Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: June, 2002

Canada Day

I should get today off. But no such luck. (My birthday is also on another Canadian holiday but I don’t get that day off either.) By virtue of birthplace and parental circumstances, I am Canadian. Bet you didn’t know that. But don’t despair, most people don’t and can’t tell. I am one of those unique animals called a culturally Americanized Canadian. I’m as Canadian as Peter Jennings, Shania Twain, Kevin Bacon, and (gasp!) even William Shatner.

I even used Americanized spellings. (Oh, the horror!)

Wanted in Manitoba: mosquito-eating bats. What they really need is an electrified bug zapper doo-dad.
Toronto worries trash will hurt tourism. Not only tourism but public health. Society today places so much emphasis on white-collared workers and elitist occupations requiring higher education (and I admit that I am guilty of giving into this emphasis), but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the underdog is just as important. The garbagemen, the plumbers, the construction workers–where would our take-it-for-granted and convenient society be without the foundation?
Made in Canada. Like beer cases with tuck-in handles. I don’t even like beer.
Blogback. The little copyright icon at the bottom of the Blogback comments have been replaced with a maple leaf. Whee!

A Certain Kind of Authority Problem

I value my personal space. There’s approximately a three foot radius around me that I consider sacred ground. If anyone steps into this circle suddenly and without permission, my awareness is heightened and I slightly recoil. If they could read my mind, my intentions would be hostile.

On the outside, you wouldn’t see anything different. I’d be smiling and saying, “Hi! How are you?” Privately I’d be thinking, What do you want? Move back or go away! Perhaps it’s hormones, but it would be juvenile to blame it on PMS (which I’ve never had) when the real problem is with myself.

I’m a loner. Oh, all sorts of things may have contributed to this quirk, undesirable in a society that prides itself on cooperation and co-mingling: being picked last for the recess soccer game, sitting alone at the lunch table, choosing to read instead of playing bridge with my fellow geeks. These things could have been consciously remedied, but I’ve always had this fear that if I imposed myself on people, they would expect something in return.

But this fear is stupid and useless. Even if I haven’t imposed on anyone, they expect something of me anyway. It’s the authority problem. If someone wants me to do something, fine I’ll do it, but just leave me alone while I’m doing it. I like my little illusions that I’m doing it because I want to. The illusion is shattered if some taskmaster stands over me, breathing down my neck and shrieking, “No! Not that way!”

* * *

Textbook Publishers Learn to Avoid Messing With Texas. Politics and education shouldn’t mix. Next thing you’ll know, the teachers will be telling third graders that Mickey Mouse was the first governor of California, Davy Crockett invented the telephone, and 2 + 2 = 5.

UK Chile-Head. A few years ago, Mom decided to plant some chile. They grew so abundantly that we had to start giving them away. Then people started complaining that they were too hot.

Periodical Cicada Page. They came for my high school graduation. Hundreds of thousands of them–they swarmed the trees, the bushes, the sidewalks. I imagined that they had come out of their larval stage just to see and hear me speak. But that little bit of egoism only lasted about a minute. These cicadas were the insect world’s equivalent of loud obnoxious frat boys trying to pick up drunk sorority girls. Their sexual frenzy was a constant buzz permeating the day. Instead of the solemn procession expected through Pomp and Circumstance, there were girly shrieks when certain cicadas (the ones that were too adventurous) were trampled under spiky heels. And when I got up to the podium, one cicada got up too to perch directly on the microphone. Buzzzz buzzz buzz The idiot was trying to do his best impression of Right Said Fred during a graduation ceremony. So much for my speech about cheese.

While I was waiting for the light to change to “walk”, I saw a group of people holding signs in front of a pizzeria. It was some sort of protest half a block away. I didn’t get a chance to see what was on the signs. Were they protesting working conditions? Or is that place unsanitary?

Schools conspire against boys: educator. Bull. Girls can be just as disruptive and lazy when it comes to school work as boys. Only they’re more subtle. It just depends on the teacher who can be as prejudiced as anyone else. If they favor boys over girls, then they ignore the rough-housing but get angry at the note passing and gossiping. If they favor girls over boys, then more boys will get detention slips. Take for instance my undergraduate career. Less than a third of the student population was female, and even if particular events welcomed participating females, it was primarily male-oriented anyway. This was balanced out by the femi-nazi resident director who, well, gave boys hell for complaining. The situation can be easily manipulated depending on view point.

