Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: May, 2002

Out of Control. (via Metafilter) It’s a sad story–a young prodigy abused by football players–that somehow doesn’t surprise me. If you stick a naive, trusting person (of any age) into a situation where others can take advantage, the worst is probably going to happen. I don’t think the blame could rest on a single person or subset of people, but apparently no one was acting responsibly especially when a minor was concerned.

At Tech, this particular scenario can’t happen. Sure, there’s no shortage of young prodigies that enroll, but there’s no football team (generally, Techers are not good at sports, even if they’re very enthusiastic). But that doesn’t mean that the youngsters are having an easy time either.

On the same year that I matriculated, a 14-year-old also managed to get into my house. He was loud and obnoxious and by default (because no one else wanted to be his roommate) ended up rooming with a transfer who was always in lab. He was nicknamed “Narcoleptic Carl” because he would sleep everywhere and anywhere. One time he fell asleep in the lounge and people decided to prank him by painting his fingernails dark purple.

That was fairly mild. But couple that with a sense of not belonging and alienation plus Tech’s notorious back-breaking courseload and you get one schizoid adolescent. On one of those weekends during second term when his parents came to visit him, he went home with them and never came back.

I sometimes wonder what became of him. He probably took a year off before enrolling in a different, less rigorous school. But one thing is for sure. Not all 14-year-olds are mature enough to go off to college. Rather than risking a young child to the “outside world” (college is in itself isolating, but it’s a lot more worldlier than your mother’s house), parents should wait. Go ahead and let them learn more things (you don’t need some money-grubbing institution to do that), but also let them develop the social skills needed to interact with their peers. Understanding the people around you is more important than getting a degree as early as possible.

The Beginning of the End

The house’s informal senior dinner was held today to wish all the impending graduates good luck. Unfortunately I wasn’t there. I was stuck in class analyzing the apparent randomness that made up Tristram Shandy. (Not that analyzing Tristram Shandy wasn’t fun, mind you, but I could have gotten food in the mean time.)

But afterwards, I got my newspaper-wrapped present all the same, and a card that my friends had signed. The little notes made me smile, and yes, even chuckle. The King of Spoons still thinks I’m crazy. A lot of people hope I keep up with my writing. In fact for my “senior prediction” (which usually are pretty silly) I was to become a world famous science fiction writer with the longest running series ever. As a result, when prefrosh come to Tech and have to fill in one of those interest sheets they’ll have to answer the question: Grendel or Smaug?* Well, I’ll have to get published first!

However, this interest in my writing has actually surprised me. I’m not hiding in the closet about this, but I never really publicized it. Yeah sure, I told some people that I was novel writing, but they didn’t seem interested in it and signed me off as insane. Not very many people (in real life, that is) have read my stories. Even fewer have paid attention to my poetry. I’m not complaining, but I just find this sudden interest a bit odd.

Officially, the last day of classes for seniors is tomorrow. For next week, I still have classes to go to anyway–the professors, I suppose, are trying to toe the line and cram as much stuff as they can down our throats before we’re released.

*Just as Smaug is Tolkien’s monstrous creation for his fantasy work, Grendel is my monstrous creation for a sci-fi serial. No relation to Beowulf though.

Say So Long to Summer: Is More School Better School? I participated in activities during the summer. That’s not school, but at least it kept me active.
The Marrying Kind. Let people do what they want. If gays want to get married, fine. It just annoys me when self-righteous people attempt to force others into conforming to their own little utopian ideal.
Airport Monitor at LAX. Am I going to look this up the next time I go flying? No.
Game of Life. I can just waste hours on this java applet.

Blogger Insider: This week, the questions are brought to you by Bazil from Miscellaneous BS. Great questions. I usually don’t think about these things at all. (Perhaps I take them for granted.)

1. You seem so artistically minded and yet you are studying to be a biologist, which in my mind is far from artistic (I could be wrong…never took much interest in Bio). Please explain your thoughts on this supposed dichotomy.

