What I Am Reading: Recent Airport Edition

Nov 20 2014 Published by under What I'm Reading

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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Halloween Game: #scarybooks

Oct 26 2014 Published by under Meme

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.

#scarybooks

#scarybooks

The Handmaid's Tale still scares me senseless.

What books make you sleepless?

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Tough Prep for #NaNoWriMo

Oct 24 2014 Published by under Opportunities

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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Commitment or Insanity? #nanowrimo

Oct 17 2014 Published by under Opportunities

During my residency in pediatrics, I had an idea for a story. As I pondered various twists and turns in the tale, I realized that telling the world would result in a novel.

Needless to say, life intervened. A couple of kids, a lab to start, a career to develop; somehow these all kept me from getting around to putting my words on record.

A couple of years ago I told my son about my idea. He was pretty amazed at the level of detail I had already incorporated into the general plot. Every time he came home from college, he asked about my progress. I finally started a Scrivener file for the work and began creating character sheets and some scene outlines. At least I could say it was a work in progress, and not just a dream in my soul.

Today I saw a link to the National Novel Writing Month site. I signed up, agreeing to write 50,000 words during November.

I will likely fail to write this many words.

Even if I only grind out 20,000 words, that’s a lot more than I have done to date. Having that bit of competition and encouragement may make it happen, and may get me to produce more than I anticipate.

Any of you have dreams of authorship? Not scientific papers, but novels, collections of stories, or even memoirs? I challenge you to sign up for #nanowrimo as it is called on Twitter. Let’s make each other write!

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My New Baby

Oct 09 2014 Published by under Learning

What do you call 100 babies in a single litter?

What do you call 100 babies in a single litter?

Hard copies arrived! My new book, The Promotion Game, arrived in a big box.

I never realized how proud I would feel to see my work in print and hold it in my hands.

It's almost like giving birth to something, except without the blood.

If you are interested in succeeding in academic medicine, this book may be for you. You can get more information here.

Ebooks are expected to be available soon on Amazon and the other usual venues.

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High Stakes Games

Oct 08 2014 Published by under Learning

Too many new faculty in academic medicine get lost.

They sign on with academic medical centers with the best intentions. They want to inspire the next generation of providers. They want to solve healthcare problems. They hope to make the world a better place.

Unfortunately, academic medicine provides many distractions.

Unlike our PhD colleagues*, we MDs often fail to teach our trainees anything about academic life. I came from an academic family. I knew about ranks and tenure and other issues, but I still didn't really know how to succeed in The Ivory Tower. Someone gave me the Faculty Handbook, including promotion and tenure (P&T) guidelines, when I showed up at my first job.

Yes, I wrote it all down!

Yes, I wrote it all down!

Have you ever read a faculty handbook? Have you ever tried to read a faculty handbook? These documents tend to be written with stilted dry language. The handbook for an entire campus also keeps things vague enough that it applies to all departments and sections; this provides little guidance for a new assistant professor. You have to find contacts who can give you the real dirt. How many papers are considered "a significant number?" What sort of funding counts toward the tally? Will case reports be held against you? How do you document your educational efforts?

Mentorship helps (those contacts described above). P&T workshops with department-specific information can help. Unfortunately, none of these can be used as a lasting reference. Clinician faculty, in particular, often lose sight of their goal. Patient care responsibilities and other tasks can distract them from achieving and documenting the things that matter for academia. They get a few years into their first appointment and discover that they are behind the eight ball. Many leave academic medicine at this point.

That's why I have written down wisdom collected from multiple institutions and many colleagues. I have tried to keep this brief guide chatty and useful, rather than an academic tome. Yes, it is vague in that it gives no specifics for any institution; however, it does help faculty members know what to ask their colleagues and mentors.

When you get down to it, P&T is really a game. You have rules, you reach milestones, you keep score, and eventually you can win.

Yes, this is my Big Surprise. The book is debuting soon, both in print and as an ebook. Learn more at the website, ThePromotionGame.com.


*Instead, our PhD colleagues prepare everyone for an academic career, even though we know there are not enough positions for every trainee and many will have to pursue careers outside of The Ivory Tower.

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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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A Little Break...OR IS IT?

May 03 2014 Published by under Travel

I previously related my two weeks, four meetings, cross-country travel extravaganza. Jet lag no longer troubles me; my body has no idea what time zone it inhabits, not which one it should be in. I now find myself about half-way through my travels, with a beautiful day of me-time.

Hand Held Scanner Cam

Hand Held Scanner Cam

Today I went to a DC hot spot I had never visited, the International Spy Museum. The museum brings you in via an elevator filled with flashing lights, up to a third floor where you pick an identity. I went with a 50-year-old female microbiologist (although she was born in Viet Nam and now resides in California). You watch a short movie about espionage (narrated by Linda Hunt), and then you enter Spy School.  From there you have more exhibits about gadgets and spy craft.  For example, at left is the "rollover" camera that took photos as you rolled it over a large document. Sound anything like, say, hand-held scanners?