Peculiar Type #1 – Seigfried and the Latte

The beige plastic cup with green speckles steamed, impatiently cooling off. Drink me! It screamed like an Alice wonder-size pill. He paid no attention to the huffy, self-important latte. He fliped through today’s classifieds, unaware of the cheap ink staining his fingers.

Yard sales. Ah. He leaned forward slightly, dark brown bangs falling across his high forehead. Yard sales were fascinating. There might be a used lawnmower on sale (his wife was forever complaining about the rampant grass on the front yard) or an antique typewriter that made that characteristic ping! on cartridge returns. Two months ago, he found a handful of Victorian postcards for five cents and pair of dodecahedron speakers marked at ten bucks, which on Ebay collectively garnered at least a thousand.

A tiny wren hopped near his brown loafers searching for crumbs. He shifted his feet suddenly and the bird flew up, alarmed, and nearly upset the haughty coffee cup. The liquid sloshed up the sides and more steam rose into the air. How dare you, you stupid bird!

“Cheet cheet cheet!” the wren laughed and flew off to better hunting grounds.

The latte raged and for a moment, the wind favored its wrath, bringing the aroma to his nose. He flipped another page and his finger ran down a column, stopping at a category heading. Flea markets!

Ignored, the latte could only continue fuming.

* * *

A brief explanation of Peculiar Type: I’m thinking of doing character sketches based on actual people and the objects around them. Ever wonder about that scruffy guy sitting on the bench feeding pigeons? Or the girl in the sundress walking her dog? I do. I wonder. All the time.

Other links:
Eccentric people more extreme as they age. I’m already fairly paranoid. In one of those personality disorder tests I took a few months back, I scored pretty high for being schizoid.
View the Wall. You can now view all the names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial online. Monsters galore.
Selected interesting notebook pages. Unfortunately, when I get bored in class, I don’t doodle. I fall asleep. My (former) roommate doodled all the time, but they were only one of two things: dragons or horses.

How do I feel? Like water spiralling down the sink drain.

The problem with working with a bunch of workaholics is that I feel bad if I don’t put in as many hours as they do. And then when I come back home ready to hit the sack and just skip dinner entirely, everyone else is jumping up and down and being hyperactive because they didn’t have anything to do all day.

Summer holiday. Summer work. Completely unfair.

Other news:
Did adoption lawyer really work 44 hours in one day? The answer looks cut and dry to me. Unethical overbilling, plain and simple.
Lawmakers blast Pledge ruling. I agree that the “under God” bit is a religious blip that should be cut out–in fact, it shouldn’t have been added in the first place. After all, not all Americans are Christians, monotheists, or religious, but come on, this is the sort of thing that most people don’t think about because in the larger scheme of things, this is not important. Only the obsessive-compulsive nit-pickers find all this wordage fascinating. Me? I’m more interested in the life or death stuff.
Star Trek: Nemesis Trailer. When I was in grade school, I watched all of the ST:NG episodes and most of the original series when they came on as reruns. My Dad was the one who hooked me onto the serial–but in reality, I was a closet fan because no one else I knew admitted liking it. My favorite episodes were the ones with Roxanna Troi and/or Q because they provided so much comic relief. (As for the other series? I never got into DS9; the characters were very mechanical. Voyager went downhill after they got that Borg babe 7 of 9. And Enterprise? Just a plain bad idea.)

Domesticated? Nah.

I am not jealous of housewives, or even professional housewives (like Martha Stewart), because that would imply that I view them as rivals or peers. But I am envious–especially since they possess skills that I will probably never master due to lack of time, lack of motivation, and smart-alecky eye-rolling.

The first time that it dawned on me that a generally accepted girl’s role was practicing the domestic arts was when I was five or six years old. A ten year old cousin, second removed I think, sent a small colorful scarf that she had knitted. I used it to keep my stuffed raccoon warm. But something nagged me. Why couldn’t I make something like this? I vaguely remember throwing a protracted fit which did nothing to advance my non-existent knitting talents. Afterwards, I just gave up (I tried it once or twice, but it was so mind-numbingly tedious I decided squishing bugs in the backyard was much more fun).

I’m not a complete bumpkin. I can make the bed and vacuum the floor. I’d rather wash the dishes by hand than stick them in the dishwasher (machines tend to leave residue). I can turn on the oven without setting the house on fire (unlike a previous roommate). However, it is the tiny labor-intensive-over-a-long-period-of-time things that are out of my reach. Cross-stitch? I’d rather admire the multitude colors the threads come in than making myself bleed with a needle. Sew? No. Maybe put a button back on a shirt, but that’s about it.