Biology can be a dizzying heap of facts, figures, and boring lectures–only if you let it. And being artistic is not solely dabbling in paint or composing a magnum opus. I think the key is to ask the right questions. The questions can be creative in themselves and if they’re productive questions, they’ll generate even more questions. That might equal more time in the lab, of course, but it’ll bring into focus more of the “big picture”.

I don’t think there is any conflict with my non-scientific side. In my view, it can only help. What’s the use of all the data you’ve painstakingly gathered when you can’t articulate what it means to others?

2. What do you think of while playing your instruments? Do you go off into a trance, do you focus on the notes themselves?

I’m usually on autopilot. It’s almost like I’m having an out of body experience where I’m just watching myself go through the motions. I don’t really feel anything (unlike other ardent musicians) although I do feel a sense of accomplishment after I finish a piece. While I’m playing, I don’t think of anything at all and let my hands and eyes do the work for me.

3. Do you read other blogs often? What is your favorite?

Yes. The ones which I read with any sort of regularity are found on my links page. I honestly don’t have a favorite because my reading tastes are all over the place anyway.

4. What affects you the most: visual, audio or old factory?

Um, I assume you mean “olfactory”? Well, I’d have to say visual because I ignore smells unless they’re really strong (i.e. rotten eggs, chemicals that should be in a fume hood, excess perfume) and I’m desensitized to noise (last year I lived next to three neighbors who liked loud music–one played Britney Spears in the afternoon, the second played techno at night, and the third played Backstreet Boys really early in the morning–and learned to sleep through it all).

5. Where is your favorite place on earth? Why?

I’m going to cop out on this one by saying I haven’t been to every place on earth to make adequate comparisons.

6. I have really started to enjoy talk radio. Do you listen to the radio, if so, what type of music or talk?

I don’t listen to very much radio now, but I usually liked listening to those weird programs public radio puts out around midnight. I studiously avoid the country and spanish polka channels. As for talk radio, I like listening to foreign channels even if I don’t understand a word of what they’re saying.

7. How do you normally handle someone who is really annoying to you- but that you have to work with/live with/study with?

Even if I’m angry, I’m not a drama queen or confrontational (you could say that I’m a bit of a wimp) because they are not actively hurting me in any way. I act normally and ignore whatever it is that is annoying. Eventually they either go away or I become desensitized to it.

8. Do you consider yourself average, above or below?

Average. Plus hard work and persistance.

9. What made you laugh today?

I don’t laugh that often. But completing the exit interview today made me smile.

10. When is the last time you had a good solid cry?

I don’t cry that often either. I think it may have been a month or two ago about my lack of social life.

The Tuesday Too:

1. What’s the best thing you did over the holiday weekend?

Sleeping. (It’s the best thing I do every weekend, but who’s counting?)

2. Who would you want to spend the afternoon/evening with getting the answers to all your questions? What do you really want to know from this person/animal?

One of those paper pushers working in administration. I want to know what it is that they do all day besides sitting at the computer and playing solitare.

3. Why do you think “there must be more to life than having everything“?

Having a bloated material life does not mean that one is happy. I’m personally not sure what the goal of life is–I’m still groping around for a coherent meaning–but I have a vague notion that it should be doing something that you find fulfilling and nurturing productive relationships. Yes, and happiness factors into there somewhere.

I may be losing my taste for milk, but I still like cheese. It’s like eating rubber. But after that initial bite, it loses its smoothness and begins to stick to the crown of your teeth. There’s a pungent and salty aroma that first assaults the nose and then the tongue. Sure there are different types of cheese. There’s the soft melts-in-your-mouth cheese that trickles down the gullet like an invading slime mold after it dissolves on the tongue. Then there’s the harder cheese that tries to masquerade as licorice. Some flake off like a piece of shedding talc. Others are gooey, dripping off the roof of the mouth, attempting to form stalactites.

