The guitar shop expert

Today I decided to do go buy some new strings for my guitar. Apparently you’re supposed to replace guitar strings around every 3 months or so to ensure your guitar is at its best musically. I’ve err.. been not too disciplined with this. Being quite new to acoustic guitar and the whole changing strings myself business, I haven’t quite been changing them every 3 months.

Excuses? Oh definitely. I’m mostly just lazy and forgetful and pretty much deaf (I’ve been told you can hear when you’re strings are quite old while playing, but I guess I’m not that advanced yet. My motto is – if it sounds good, it is good.)

Anyways! So I paid a visit to the Rockshop (for all your musical needs!) to buy new strings. Like I said, I’m pretty new to this so I always buy the most standard set that have been recommended for me as a beginner. But the ‘friendly’ helpers at the shop are always a bit condescending. I think they think of themselves as the ‘Guitar Gods’ that are all-knowing. They give you the “look” when you bring something up to the counter. I once got the look for buying two different sizes of picks. I’m quite a pack rat when it comes to guitar picks. And I always seem to lose them, so I have a million. But I desperately needed 2 more of course. But this guy with the look asked me “Are you sure you want both of these? This one is quite thin and that one is quite heavy.” I assured him that my eyes are fine and I was perfectly aware of the thicknesses of the picks, having read the numbers on them. But it was so nice and pointless of him to ask me that. And I would be ever so grateful if he would give me permission to buy them.

Okay I didn’t say that. But I think I should have. Instead I just smiled and said “yup I’m sure” and he let me buy them. How nice and helpful of him.

But back to the string story! So anyway I asked for my usual string set and the ‘Guitar God’ went into his lecture about the strings. “Yup these are phosphor-bronze and they’re quite good, gives you a nice warm sound” and I smiled (Yes I know. Hence I’m buying them). But he proceeded to suggest I buy another set of strings instead. “These are also phosphor-bronze, but they’re coated and a bit heavier and more expensive, but they’ll last you much longer and you wouldn’t have to change them as often.” Now this I was interested in. I thought well that sounds good. I’m pretty useless with this 3 months thing so maybe if I get these I wouldn’t have to worry about them for a while. So I asked “Oh so how long would they last?”

The God smiled brightly and said “Well if you get them, you won’t have to change them for the rest of the summer!”

I cannot explain how hard I had to work to keep a straight face. I politely declined and bought my standard strings and ran.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him… I hadn’t changed my strings in 9 months…

Guitar expert, I am not.

Christmas Lights

Christmas has always been my favourite time of the year. And I’m pretty big on traditions.

In my city- Auckland, is a place called Franklin Road where all the houses put up lights as part of a street competition. (wouldn’t be a joyous holiday without a little “my house is better than thou”, now would it?)

Anyway, it’s quite a gimmick and worth going to see every year. For me anyway. I thought I’d share some of the sights I saw.

Santa in a train with presents! Very Christmas-y

But the house on the right is the clear winner here.

Now this one, is my favourite display on Franklin road. It’s been around for 2 years and is just stunning. But I cannot take credit for this particular shot. I think I’ve talked about my inability to explore different angles in photography. My original shot of this display looked more like this:

I was more focused on the deer rather than the whole scene. But a friend took a photo similar to the first 1 above. I was inspired and this year I just had to recreate it. So. Credit to HD and his unparalleled angle sense.

Just some other assorted decorations that put a smile on my face.

Overall, it was a pleasant night stroll. Oh and it was raining. Pleasant Christmas stroll indeed.

I Wish…

Today I was on the train back from work as my car was not available. And the only reason I say that is because I dislike being on the train. I don’t know about your part of the world, but in mine, the train is full of weird strangers that tend to start conversations about their fishing trips and recently deceased dogs. But also, the train is a place for noisy high school kids. Not my favourite mode of transport.

So today, while on the train, a couple of kids (from my high school, funnily) sat in the seat opposite me and started having a very loud conversation. After groaning inwardly that it’s Christmas break and so these kids should NOT be on my train, I tried unsuccessfully to tune them out. It seems Tom was trying to convince Isaac to come on year 12 camp with him in the new school year. “Dude it’s in March. We get to do kayaking this time” Tom said. A bemused Isaac replied “Yeah but it’s AS this year. My sister said it’s really hard. And we get points for uni from this year too”. For a moment I stared at Isaac. I thought to myself, when did I have such trivial worries? In the next instant I wanted to shake him.

To miss out on school camp with friends, because you’re worried about not doing well in Cambridge AS in year 12? At that moment I couldn’t imagine anything more ridiculous. Then I remembered how I was at that age. I had skipped a year at high school and was really intent on planning out my med school dream. But I thought about what I gave up in doing that. I had the sense to go to year 12 camp on persuasion by my friends.So thank goodness for that. But I did opt out of being part of the school play with my friends to “focus” on AS. And I remembered a lot of things from high school. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t remember my grades in AS. It just didn’t matter. Yes I ended up getting enough points for uni entrance, but beyond that, the actual scores were nothing for me. I mean, I hadn’t ever failed anything, but I was no A+ student either. Not even close. But at this point, no one cares about that. I wanted to tell this kid that.