The skill (or lack thereof) most lamented is cooking. Cooking, derived from fire, was what made man civilized. People who don’t know how to boil water and yet go to fancy restaurants aren’t really civilized. They’re leeches–nothing but helpless and dependent. I am not far off from this low lifeform. I can only zap things in the microwave and make pasta. A few times, I managed to make edible creations without the aid of recipes (ironically, I don’t use recipes unless it’s in the lab) but that was probably due more to sheer luck than anything else.

If there was a genie who only granted selfish wishes, I would wish to be a great chef. I want to cook a roast that’s not dry or burnt. I want to make fancy cakes that taste like heaven. I want to know how to make a delectable dish out of anything. Is this too much to ask?

Vischeck. So, what does your site look like to a color-blind person? I got this link via 30 days to a more accessible weblog.

Here’s the Tuesday Too:

1. When was the last time your pet gave you a scare? What happened? If you’re not a “pet person”, how come?

I currently do not have a pet due to the place where I’m living and my schedule.

2. How do you think the things that you think, in other words what do you think consciousness is?

I took a class on consciousness once. Actually it was on the neuronal basis of visual consciousness, i.e. visual perception so I got to read lots of papers and textbooks on the subject. Most of it was about neurophysiological experiments and such–not very much philosophy unless you count the prof going off about zombie systems and seizures.

In rough terms, consciousness can be defined as being aware. Sure, you can pick up a book from a desk. Anyone or anything could do that. Humans have the unique ability to be aware that they are picking up the book. But this is an oversimplification. No one knows how the brain cells fire in order for this to come about. If there is an “outside agent” (a “soul” as some people would argue) that provides consciousness, it has yet to be proven.

The mystery of consciousness will probably not be solved in our lifetime. The philosophers and religious fanatics can rant all they want, but actual progress will only be acheived by the scientists who stick subjects in MRIs and prod their brains with electrodes.

3. Taking off from last Tuesday’s question # 3, check this out: Women’s Treaty, and do something about it. If you don’t live in the United States, check out the position of your country on the treaty. Thanks to Elaine for her post on the treaty.

Interesting. I’ll have to take some time out to read it.

Trimming the Grapevine

I’ve been warned, not so subtly, that a man with the name of an angel has a devil of a reputation. So what do I say? “Yes, yes, whatever you say. Okay.” I pretend to be agreeable.

What is gossip and rumor but unsubstantiated opinion? I refuse to be swayed by whisperings in the air. I will not form any opinion (good or bad) about someone I had no idea existed until someone else mentioned him or her. Of course, if all I hear about the person is bad, I will be cautious. What does he say? What does his body language show? Does he frown and glare, or does he smile? (Or more important, is he insincere while he smiles?) And if all I hear is good, I will still be cautious. I’ve met more than one charming person who’ve lied through their teeth.

Reputation is a tenacious dog. Were certain reputations won by accident or deliberation? Once gained, a particular reputation is hard to shake off. I don’t judge people unless I’ve met them face to face, but that doesn’t mean that others follow my reasoning. And what of my own reputation? I would be lying if I said I didn’t care about what others are saying about me behind my back. However, I would rather remain blissfully ignorant.

Cat spat turns offcolor. This story reminds me of Ender’s Game, particularly Ender’s brother Peter who liked torturing small animals.

What your computer says about you. Although I keep desktop items at a minimum and everything is filed away (relatively) neatly, I despise default settings. My desktop icons are stylized geometric shapes. My color scheme is light green. The wallpapers I use are usually from Digital Blasphemy or covers of fantasy novels (currently it is this picture). My screensaver of choice is Ephemera V1.2. I have nothing on my monitor (no stuffed toys, no post-it notes, no stickers, no velcroed voodoo dolls) and very little beside the computer itself (a planter with a “plants & planters sold separately” sticker holding some pens, a handful of CDs, some reference books, and my alarm clock). My mousepad is a faded square with the Rockwell Software logo. My Dad got it for free at some computer convention six to eight years ago. So what do I think this says about me? I’m minimalist, I’m frugal, and I like pretty eye-candy.

Possessive Control Freak

Actually I’m not that bad. I’m just glad I now have my computer plugged back in. Working on other computers for a week is like switching from a PC to a Mac. I don’t know where anything is, navigation is wonky, people have installed weird programs on it, and none of my programs are on it. I have my bookmarks back (whew!) which includes my ever growing list of reads not included on my links page and a bunch of other random sites that interests no one except me.