Once, I imagined myself as a piece of cheese–one of those large cylindrical wheels you see in cartoons–bright orange and full of holes. I had managed to escape from a cheese shop from France and was rolling down the cobblestone paths of some quaint little village, stopping for no one–not mice, not men. I skittered across the Alps and rumbled down through dusty Spanish roads, occasionally jouncing from obstructive pebbles and stones. And finally I would tumble into the Atlantic Ocean, only to sink to the bottom. And for the rest of my existence I would be a moldy sponge with sea life darting merrily to and fro from my holes.

All cheese is fun. Except blue cheese. Especially the blue cheese they put in salad dressings. It looks like somebody hacked up some congealed spittle into a cup of ranch and then dumped in a tablespoon full of dye to make it look interesting.

Other stuff:
Why Won’t We Read the Manual? I almost always read the manual. I found out that if I asked anyone how something worked, they would look at me funny and refuse to tell me. But that doesn’t stop people from asking me how something works.
Fluxus Research: Opening and Closing Doors and Drawers. Once again, another example of the web being the meeting place of the bizarre and banal.
The Ginger People. Sure. Anthropomorphic ginger. Tell me when I wake up.

This morning, I filled out a survey on racial discrimination.

I felt bad answering that I haven’t experienced any racial discrimination. Either I’m too sheltered and naive or I’ve been living in the wrong places. Or possibly I’ve been too dense to notice anyone who could have possibly been calling me names. Or maybe my personal definition of racial discrimination is different. Sure, I’ve experienced racial stereotyping, but that isn’t the same thing as discrimination.

Primarily, the survey was geared towards how other ethnic groups were treated by white people. Of course, there’s a problem, but a kazillion surveys won’t be able to alleviate it. To solve part of it, the majority group would have to make an effort at understanding. The other part would also have to come from the ethnic groups themselves. I cannot speak for the Hispanics or the blacks or the Indians or even most Asians (although the principle should be the same since they are also human beings) but the minority groups should also make a go at open-mindedness. This cannot happen if they stick to their own elitist associations and fail to interact with anyone who is different from them.

I also think that if people stopped being such busybodies and telling (or forcing) people what to believe and who to associate with, the world will be a much better place. But hey, nobody will listen to my advice. At least people will continue to tell me what to do with impunity even if I turn around and completely ignore them.

But on the whole, perhaps I was the wrong person to take the survey. My general feelings on the subject are wishy-washy at best. I’m not the hypersensitive person who blows my head every time someone supposedly maligns me. (I can get angry at stereotyping, but that’s a generalization about who I might be, not an obstacle in preventing me from going someplace.) I can probably relate to sexual discrimination better, but that’s another can of worms.

Those silly memes:
Voting for Sexiest Male Blogger. This is so wrong. (Yeah, I’m a prude. So sue me.)
guimp: world’ smallest website. I’m sorry. I just don’t get this one.
Falling Coconuts Kill More People Than Shark Attacks. So where did you get those statistics again?

Was I born at the wrong time?

I’m a klutz at technological gagetry (even though I secretly covet them). I can barely operate powerpoint or photoshop (for one thing, they’re not on my clunker of a computer for me to practice on). I can’t tell heads or tails of a digital camera, and please don’t ask me to operate a DVD player. Most likely, I might make it catch on fire before I figure out which button is “play”.

There’s more of an affinity with something mechanical, something that I can actually put my hands on. It’s more visceral, gut-feeling. Maybe it’s more of a feeling of control. With push-button technology, you just press something and something else will do the work. If it doesn’t turn out the way you want it, then it’s just too bad.

A new gallery is up. They’re mostly pictures of interesting buildings around Tech. Yes, and I took them with my old non-digital camera.
The Fairytale Archive (my fairy tale site) is currently down. I’m doing some redesigning and moving it elsewhere. It’ll probably be back up in a month or so.

I feel like an uncivilized person because I don’t like formal dinners.

