly, the story of the Amazons is as believable as that of the Marston clan!

The Secret Place (Tana French)

This is French’s fifth book to solve a death with a member of the Dublin murder squad. If you haven’t read her earlier works, you could start with this one without feeling lost; however, her character-driven novels are delightful, so you will want to read them all anyway. You may as well buy them all and go in order. In this one, an officer working cold cases gets a chance to work a murder. The action takes place in a swanky girls’ school over the course of a day. While I agree with the critics that this is the weakest novel yet from this author, I still found it a wonderful read and recommend it highly.

Obitchuary (Stephanie Hayes)

This came to me as an Amazon featured book that I got for almost nothing. This chick-lit features a young reporter who gains a degree of fame writing in-depth obituaries for selected people. Getting a date for her cousin’s wedding results in murder, mayhem, and the mob, along with finding true love. Good book to have in an airport if you want to forget you are delayed in O’Hare. It has no redeeming social value.

Killing Ruby Rose (Jessie Humphries)

Another Amazon feature and the first book in a series. Ruby Rose is 17, a brilliant high school senior in southern California, and grieving after the death of her ex-marine, SWAT team father. She starts tailing sex offenders who got off on technicalities, planning to get them convicted. She ends up being manipulated to kill them instead. Her family history gets very complicated along the way, and her own life comes under threat. She handles it all with poise; the major criticism with the story is that NO TEENAGER IS THIS TOGETHER, I DON’T CARE HOW SMART SHE IS!!! It’s a fun enough read that I bought the second book (came out last week), but you really have to be able to suspend your disbelief for these reads.

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Almost Home #KidneyWk14

(by whizbang) Nov 15 2014

Kidney Week is once again winding down. Today I ran my last meeting of the Kidney News Editorial Board. I will miss putting that magazine together, but new blood often generates new invigorating ideas for a publication. The new editor is keeping me on the board, so I still have a voice.

Oklahoma expects snow tomorrow for my return home. My car sits in an open lot, so I will have to clear it off. At least only an inch or two is predicted. I just hope Denver stays clear so I do not get delayed like I did en route to Philadelphia. Reentry to regular life is just that much more difficult when you are sleep deprived.

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Travel Time: #AAMC14 and #KidneyWk14

(by whizbang) Nov 04 2014

It's that special time of year when two meetings overlap. This year, I get to come home for a bit and repack.

JetI head for Chicago this Thursday for the gathering of the Association of American Medical Colleges (#AAMC14). I fly back to OKC the following Tuesday, and then head to Philadelphia on Wednesday for Kidney Week, the annual meeting of the American Society of Nephrology (#KidneyWk14). I have a spread sheet going to make sure there is no critical wardrobe overlap. When I get home from meeting one, I want only to wash my underwear and then re-pack.

#AAMC14 includes a lot of people interested in career promotion in academic medicine. You may have heard about my book, The Promotion Game (if you haven't, then I have failed). I will be giving away some hard copies at that meeting. You can also win a free copy by signing up for email updates on the web site.

#KidneyWk14 will be a bit sad for me this year. It will mark the end of my editorship of ASN Kidney News. I have loved my 6 years as a magazine editor. Hell, it's that experience that got me involved in social media and blogging! You probably wouldn't be reading this now if I had not had that opportunity. It's time to move on and find new experiences. Who knows where I will go next?

I will likely post about events and presentation from these meetings over the next 11 days. Stay tuned!

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Progress Report: 10,000 steps at a time

(by whizbang) Oct 29 2014

A while back I blogged about the addition of a stair stepper to my standing desk set up. I have gotten much better at typing (keyboarding for you whippersnappers) and doing other work while stepping. Working with our electronic record systems and sending email barely slows me down.

Phone calls still require standing still or sitting; the stepper, unlike a treadmill, requires some oomph from me to move. That gets transmitted in my voice, and I don't want to have to explain why I sound weird.

