Cadaver Labs through the eyes of medical students, EMS workers and an artist

In July, I'm attending a human cadaver prosection program to learn gross anatomy and total patient care. Before going, I'm studying anatomy, body donation ethics and trying to anticipate the anatomy lab experience: handling the bodies, what we'll be wearing, interacting with my team, the temperature, sights and smells.

To that end, I started looking for podcasts. Here are three I've selected that represent very different takes on cadaver labs: at a medical school, at a workshop for EMS workers, and from an artist.

Only Human: Every (Dead) Body Has A Story

"When it comes to dissecting a cadaver, medical students don't always know who is under their scalpel. This week, Only Human's Fred Mogul learns about a musician who spent his life educating others, and continues to do so after he dies."

Disaster Podcast: Cadaver Lab Provides Unique Educational Experience at EMS Today 2015

Stories about cadaver labs usually focus on dissection at medical schools, this podcast covers a different topic: EMS workers practicing procedures and trying equipment on a real person instead of a mannequin. One EMT reported higher success rates intubating patients after going through this workshop, where they practice "high risk, high frequency skills."

Here Be Monsters: Jonathan's Cadaver Paintings

In this podcast, an artist and graduate student attends the University of Washington's anatomy lab to narrate his experience viewing and sketching cadavers. Artists have studied cadavers for centuries but looking at his work while I listened made me question if it was respectful to the donors in ways that a 400 year old drawing - even a macabre, gruesome representation - never has.

Of all the podcasts I listened to, this one was the most thought-provoking. I came away with questions about disclosure to donors, consent from family and the psychology around respect for recent donors versus historical people. I didn't like the way this podcast was produced (whispering host, spooky background effects) but I very much appreciated hearing what almost amounts to someone's inner monologue as they approach the cadaver lab and donor bodies.

Jonathan's work can be found here:


Studying Anatomy for Beginners

This gorgeous reproduction of a French anatomy poster hangs in my living room, nestled between my childhood figure skates signed by Brian Orser and a beautiful Robert Bateman. I love seeing the reactions it gets from people. They're mostly positive, but sometimes people think it's creepy. I'm so fascinated by this - how have we come to view our own bodies as creepy? How is the curiosity for what lies beneath our skin a morbid pursuit? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Studying anatomy used to be limited to textbooks, overly-simplified plastic classroom models and cadaver labs, the realm of the medical student, not the average autodidact. I thought I would share some of the resources I've found most helpful over the past year as a hobbyist, artist and nerd. It's a big post, but I hope you find at least one or two resources that will work well for you.


There are many anatomical apps available, whether from the iTunes App Store or around the web. More robust than a book, many offer 3D views/ability to rotate the model. Some even use real cadavers for the images. Many of them have quizzes to help you retain knowledge, but lack an interactive/game environment. I'm an experiential learner, and really lose attention after a few minutes of watching instructional videos where I can't follow along actually doing something. If you read the reviews for these apps, many people love them, and they are way beyond what a book can do, but I haven't found an app yet that lets me interact with the images like I want (for example, challenging me to "dissect" away specific muscle groups and scoring me on that versus a written/multiple-choice quiz).

All that being said, I recommend downloading Essential Skeleton from the App Store since it's free and will give you a taste of Essential Anatomy ($35-40). I'm going to keep watching the reviews and releases for Essential Anatomy as I'm on a MacBook Pro and there seems to be issues with the desktop version. Essential Skeleton is running great though and I love the way I can manipulate the views.

The other app I've started using is KenHub. You can very easily register for a free account and watch a lot of videos, take quizzes and read articles. A Premium account gives you access to everything, but the free version has quite a lot and is a great place to get started for free and with no downloads. If you get through all the free content, you'll know if Premium is worth the cost or not. I love to try before I buy, the web app is really slick and they seem easy to contact. KenHub is obviously a very modern site, whereas I've found a lot of old enterprisy sites like Wiley's Anatomy 2.0 and McGraw-Hill's Anatomy and Physiology Revealed.


Even though books aren't as rich as a well-designed app can be, there are still a lot of great paper resources. The first book I bought was Human Anatomy, which isn't instructional but simply has large, colour images with labels. I bought it specifically as a reference guide to make anatomical art and it's served that purpose well. I mentioned already that I'm an experiential learner, so sculpting and drawing is a better way for me to learn anatomy than watching some videos. If you don't like drawing, anatomical colouring books would not only be educational but fun and even therapeutic. 

If you love anatomical art and art history, you'll appreciate Human Anatomy: A Visual History from the Renaissance to the Digital Age. This is a gorgeous book and reveals the history of anatomy in art including the symbology of certain subjects and poses and whether or not they were actually anatomically accurate. It has many illustrations and has been a beautiful, fascinating read.

Dissection Videos

Apps, books, quizzes.... there is really no substitute for the real thing. But since community cadaver labs are not a thing, sadly, the next best recommendation is to watch dissection videos. Through the miracle that is YouTube, there are many available for free. A doctor recommended the jono03 channel to me and the videos have been great. I wish they were in HD to see better detail, but they're educational and respectful. I made the mistake of clicking on a series of autopsy videos that YouTube was recommending on the right and... I wouldn't even handle roadkill like they were handling their subjects. That's why I'm recommending this channel, because searching might introduce you to some disturbing content, and wouldn't be a great intro to anatomy for anyone.

