Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: April, 2002

The written word is nowhere near as concentrated and potent as those sparingly used in poetry.

I’ve been rather remiss in remarking that this month, April, is National Poetry Month. I’m not sure why they have months to commemorate things. Whatever the month is dedicated for, whether it’s poetry, African Americans, or pancakes, these things should be acknowledged the rest of the year.

Anyway, in celebration of my belatedness, I tried my hand at some drivel.

Some poets:
William Shakespeare: You know it’s required reading, and yeah, the iambs might start your head spinning for hours, but the bard’s words strike something fundamental about us.
William Carlos Williams: He made poem distillation an art.
Hayden Carruth: Plain-spoken and honest, he’s a personal favorite.
W. S. Merwin: There’s something about his abrupt and active style that I can identify with. I once attended one of his readings at The Getty. He sounds like a narrator for a documentary.

And yes, I generally like modern poets. They don’t have to restrict themselves to archaic conventions to express their emotions and ideas.

This week’s Tuesday Too:

1. Tell us about your most frustrating experience in dealing with the government, or some kind of authority and red tape.

Usually the checks for anyone working in the biology department are distributed at the main office. So when I went to look for my first check, that was logically the first place I went. My check wasn’t there.

I asked one of those secretary ladies if they had any idea where my check would have gone so they looked up a list of people, put in a phone call, and told me to go to another secretary lady.

It turned out that I spent the rest of the afternoon running from one secretary lady to another–some who didn’t know what was going on and some who were out to get revenge on another secretary lady by sending the problem (me) to her.

Let me tell you, I don’t like being used as a tool for petty vendettas.

2. Tell us your crazy kitty or, crazy dog, or crazy whatever story.

Once upon a time, there lived a cat named Bathtub who never got bigger than kitten-size. She was nicknamed Psycho Cat because she terrorized everyone (her owner was just as crazy as the cat so no one dared complain to her about the problem). The tiny calico prowled the hallways picking fights with the other cats who were bigger than she (they all ran away when they realized there was no hope of pacifying the creature) and stealing other cats’ food.

She consistently used somebody’s bookbag as a litter box and liked climbing up into people’s lofts to mess up their beds. One time she crawled under our couch and didn’t come out until my roommate dangled her sandal as a treat.

This was back in the time when there were more of the drinking crowd hanging around. No doubt, the cat probably had gotten hold of a bottle of vodka or rum some time or other.

3. You’ve decided to buy a vanity license plate for your car. What does it say? If it’s not obvious, what does it mean to you?


I like using my noodle. I like eating noodles too.

A Non-Dreamer

I missed dinner to finish a short story and what do I get as a reward?

“I don’t like dream sequences in stories. They don’t belong there.”

Those dream sequences were actually thought out. I placed them there delibrately. So okay, the prof thought my story was incomprehensible, but that doesn’t mean dream sequences are bad. It had some pretty heavy metaphors and symbolism (and I had thought that maybe I had overdone them) but still it was thought of as “mysterious”.

Basically I failed at my attempt at “realism”–I mean how many ways can you write about the grass growing on your lawn at exactly 5 PM on August 21st? How many ways can you “realistically” write about someone dying on a hospital bed or walk to school or ride a bike without going into the character’s mind?

Maybe by delving into a character’s psyche through dreaming, I’ve completely lost my audience. I’ve become too esoteric for my own good.

So You’ve Decided To Be Evil. Ever wished to be a cartoon villain? Well now you can! With this handy-dandy evilness generator, you’ll have your minions running the planet in no time at all!
The Pocket Project. A rip-off of The Mirror Project in still life style. Does it count if I make a pocket to contain something I wanted to photograph badly?


I’m not afraid of heights, but I’m afraid of falling. This must have started back when my sister and I had bunk beds. I took the top bunk until one night I dreamed of falling. In fact, I did fall. I woke up when I hit the floor.