To give you an example of how this changes my activity level, here is today so far:

8:30 - 10:00:  Made rounds with residents. Saw consult patients. Just over 2,000 steps by Fitbit

10:00 -  Noon:  Office work, including charting, reading manuscripts, email and other correspondence. Current steps at 9,264

Thinking it's time you added a stepper? Some things to keep in mind:

  • Keep padded shoes available; if you have been standing at your desk, you probably have something comfortable stashed under your desk anyway. Unlike standing, my ballet flats and loafers do not suffice when I'm stepping.
  • Some steppers squeak. Mine started out quiet, and then became annoying when I put my right foot down. This noise stopped a couple of days ago for no good reason that I can identify. It's best to close your door while you do this anyway, both because of noise and the weirdness factor.
  • If you are prone to feel warm in your workplace, you may want a fan. You really can get warm with this level of activity, even at an incredibly leisurely pace such as I have.

By the way, in the 8 minutes it took me to write that bullet list, another 400 steps have been added to the total.


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#TweetYourBushMeat Ozarks-Style

(by whizbang) Oct 28 2014

I grew up in Springfield, Missouri, the Queen City of the Ozarks. This town of approximately 150,000 people and some educational institutions (my dad taught at Missouri State) provided a nice city upbringing for me. However, you didn't have to drive too far out of town to find a different world. The movie Winter's Bone was filmed about an hour away in the hollers and old-growth oak forests. The poor there survive like poor people everywhere; they do what they have to do, including hunting for game (and cooking meth as described in the flick). Below is a scene from the movie in which Jennifer Lawrence (in what I consider her best performance so far) teaches her younger siblings important survival skills:

Lucky for Ree Dolly, squirrels are pretty safe to eat; these rodents transmit very few diseases to humans. If she had settled for rabbit, there would be more significant risks. I know a couple who caught tularemia from skinning and dressing a rabbit. While this disease is treatable with antibiotics (unlike ebola), they did not have fun during their illness.

Nobody blamed them for hunting a rabbit and dressing it to eat (although their kids did tease them about their "road-kill" diet).

I know a lot of people who hunt game for fun rather than survival; this, too, is bush meat (even when you mount the head and hang it on the wall).

The main differences from Africa:

  • We do not call our wilderness "bush" in North America
  • The species that roam the woods and fields are different

Please do not judge those in Africa who eat what they kill; it's for survival.

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Halloween Game: #scarybooks

(by whizbang) Oct 26 2014

As the night for ghosts and goblins approaches, more people have been discussing scary movies online. As an alternative, I think we should talk about scary books.

Sure, there's Poe and the like to give your spine a tingle. But the scariest book I ever read had nothing to do with the macabre or the undead.



The Handmaid's Tale still scares me senseless.

What books make you sleepless?

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Tough Prep for #NaNoWriMo

(by whizbang) Oct 24 2014

November is getting closer...

November is getting closer...

I am doing some preparatory work for my novel writing efforts in November, in particular coming up with the characters for my story. You would be surprised how difficult making up names for these folks can be.

This book will be dramatic, filled with intrigue and danger. I can’t call the bad guy Dr. Evil or Mr. Heroin. Like most writers (or so I’m told), I have created place-filler names. Some come from friends and acquaintances. Others I pulled from a baby name site. Either way, they still sound fake to me.

I am therefore crowdsourcing a bit. Do you want to be a character in my novel? I can use just a first name or, hell, I will use your first and last name if you like. Feel free to honor a dead relative or a pet (latter dead or alive). Please do not submit your sworn enemy’s name. Just comment below and tell me why you think your name suggestion should be a character in my book. Also give me some idea about the attributes of the character. I do not want to make Saint Joan into Joan Junkie, after all.

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Save the #ScioX Hashtag Please

(by whizbang) Oct 22 2014

ScioXDespite the organization's demise, I still have a column in my twitter feed for the #ScioX hashtag.