Pigeon Cam

Pigeon Cam

 

At right is my personal favorite from the pigeon room, the Pigeon Cam. Carrier birds provided invaluable transmission of messages during WWI. Someone came up with this small, light, automatic camera that took photos as the bird flew its route. The most famous pigeon, Cher Ami, won the Croix de Guerre for delivering a message, despite fatal wounds, that led to the rescue of a lost battalion. While her story made this museum, her taxidermied body minus the leg lost in battle can be seen in the National Museum of American History in the Smithsonian. This bird also made Time Magazines list of heroic animals (in fourth position).

Remember Cher Ami next time you kick a pigeon out of the way or call them "rats with feathers."

As it says, a rectal tool kit, filled with sharp instruments...

As it says, a rectal tool kit, filled with sharp instruments...

The gadgets and gizmos section also showed a number of miniaturized tools that would make Q jealous. Many were developed for paratroopers who needed stuff when they dropped in behind enemy lines, but it had to be small, light, and not easily found. This led to knives, compasses, and other items secreted into shoe heels, uniform buttons, and other locations...although the next photo would be "above and beyond the call of duty" in my opinion (all puns intended).

This option never came up in the James Bond movies, although there is an exhibit of 50 years of Bond Villains in the museum. All sorts of movie paraphenalia is on display, and the biographies of each villain are outlined. My favorite portion here involved a giant touch screen. When you hit a button, it opened metal "doors" into a tank of sharks (no laser beams; sorry, Dr. Evil). After just long enough, a large, open, toothy mouth hits the screen, appearing to break the glass. I watched a young boy damn near wet his pants!

The day continued on with the 007 theme. Raymond Benson and Jeffery Deaver are the only two American authors that the Fleming estate has allowed to write Bond novels. They have assembled and edited a collection of stories of Cold War intrigue, Ice Cold. They did an hour of Q&A, discussing their writing techniques and how they approached an iconic character like Bond. They also discussed the books and movies, as well as their own stuff.

They deny having anything to do with Putin's latest activities that have raised Cold War images again (although clearly the book's marketers have got to love it).

I also got to give Jeffry Deaver a piece of my mind for the 6 months I could not take a cab after I read The Bone Collector. He told me a couple of activities I may shy away from if I read his latest novel, The Skin Collector. You know, I really won't miss my laundry room.

Tomorrow it's back to business after a train trip to Philadelphia for the fourth Vision 2020 Congress. Or is that really the purpose of my trip? Can anyone really be certain?

 

 

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What I Am Reading: An Open Letter to Alan Bradley

Jan 22 2014 Published by under What I'm Reading

Dearest Mr. Bradley:

I love Flavia de Luce. I first wrote about this almost 3 years ago when I discovered the 10-year-old chemist and binge-read the first novels. I was 10 or 11 when I got my first chemistry set, and I remember the thrill of heating stuff with my bunsen burner, especially if it gave off a horrific odor. I ran out of sulfur quickly.

Click to Amazon

I have pre-ordered each of these books, letting them download to my iPad to delight me once again. The latest volume, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, once again left me wanting more. This despite the fact that the book wrapped up some long-running plot questions.

The action begins on the railroad spur to Buckshaw, the family manor. The body of Flavia's mother arrives by train, with her coffin draped by the Union Jack and Churchill in attendance. Finally, we get confirmation that her mother did not go off mountain climbing and die in some madcap heiress scheme. No, she was working for the British government's war effort in the far east. Of course, being Flavia's mother, her death was no accident either. She leaves the name of her murderer written in invisible ink which, I am delighted to tell you, was probably her own urine. Yup, something to make this nephrologist very happy.

I will not reveal any other important murder information here. Suffice it to say there is more than one body and plenty of suspects.

After the main action resolves, Flavia finds out that she is being sent to Miss Bodycote's Female Academy in Canada, the same school where her mother was "finished." This is not the usual finishing school; the chemistry department may be run by a murderer, and it has acquired the latest spectrophotometer for its students. Those facts make Flavia a willing traveler to the other side of the pond.

Unlike earlier de Luce books, this one does not include the title of the next tome in the ending material. Many loose ends wrapped up with this title; does this mean the end of Flavia's adventures? I sincerely hope not. I want to go to Canada with her! Or at least visit Buckshaw when she goes home on break! More chemistry! More poison! More death!

Please don't take Flavia away yet!

Of course, we do have a Flavia de Luce TV series in the works for 2015. I hope the producers do it justice (they seem to have a good track record at least).

What I really want are more books, to see Flavia grow up and achieve and put away more murderers. Please, Mr. Bradley, make it happen!

Sincerely,

Pascale

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