Falling is deeply intertwined with height though. When I’m climbing something, I clutch at the railing in a death grip. Once the fear seized me so thoroughly while I was visiting Casa Loma that I practically crawled up inch by agonizing inch the flimsy spiralling staircase that led up to the highest tower while the people behind me were impatiently edging me on.

I still feel uneasy climbing up and down things that don’t look too stable. On campus in one of the astronomy buildings, there’s the Pit. It was originally dug up for a telescope, but when the hole was finished, people realized that it was more efficient to build one above ground. Now there’s just the empty Pit, a four to five story deep hole that is completely empty and useless except for daredevil students. There’s one rickety elevator that goes down, but it only holds one person; thus everyone climbs the thin rusty ladder that runs on one side of the Pit.

In a fit of bravado, I went with a bunch of guys to explore the Pit (the girls chickened out). The climb down, to me, seemed infinite. I dared not look down. I constantly worried that my hands would give out and I would fall to my doom.

But I eventually made it, and all I found was dust, an ancient worktable, and a barely functioning Atari. Even below this, was a crossbase–the lowest point on campus. I crawled into that musty hole-in-a-hole and scratched out my name, immortalizing myself with the numerous other Techers that had made it down.

I’m not quite sure if all that effort was worth it.

More links:
The Life Cycle of Your Weblog. So does this work for me? I hesitate to name drop now.
Loop. Arg! I’m blinded!
Whatsbetter?com. Some mindless decision making. My favorite way of wasting time.
Google Smackdown. It’s not very original but amusing, nonetheless.
What emotion are you? I’m neutral. Not surprising–I don’t get angry, sad, or excited very often. Maybe I’m a robot. Or maybe I’m just saving up all my emotion for something worthwhile.

A couple months ago, I submitted this site to be critiqued on The Weblog Review. Apparently they’re currently being swamped by reviewees and are requesting brave souls to become reviewers. I don’t think I’d be able to do it–it’s one thing to read someone’s blog, but another to put into words how you feel about it.

So I found it interesting to read the review of syaffolee today. I was pleasantly surprised that the reviewer rated the site a 4.5; I was expecting perhaps a rather short blurb and a nearly-passing grade due to the unpredictable nature of having random reviewers do various sites.

At any rate, I was a bit curious and took a look at the reviewer’s homepage. Pretty interesting. I think my Dad would do something similar to this if he was interested at all in blogging.

Random linkage:
A Kitten Band. Another gratuitous cat link.
What High School Stereotype Are You? It says that I’m a blonde. This test is just wrong. I am a geek and a loner. And definitely not blonde.
The Next Generation: Biotechnology May Make Superhero Fantasy a Reality. I’m usually an optimistic person–I mean why be surprised that humanity is on the verge of changing? I have no doubt that man will evolve due to his own hand rather than the enviornment around him. Now if people were working just as hard on advancing the space program…
Think of the Domo-kuns. What is it about furry blobs with big teeth that make them irresistable?

A Bad Egg

I was attempting to hypnotize myself with a psychophysics experiment when one of the girls in the computer lab destroyed my concentration with, “I hate 80% of the people here at Tech!”

At the time, I had been studiously ignoring the low key conversation in the background that had something to do with most Techer’s naivety towards the revered honor code. Apparently what ticked off this girl was something about Techer behavior. She asserted that most Techers were inconsiderate.

All I have to say is that in her view, I probably fall into that 80% that she was talking about. I only mildly know her as some other guy’s girlfriend. I’ve never had the opportunity to talk to her–she’s like one of those people you ocassionally see but never really meet. The only close encounter I had with her was when I was cooking and I happened to be using tuna fish that day. She didn’t talk to me directly–she talked about me to her boyfriend in front of me.

Yes, she’s the tuna-fish hater.