Today was senior dinner. A formal dinner. With those little hors d’oeuvres decorated like miniature pieces of art. We waited around for forty-five minutes before getting seated, and even then, it was about half an hour before the first course was served. In the meantime, the waiters kept pouring champagne into our fluted glasses while the guy in charge of student meal services kept giving a lecture on the different types of wine we would be tasting.

They probably kept serving us wine while we were waiting for the food to get us drunk and to keep us from noticing that there was no food. Yes, no food. The portions of each course was a tiny smidgen on a large plate. A mouthful of lobster puree was served in a large tea cup. A finger of sea bass drowned in bright pink beet sauce was served on an oversized saucer. Half a handful of mashed potato with a single scallop on top. I’m sure the chefs were trying to be artistic, but I was hungry and had no patience, so as a result everyone at my table and I left after the fourth course.

But instead of moping around, I went to Airband–Lloyd House’s annual lip-synching contest. Cross-dressing and hilarity ensued. The seniors, most of them drunk from the formal dinner, lurched around on stage doing an imitation of “YMCA”. Apparently, I was the only senior left actually lip-synching anything. The rest of them collapsed into a giggly pile of wriggling arms and legs.

At least I got pizza afterwards.

Health experts question water rule. I’ve always thought the eight-by-eight rule was a little excessive. I probably drink about half that much every day and still get by.
Evolution of supercats. Sounds more like a learned response. Cats aren’t bright enough to do their own selective breeding. If you compared their brain size to their body size against other mammals, they come up short.
Shower Shock Caffeinated Soap. But caffeine gives me a headache anyway.

I checked up on the maze, intending to take a couple of pictures for posterity. It’s not there any more. Building and grounds probably killed it. My roommate is going to be really mad when she finds out about this (she was intending to recycle the materials for her dad’s garden–building materials for mazes cost a lot).

Ditch Day 2002

Some seniors argued that we should have really put Ditch Day tomorrow (i.e. Thursday) due to the intense media hype and general lack of secrecy of the date of Ditch Day due to PR’s desire to “milk it for what it’s worth.” What started as rebelliousness, intellectualism, and just plain fun has been reduced to a simple cash cow. If only PR had been a little less crass and a little more discrete. Jay Leno could have toured through a genuine chaotic day at Tech and not through a crowd filled with camera huggers.

But this is no longer the honest fun of yore. Stacks are submitted in a contest to see which one is the best. Seniors no longer ditch when Ditch Day arrives. Some hang around to see how their “baby” is doing. Others want to make sure the stackees are doing the right thing. Obviously, they’ve never heard of a phone. I stayed on campus five past eight hanging up the last minute clues and only breathed a sigh of relief when I stepped off campus. Obviously, they’ve also never heard of the tradition that any senior found wandering around on campus past 8 AM was to be duct-taped to a tree for the rest of the day.

Perhaps I should say a few words about my own stack (after all, I spent a few sleepless nights working on it). It was titled Rasputin and in summary: the investigation of a detective’s mysterious death and the prevention of Rasputin’s spirit from taking over the world. The stack was cheesy, silly, and sometimes a bit disturbing. The stackees mentioned that the weirdness had my fingerprints all over it. The mastermind, they declared me. I don’t think so. My partners and I had talked over the plotline, sometimes nearing shouting levels–clearly a democratic process.

Our stack did not come out as anticipated either. Instead of using a stash of aluminum bats to crack open a pinata that we had made in a shape of a corpse, the stackees used the bats to terrorize other stackees. They ended up showing Leno some “bat tricks”. But mainly we were the type of stackers who gave stackees free reign (within limits).

We also had a maze built on the southern part of Beckman Auditorium. Little kids apparently loved it. The stackees used it as a watergun tag obstacle course. We’re leaving it up until a week before graduation. Yes, bring your kiddies too. Maybe they’ll also have a blast.

I am so very tired.