cultivating & crashing

an organic collection of notes, observations, and thoughts

Imperfect data

The art of epidemiologic reasoning is to draw sensible conclusions from imperfect data.”

George W. Comstock

American Journal of Epidemiology 1990

Le monde est grand, je suis toute petite

I like epi because it makes you realize how small we are. What happens to us individually is on a tiny scale; events that we take so personally are best understood as waves of larger trends, and we’re never alone in them. When something is common we’re united in the commonality of it, but even when an occurrence is rare (an obscure cancer, a little-known disease), the persons experiencing it are experiencing it in the same marginal way (being the only one around who has it is how everyone who has it feels). In either case, we share that experience of it.

Makes me think also of how people in cities feel: everyone feels lonely and alienated from others, all crowded in the same densely-populated area.

Inuit throat singing

My new favourite thing, both traditional and techno.


Something’s happened recently that deserves my articulating it. During the time since I left home seven years ago — in the time I’ve been writing here — I’ve felt that I was always scrambling to find footing and create stability in my life. In the past month it’s dawned on me that I’ve finally reached a place where I feel I have those things. I am studying something I love and will find work in, and in general my mind has understood that I’m no longer flailing in the dark just trying to keep afloat; I’m thriving and learning to enjoy the work instead of panicking at the constant thought of sinking. This feels unprecedented and momentous. It’s perhaps why I’m finally feeling confident enough to consider reconnecting with people from back home.

It’s funny because I remember Mike telling me to just wait until I was 27, that I would relax and life would turn up. I never really imagined it could be true or that it might work like that, but today I’m feeling very much convinced that I’m getting a taste of a different life ahead.

Hopefully I’ll be able to tap into this space from now on when I’m feeling frantic. I have the upcoming midterm period to test it out.

New beginnings

This past week we rang in 5775 with the Chavurah. This year’s lessons: do not get into any sort of discussion, no matter how well-intentioned and innocent, when abstaining from food and water for 25 hours (says science). And 10 days is not enough time to make amends and tie up loose ends of everything I have pending.

This September I began a Master’s in epidemiology and I love it. I had been planning to apply to this program for several years, and it’s all I dreamt of and more. I’m learning R, cool inferential stats, and epi methods. This week I’ll be zeroing in on topics for my thesis, which may include: sleep, cardiovascular outcomes, mental illness, lifestyle choices (physical activity, smoking, alcohol consumption), and chronic illness such as obesity or diabetes. Never has a bunch of such sad things made me so happy.

Compost Montréal got one of its processing sites taken away by the city, and as a result had to increase its prices to cover the cost of transporting the compost farther away. I’m too cheap to pay someone almost 9$ a week to do nice things to my garbage, so I looked for alternatives. As it turns out, the city just set up a new community composter on my street just a few hundred meters from my front doorstep. It’s like I got an early birthday present from the municipal government God. Such good behaviour on behalf of the Ville de Montréal should be encouraged. If anyone knows who I should thank for this, please let me know.

We have new neighbours since this summer and I still haven’t made them brownies, but I plan on doing that this week so I can get over this shame of avoiding them all the time.

And lastly, a friend just returned to Montreal after two years away and is trying to get me into Afro-Caribbean dance, and I might just bite!

Salmon with preserved lemon, capers, and onion

Yesterday I was in charge of logistics for Shabbat in the park, which went swimmingly despite the cold. We boozed a bit to keep warm and commiserated gladly over food. Those with ancestors who lived in the Pale should be proud.

Preparations found me at 10am with four massive warm challot, fresh spanakopita, and a freshly baked salmon sitting on my kitchen table, filling the house with heavenly smells. I will be doing this again.

one tablespoon oil
a whole side of wild or Pacific salmon, about 1.5kg, not farmed or Atlantic
one preserved lemon, cut into 8 slices
one heaping tablespoon capers
one small yellow onion, cut into thin rings

Preheat oven to 400F/200C. Place a piece of parchment on baking dish large enough to fit the fish. Pour the oil on the parchment and spread it evenly on the paper. Rinse the fish and place it on the parchment. Place preserved lemon pieces, capers, and thin slices of onion on the fish. Bake for 20 minutes.

crêpes without sugar or vanilla

1 cup (250 ml) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons (25 ml) maple syrup
1 pinch salt
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) milk
1 dash orange blossom water (or more, but less than you think you need)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) unsalted butter, melted
Softened butter, for cooking

• In a bowl, combine flour, and salt. Add eggs, syrup, 125 ml (½ cup) of milk, orange blossom water, and stir with a whisk until smooth. Gradually add remaining milk, stirring constantly. Whisk in melted butter.
• Preheat a 23-cm (9-inch) non-stick skillet over just under medium heat (my stove goes up to 11). When the skillet is hot, brush with butter.
• For each crepe, pour about 60 ml (1/3 cup) of batter in the centre of the skillet. Tilt skillet to spread batter evenly until it covers the entire bottom of the skillet. When the edge peels off easily and begins to brown, it’s time to flip the crepe with a spatula. Continue cooking for about 15 seconds and then remove.
• Serve with dulce de leche.

Mortality in the developed world

US causes of mortality

This is why I’m interested in chronic disease.


Tonight Jérémie and I discovered the etymology of inodoro, Spanish for toilet. It’s really obvious but somehow eluded me all these twenty-five years. Inodoro: as in un-odorous. A toilet that took away excrement along with all olfactory evidence of its existence. The brilliant, neutral-smelling, cutting-edge of technology; so modern it came with a fittingly tidy, euphemistic name.

In other bathroom news, the Japanese have me wondering who is really wearing the pants in this relationship.


A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life

When they were introduced, he made a witticism, hoping to be liked. She laughed very hard, hoping to be liked. Then each drove home alone, staring straight ahead, with the very same twist to their faces.
The man who’d introduced them didn’t much like either of them, though he acted as if he did, anxious as he was to preserve good relations at all times. One never knew, after all, now did one now did one now did one.


David Foster Wallace


In other DFW news, I finished Infinite Jest. Or rather, I finished reading it the first time, so I’m about halfway through. I am very sad to report that with a few weak exceptions in a 1000+ page book, it fails the Bechdel test and it hurts my soul a bit.


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