Who Was Responsible For Elizabeth Shin? I’m appalled yet not very surprised. I think something went wrong on both sides regardless. The administration was not as active as it could have been and the parents seemed oblivious (possibly delibrately) of their daughter’s deterioration. It’s not a very good sign when the article also states that their other daughter is involved in a kazillion activities. Overachievement and perfectionism can be bad things; I’ve seen this make students neurotic even in elementary school.

Could there be any way to prevent this from happening again? I’m not so sure a crack down on mental health services would do very much good. After the alcohol-related death at MIT, there was a visible tightening down of the alcohol policy at Caltech. Students complained that the administration was doing it to prevent itself from being sued rather than really caring about student welfare. After all, this has only served to drive drinking underground. In the same vein, wouldn’t this extra emphasis on health care drive the really needy people underground too? Then we’ll never know until it’s too late.

I can say that in recent memory, there hasn’t been any suicides in the undergraduate community at Tech even though everyone complains that the course load is suicidal. People have said that Tech is a much better environment for grad students than undergrads, but the ironic thing is, the last suicide at Tech was a grad student.

Big HIV Problem Hits Small S.D. College Town (via Yald) One person knowingly spread HIV to possibly over 10% of the college population. Bioterrorism at its worst–because it’s much more personal than a bomb.

Scientist Reveals Genome Secret: It’s Him. I find this a bit eerie. Now people know they have access to his genetic blueprint. Venter may have done this for his own ego (and it is morbidly amusing that he may want his body preserved in the Smithsonian), but I’m afraid to think what might happen to him if an even more unscrupulous person got their hands on the information. Maybe I’ve been reading too many apocalyptic science fiction stories.

Friday, April 26, 2002

Man is a hive. A nest. Men are ants so intent on their own tasks and too specialized to handle anything else. That was how I felt when in a fit of desperation I ran into the library wailing, “Help! Does anyone know how to compile?”

Of course, it was a stupid question. The people in the room gave me hard, condescending looks. “What do you want compiled? What program? Where’s the code? What language is it in?”

My answer to all of this, “I don’t know!”

My own ignorance and cluelessness eventually ejected me from the room of too-busy-for-you computer science people who probably knew more programming languages than a multi-linguist translator working for the UN. Despite this dejection, though, I eventually tracked down others who were willing to answer my stupid questions.

Yes, I go to Tech. And yes, a major option here is to take computer science. But that’s not my interest, and I never took any related classes even for the curiousity factor. I’m just not one of those people who think staring at code on the computer screen is fun. But lately (as in since last night) I’ve been thinking that it may be prudent to learn some programming.

I don’t want to be the little ant who gets squashed because all she ever learned was to guard the anthill.

“Book of the Week” (i.e. a book I finished today): Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe. Just a few remarks since I’m sure everyone else has read this in high school. Not surprisingly this book is probably different from the numerous movies out there that make this out to be a period romance. In brief, it’s a economical “memoir” of a woman who got married five times (once with her brother), had a couple of affairs, and became a thief before being deported to America. It’s very cut and dried, but you’ve got to forgive Defoe since back in his day he was treading the cutting edge of a new literary form.

Other stuff:
The Mini-Mizer. Make a lego clone of yourself.
Prime Number Pooping Bear. I know some teachers who would have a heart attack if they saw this.
The Campus Squirrel Listing. I’m not surprised Tech ranked so low. As for a Campus Cat Listing, it’ll be another story.

Note: Blogger is acting up so I’m posting this manually. So until Blogger is feeling better, there won’t be any commenting thingy for this post. But you can still comment. Just use the one below.

[originally posted by S. Y. Affolee on 11:00 PM]

I am currently attempting to compile and run software. I have no idea how to do this since I’m not a computer science major. This will probably take me the better part of the night on how to figure this out.

More later.

In this round of Blogger Insider, I got paired up with Kacy from She’s Not. You can also see her answers to my questions here.

1. You write that you took a health advocate class, but were annoyed by people who got hurt by their own stupidity. Do you often find yourself annoyed by people who seem less intelligent than you?