What Else?

There are some great accounts to follow on Twitter, start by just searching for "anatomy" and looking at relevant posts and accounts that interest you.

If you're studying anatomy because you're interested in imaging or medical conditions, the Figure1 app is crazy interesting. Medical professionals crowd-sourcing diagnoses, using photos of their patients and tons of x-rays, MRIs, etc. It's really hard to figure out the anatomy and defect or condition in the images and has made me appreciate just how much doctors need to learn. 

There are several medical museums around the world, like The Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn and The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. I've had the pleasure to visit both, and will be going back to them as often as possible. I've been to Morbid Anatomy many times, not only are their exhibits great but so are their lectures and workshops. Really, they legitimized my fascination with anatomy and medical conditions and I owe a lot of my dive into this subject to them.

The next thing on my list to try is the Anatomy Glove Learning System. They're just white gloves with the outline of bones printed on, and following their instructional videos, you use markers to draw the hand muscles. I love that they're integrating your own anatomy into the learning process, instead of a flat/2D drawing.

Finally, as your reward for sticking through a long post, here is a video about animals in utero, to show just how beautiful anatomy can be. It is art in itself.

Turing School Applications Open

The Turing School of Software & Design, brought to you by the incredible team at Jumpstart Lab, is now accepting applications. Jumpstart Lab ran the first two cohorts of gSchool, the program I went through in early 2013.

If you've been thinking of learning to code, please apply to their program. When I first heard about it, I didn't think I was going to be able to afford it or make it happen logistically, but they made all of that really easy and workable (as did a grant from the State of Colorado). Don't let those kinds of "what ifs" keep you from applying - explore the opportunity and see where it takes you.

They've extended their program to seven months, making it even more comprehensive than the cohort I went through. I would be happy to answer any questions about my experience and where it has taken me. They are emphatically supportive of diversity as well. Apply, damnit!

ClojureBridge & Apprenticeships Talks at Clojure/West

Last week I had the honour of delivering my first conference talk and sharing the stage with Bridget Hillyer. I met Bridget in November at Clojure/conj, and was so delighted to learn that she was working with a group of people to make ClojureBridge a reality. 

In her talk Bridget explains what ClojureBridge is and why so many people are working hard to make these free workshops happen. The first two announced workshops filled up right away, and it's clear that there are a lot of people very interested in learning and teaching Clojure.

In my talk (at about ~15:40 into the video) I share my experience going through a six month code school and an apprenticeship, why I think more software companies need to do them, and how.

We would love to answer any questions you have about these efforts. Thanks!

Help 'Salish Indian Sweaters' Get Republished

Picking tomatoes, bein' cozy. Photo: Nick Eliuk aka Dad

Cowichan sweaters are a Canadian icon. When I was very little, my mother diligently ensured I was swathed in the thick, waterproof, warm wool that has become part of Canadian heritage. Sadly, both the hat and sweater left my possession before I was old enough to appreciate or even now remember them.

Growing up in the greater Vancouver area in B.C., we often went to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. I remember going into the gift shop and looking up at the display of Cowichan sweaters, and wishing to have one some day. I figured a $400 sweater was likely never in my future, and reserved that pining away in the gift shop was as close as I'd ever get.

"Originally built in 1889, Capilano Suspension Bridge stretches 450 feet (137m) across and 230 feet (70m) above Capilano River" Photo: Jennifer Eliuk

Fast forward 15 years and possessing solid knitting skills, I started pining away to make my own. I would find a pattern, make my own design, find the most legit wool possible and knit up one of these bad boys! Any knitter that's started researching these books very quickly learns that there is just one book that explains the traditional techniques used by Cowichan knitters, Salish Indian Sweaters by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts. This book has been out of print for a number of years now, and is very hard to find. I've seen it on Amazon for $150, and some libraries carry it. 

In February, I once again stood in front of the display of sweaters at the Capilano Suspension Bridge. "Are these made by Cowichan knitters?"

"Yes they're handmade in Vancouver!" the clerk replied. "But are they First Nations knitters?" I asked again. She had no idea and didn't try to find out. In my bag was Priscilla's working copy of her much beloved, out of print book.

The gift shop at the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Photo: Jennifer Eliuk

A couple of days after my visit to the bridge and all its newest attractions - the treetops adventure, the cliffwalk - I took the ferry out of Tsawwassen and headed to Duncan. I was invited to crash a grade five field trip, and one does not turn down the chance to be 12 again. A class from Kitsilano had studied First Nations history all year, and wanted to host the Cowichan knitters for tea. We shared Nanaimo bars, of course, and the children showed their sweater designs.

The kids show the Cowichan knitters their designs. Photo: Jennifer Eliuk

A few of the local knitters showed up, and they looked through Priscilla's book. Some had heard of it but not seen it before, one knitter was 15 and it was new to her. 

Priscilla and her editor and friend, Deb Robson, really want to republish this book. Deb has already done a tremendous amount of work to get this done, but we'll need some help to finish it up and make the second edition a reality.