Why? Because the most important part of Science Online was not the organization or the meetings; it was the community. Via this hashtag, I can still connect with this amazing group of people. No other group lets me connect so quickly with scientists, educators, artists, and journalists, all interested in science communication.

Even though we no longer gather annually in North Carolina (or elsewhere), it will be worth our efforts to keep the community going.

So continue to use #ScioX when something of interest to the community arises.

Keep connecting!

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What I Am Reading: OCP

(by whizbang) Oct 21 2014

Click to Amazon

Click to Amazon

Stop what you are doing. Right now. We all should read this book, The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution. Jonathan Eig tells us the story of the intersecting lives of Margaret Sanger, Katharine McCormick, Goody Pincus, and John Rock. Their individual motivations differed, but ultimately their efforts combined to bring about the oral contraceptive pill (OCP), Enovid.

Sanger wanted to make sex as free and pleasurable for women as for men; McCormick wanted women to have more opportunities without being a slave to their uterus. Goody Pincus wanted to be recognized as a great scientist; Rock wanted women to be able to space pregnancies. All were influenced by the health effects of uncontrolled fertility on women, particularly those who were poor.

Their discoveries collided with changing social attitudes around 1960, leading to a revolution in women's rights and attitudes toward sex. The book details the perfect storm that led to the current state of women and sex. When they first began testing the OCP, contraception was illegal in a majority of the United States. They worked around that little problem by testing an initial indication for menstrual disorders! Many previously infertile women in Rock's practice also became pregnant after a few months of regulation with Enovid, so even though it inhibited fertility, it had a possible infertility indication!

Perhaps most importantly, this work reminds us how important the OCP and control of fertility are for women. Women with fewer pregnancies experienced better health. In the years after the OCP became available, women's wages began to catch up to men's; a woman employee was not merely killing time till the stork came! Women also began entering higher education in greater numbers, including professional schools. Women continued their decades-long quest for real equality.

We have other contraceptive options today, but the OCP remains the gold standard. Read this book; you will learn something, and the stories are quite entertaining!

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Disappointment @Fitbit

(by whizbang) Oct 18 2014

FitBitOneFor several years I have been wearing a Fitbit of one sort or another. Currently I have a One clipped to my bra, measuring various activity parameters. I love my One and the Fitbit dashboard, enough that when my scale went bad I bought the Aria wifi scale. Having my weight and activity data in the same database has been interesting and helpful.

I prefer Lose It! for diet tracking, but it can interface with the Fitbit dashboard. I can see interrelated health data all in one place!

Earlier this year I found out that my blood pressure was sky high. Fitbit does not make a blood pressure cuff, nor do any on the market automatically record to their dashboard. It has a place to record blood pressure, but I would have to manually enter it. I explored a couple of "fitness dashboards" that said they could accomplish this feat, but none worked.

When Apple announced the Health module in iOS8, it thrilled me. Given the popularity of Apple and Fitbit, I assumed that my problem had been solved. Then Fitbit announced that they would not pursue Health integration for now, and Apple will no longer be selling Fitbit devices.


Like it or not, a single health dashboard that can collect information automatically will give people the best information to track their health habits and results. Manual entry can be performed, but really should be unacceptable in this day and age. Also, there are other devices out there that could be linked up (CPAP machines, etc).

If these corporations were really people, we could put them in "time-out" or "peace chairs*" until they work this out. Unfortunately, disciplining and/or modulating behavior of corporations is proof that they are not really people (is the Supreme Court paying attention to this blog?).

So come on, Fitbit. Play nice with Apple. Please, for me!?!

* "Peace chairs" came to our attention when our daughter was in first or second grade. Children with disagreements were to sit side-by-side in these chairs and work out their differences with words. This concept did not really get our attention until the day that another child would not do the "peace chair" thing with our daughter. She wielded a pair of safety scissors and told him to get in the "peace chairs" or she would cut him. This led to an interesting discussion with her teacher. Thus, I really do not have any data to support the use of "peace chairs" in practice. 


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