I’d like to say that I’m tolerant, but yeah, I get impatient with people who ignore common sense. I don’t really think that anyone is less intelligent than me–after all, how hard is it to grasp the consequences of downing too much beer (or smoking pot, or jumping off a three-story building)? They probably have personal problems or illusions of grandeur that I cannot even begin to comprehend.

2. What is the strangest book you’ve ever read?

Strange doesn’t surprise me. I grew up on fairy tales and all sorts of speculative fiction so I’ve actually come to expect something odd and out of the ordinary. So what’s strange for me is the ordinary. I think it was around sixth grade when I picked up a young adult novel called “Kite” (possibly by somebody named Murray). It was hardback and the cover jacket had a painted night sky. The summary told me very little. It turned out to be one of those angsty teenaged coming of age novels, which at the time surprised me because I had thought who the heck would want to write about ordinary things?

Well, after observing the borrowing habits of patrons during a stint at the local library, I’ve concluded that lots of people like reading ordinary things. Just not me though. Nowadays, that stuff bores me to tears.

3. Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

Definitely working in some scientific field. Maybe in academia, but more likely in industry. And probably writing on the side. Other people suggested that I should become a technical writer, a popular science writer, or even an editor for a scientific journal. Actually, at this point in my “career” I don’t want to look too far ahead. I just want to survive grad school first.

4. If you only had six months to live (you would be relatively mobile and pain-free), what things would you want to accomplish before you died?

I’m going to be selfish. I would travel. And write like a maniac.

The first thing I’d do would be to type up all the scribbling dreck I’ve accumulated throughout the years and send it off to all the publishing houses. In the mean time, I’d hop on the train (I’d buy tickets to all of them–from Canada to Asia to Europe). At each stop, I’d sightsee like a stupid tourist and talk to random strangers. And while I’m traveling, I’d write and send the stuff off every time I got to a post office.

And the unselfish thing? I’d tell everyone I love them, even if some of them don’t deserve it.

5. What do you regret?

I’m too young at this point to have any regrets.

6. In your opinion, what is the worst feeling in the world?

The stuffy yet tickling sensation that starts in my chest and travels up my throat to my sinuses to end up behind my eyes and nose. And then I realize that my eyes are wet. I feel sad and depressed. Essentially one of those mini-emotional-breakdowns. I don’t dwell on these too long though because I soon remember that I’m a lot luckier than most people.

7. Cats or Dogs?

Cats. I don’t have one, but I’d like to own one someday. If cats came in lavender, had wings, and were telepathic I’d be even happier.

8. If you found a magic lamp with a genie inside, what three wishes would you make?

There once was an old lady in a pink jumpsuit who claimed to be a genie and I told her my three wishes. They would still be basically the same–with some modifications:

1) Since it’s impossible for the wedding people to vanish from campus, at least make them request something different for their receptions, like a random Mozart quartet. Just please don’t play anything from the 1950s and onwards.

2) Since crazy drivers can’t simply vanish, make them all drive bright pink neon cars so we know who to avoid.

3) Since a blizzard would be impossible in Southern California, make up some random federal holidays so we could get out of school.

9. If you could change one thing about yourself (physical, mental, or emotional), what would that be and why?

I’d give myself a sense of style so I don’t look like a train wreck every morning.

10. What is the most interesting or fun city you’ve been to? What made it so great?

It would have to be a tie between Hong Kong and a little village at the base of the Alps in France (unfortunately I don’t remember its name). Hong Kong is great because they’ve managed to cram everything in as little space as possible. I usually don’t like shopping, but if every store were like the ones there, I would be a quick convert. Everything is simply alive and some of the more fascinating venues appear in the evening.

The village in France was a peculiar mix of modern tourist and quaint provincialism. The most memorable thing about it was its spooky church. The door was open and I just walked in. It was dark and empty, except for a few burning candles, and it opened into a small court that was actually a graveyard.