Current status of the reprint:

  • All the text has been converted and given an initial editing, and Priscilla has written new material on designing respectfully within the tradition.
  • The initial design for the interior has been completed in InDesign.
  • All the charts (from the previous edition and the new additions) have been redone in Illustrator for clear, print-quality images - so the new edition will be especially easy to use and refer to.

This is a substantial accomplishment by Deb! 

What needs to happen next:

  • The original photos were all shot on film, and the negatives are all stored together without contact sheets. Contact sheets need to be made to locate the original images used in the book, and scanned digitally for ease of reproduction in today's technology. Cost to do this is approximately $700.
  • It's foreseeable that the 30 year old images may not be high enough quality in some cases to use in a second edition, therefore we plan on taking new pictures to supplement where necessary.
  • Priscilla would like to write a new foreword updating readers about the newest generation of Cowichan knitters and how they're keeping their tradition alive. I hope to interview them to provide some of these details.
  • Once it's complete, we need to get the book to a publisher: arrange for the book's publication, either through another publisher or through an independent effort.

Cost to take new pictures will be low, since I plan on shooting these pictures myself, however it would be great to get some of the travel expenses covered (ferry, hotel in Duncan, etc.). My camera is adequate but not optimal (a much loved Canon 40D), so I may rent a camera for this. 

Although I live in Denver, Colorado now, I'll be spending a couple of months this spring at my parents' house in Bellingham, Washington. It's during this window that I'll travel back to the island for the photos and interviews.

Deb is putting together the details of the budget to get this book completed, and we plan on firing up a fundraising campaign to help. When that's ready I'll publish more information here on my blog, and will get the word out with knitters every way I know how. 

The book is about 70% ready for republishing right now, and we don't need much to get it done. I have no doubt that there are enough knitters interested in having this book available again, in an updated second edition, that we can raise a small amount of funds. The book will be much more accessible to people and will keep these techniques documented.

ClojureBridge Update


The efforts to make ClojureBridge a reality have been in motion for the past few months, and I thought I'd give a general update since we don't have an official blog up yet and have been getting a lot of questions from folks. It's so great to see how many people are genuinely interested and want to contribute.

We've been meeting every other week and things are pretty well organized. There's been really good communication and lots of great ideas being considered thoughtfully. Today's meeting was really productive and things are coming together nicely.

So, without further adieu, here are the most exciting updates:

  • The first workshop will be in Durham, NC, April 4-5
  • The second workshop will be in San Francisco, CA, May 2-3
  • More are already being discussed, and I need to get it together and start planning the Denver workshop
  • We'll be using LightTable for the IDE

Once we have event invitations and can take sign-ups, I'll post links.

Curriculum is still being developed but is in good shape already. If you want to check out what we have so far, please take a look at the repo.

If you haven't yet signed up for our mailing list please visit our site and do so. Thanks!


Favourite Clojure Tutorials

For the past few weeks I've been focusing on learning Clojure, here are the resources I've found most helpful so far:

Lispcast Videos by Eric Normand

These videos are so good in so many ways. Audio/production quality is great, the curriculum is delivered in real English - not CS jargon, and takes you from zero to understanding the basics in a really thought-out way. The videos aren't super long, but with pausing to type, and going back sometimes to review, you end up taking a decent amount of time to work through them. They're not videos you just watch, you're actively coding along with Eric. I love that everything starts in the REPL, then progresses to working in files. If you're new to Clojure, this is where I recommend you start.

Clojure Koans & 4Clojure

Once I had some basics down, I started working through the koans and 4Clojure.  I ended up working through the koans with another TurboVote developer, Troy, which was very helpful. I got so much more out of them than doing them in isolation, and he got practice explaining functional programming concepts. I have a friend that wants to learn Clojure with me, and I think we'll work through these together too.

Pedestal-app Tutorial

In preparation for the training I'll be doing at Clojure/conj in November, I worked through the main Pedestal-app tutorial. It's a little mind-bendy and I'm still trying to grasp some of the new concepts Pedestal has introduced to me (like transform functions, emitters and recording user interactions in a file). The tutorial has handy git diff links for each section, so if you get really stuck you can double-check your code. A head's up that the tutorial hasn't been updated for the latest version of Pedestal, but some of the open issues are helpful to work around this.

Related Pedestal Blog Post  

After I worked about a third of the way through the tutorial above, I found this blog post. It explained Pedestal really well, and I better understood the 'why' behind some of things I'd done working through the tutorial. If you're going to learn Pedestal, this is a great post to reference.

Pairing/Bothering Other People

As great as all the tutorials have been, nothing compares to pairing with someone more experienced you can ask questions of. I've had a harder time looking up syntax I don't understand than I do with Ruby. For example, I found this in a test in one of the APIs we're developing at TurboVote: ?form. Searching for "clojure ?form midje" didn't return anything obvious and I didn't know what this syntax was called (anaphoric macro, duh). So these are the sorts of things I've had to ask another Clojure developer about, and how pairing can really help fill in some gaps.

I'd love to hear what Clojure resources you found most helpful getting started.