When in year 12, I thought I’d get enough points to get into uni, do extremely well and get into med, then be a star pupil in med school and find the one specialisation I would excel at and pursue it and end up in my own hospital one day. ¬†Eugh. Even typing that out sounds so childish.

I realised my current position. I have had an incredibly awful year going through feeling like I was a failure. Everyone around me had a plan of what they wanted to do for a specialisation and were taking up research projects in that field etc. I felt hideously unprepared and felt like an oddball for not having a plan. And I’m no A+ med student either. So the high school “plan” is effectively gone.

It occured to me though, that I am 21. Not 31, and not 41. I’m still in med school. I’m still only a 4th year. There are doctors I met, in, or nearly in their 30s who aren’t sure of what specialisation they want to go into. But they’re not losers. I respect all of them as doctors and am sure they’ll do well in whatever they do end up choosing. They don’t seem to be panicking about their futures. So why am I? Let’s face it. Effectively I’m stuck in med school for the next two years. So no “planning” is going to change that at all. And when so much can change so easily – within a year, within a day, is there really any point stressing about a plan that may not even happen? I didn’t think so. Who’s to say the others will have their plans work out? Not that I’m wishing they don’t, but everything is in flux.

A classmate of mine is taking a year off med school to tour Europe. While me and some other classmates agreed we didn’t want to do that at this stage, I kind of envied her. What would it be like to care so little about the future? While I am so focused on completing my degree with no distractions, she’s doing something that’s always been on my bucket list. Would I ever get there? I hoped so. Taking each day as it comes. Facing the little choices everyday seemed more important.

I wished Isaac would go on camp with Tom. I wished that when I’m 41 and I see a med student on the train stressing about his/her specialisation choices and giving up friends or trips, I wouldn’t feel regret.

Vitamins as Medicine. Yay or Nay?

So I started my holiday reading with a book called¬†What your doctor doesn’t know about nutritional medicine may be killing you

My mum’s recommendation. And as all med students probably would, I scoffed at the title. Now I’m not a big believer in vitamin supplements. I had a lecturer who quoted studies that showed taking vitamins increases risk of heart attack. He said “You want to be the person who wants to take vitamins, but doesn’t.” My mum makes me take OTC iron tablets and vitamin C tablets because I get periodically anaemic. After arguing with her about doses and studies that suggest their uselessness, I gave up and started swallowing the tablets. She later on gave me this book to read because of my repeated crying.

Anyways! This book was written by Dr. Ray D Strand, (an American general physician) and mainly talks about the importance of nutritional supplementation not only to maintain health but also to reverse effects of many diseases such as fibromyalgia, heart failure, diabetes, asthma, macular degeneration, etc. He mentions many live cases including that of his own wife who suffered from chronic fibromyalgia. She made a stunning recovery after going on a vigorous nutritional supplement program. This prompted the initially skeptical Dr. Strand to start his own research in the field of nutritional medicine.

He goes on to quote studies that show a definite correlation between certain diseases such as heart failure and deficiencies of nutrients such as coenzyme Q10, etc. He talks about preventive medicine and studies that show that the deficiency of certain nutrients may be involved in the pathogenesis of diseases such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons disease.

Another major theme in this book is that of oxidative stress. Dr. Strand talks about oxidative stress as the major cause of many organ pathologies and insists that taking antioxidants will slow down and prevent these pathologies. While I knew that oxidative stress is one of the main theories of aging, a lot of the cellular changes mentioned in this book caused by oxidative stress were a real eye-opener for me.

Now this isn’t like those boards you see at pharmacies suggesting you should take Vitamin C around flu season to get fewer colds etc. I’m sure that isn’t conclusively proven. But there are trials and case studies suggesting that things like Vitamin C, coenzyme Q10, and grape-seed extract improve symptoms in diseases such as asthma, macular degeneration, emphysema, rheumatoid arthritis. Things that can really bring down patient quality of life. Worth looking up!

The disclaimer is ofcourse that this supplementation does not Cure any of these disease and is Not an alternative to any prescribed medication. The idea is that it is complementary¬†medication. Take with your regular meds, you won’t be cured, but you’ll feel a hell of a lot better.

While I can’t say I’ve been fully converted into believing in taking vitamins, I will say this book has sparked my interest in ‘nutritional medicine’ because a lot of what we’re taught about in med school consists of advising patient to “change their diet and exercise’, we’re not taught what exactly this “change of diet” should be and what benefit we’re actually supposed to be looking for in patients. And clearly, when you throw that vague statement at them, I don’t see anyone making “the change” straight away. I for one, would actually like to know what I’m actually supposed to be recommending to people. And actually have enough evidence and knowledge to believe in it myself.

Overall, I think this book is worth a read! Not just for med students/doctors but everyone really (my mum who is very health-conscious). It’s really quite interesting. But I’d love to hear what others and skeptics like myself think about nutritional medicine. How important is it really?