So why have I waited a whole week just to plug my computer back in? I had to wait for the previous occupant of my current room to move out. Now, do I not only have to live out of a suitcase any more, I have an entire room meant for two people to myself. Of course, there’s the downside–the smell. Don’t let those quacky pheromone studies fool you, sweaty guy odor is not pleasant. (Problem solved: air out the room with open door, windows, incense, scented candles, air fresheners.)

I can also listen to my music instead. No more geeky video game music (plus commentary about hit points and special powers and leets–whatever the hell those are). Elvis? Sting? The Carmina Burana? Raunchy Broadway tunes? No problem! Now I can play those as loud as I want.

Other things:
Moving Target by Elizabeth Lowell. Initially I picked up the book because like The Club Dumas, it looked like a mystery about antique books. However, it was a bit different–the protagonist was ignorant of books and simply inherited an illuminated manuscript from her grandmother who was murdered. The only other interesting thing about Moving Target was the dedication page which was for the webmaster for her site and all the fans (including my sister) who frequent her messageboard. Otherwise, I’d say the three stars on Amazon are about right. Some guy’s selling wadded up paper. I bet someone’s going to be stupid enough to buy it.

Angie’s* Pink Elephant

“Hey, quit staring at me.”

“I’m not staring at you.”

“Yes, you are,” the pink elephant insisted. “You look like you want to dip me in boiling green wax or paint me yellow with purple polka dots or even better, throw me out the window. But you can’t because the window has a permanent screen.”

“I hate pink,” I replied, not trying to deny his accusations.

“But pink is such a cute color. The Powerpuff Girls use it a lot.”

“I didn’t even know what they were until some guy wrapped himself up in a blanket with the cartoon characters and called it a Halloween costume.”

The elephant turned his back on me and began smoothing down the non-existent hairs on top of his head. “Why don’t you like pink?”

“It’s so girly. It’s stuck in one niche. It doesn’t go anywhere. Pink is snobbish. Like a former calculus teacher of mine who decorated her entire classroom with pink. Pink curtains. Pink planters. Pink paper decorations. If people didn’t complain of illegibility, she would have used pink chalk and pink overhead pens. And she insisted on people using her title doctor as if it was her God-given right. She got all uppity whenever a student accidentally called her missus.”

“Well, pink is girly. You can’t change that even if you use scientology brainwashing techniques. Maybe your former calculus teacher is trying to show how proud she is that she is a woman. She worked hard for that doctorate, so she deserves to be called ‘doctor’.”

“Girl power, you mean?” I frowned when his eye turned to focus on me. “I don’t understand it. It’s like trying to say that you’re better than everyone else when you’re really not. People are equal, not better.”

“People won’t listen to you. They like being told that they’re better. It makes them feel good. What woman wouldn’t like to be told that she’s a goddess, a paragon without equal. What man, for that matter, wouldn’t like to be told that he’s stronger, smarter, wiser, than other men. People love praise–it makes them motivated to achieve more.”

“Praise?” I tapped my pen for emphasis. “Too much praise can be like too much cotton candy. You eat all of it and you get sick. You have to stay in bed and do nothing except to cry for mommy to bring you your favorite teddy bear. Too much praise is just like that–you end up doing nothing except bothering other people because you think you’re so much better than everyone else.”

The pink elephant finally turned to regard me with a tilt of his head. “Looks like you’ve got issues with the color pink. Like people, you’ll have to treat the colors equally.”

“Maybe I have synesthesia,” I said.

“No, you’ve got issues,” he replied waving his trunk emphatically like a psychiatrist with a stopwatch. “So. Are you going to throw me out the window?”

“Why are you asking me that? You’re just a damned plastic watering can.”

* A fake name for the AIM-addicted librarian’s former roommate.

Charles Murtaugh has some interesting recommended reading. I’m somewhat ambivalent to Lileks’ response to college students thinking that Western culture is not superior to Arab culture. College students aren’t all that experienced or knowledgable as some people would like to think. Here at Tech? Most people would prefer wasting time on Warcraft III than reading the news. College life is extremely insular, even if the student population is diverse. The 18-22 age range is most concerned with schoolwork and social life. In the whole context, culture is an amalgam of religion, politics, and society. But some people may have seen it as something separate. I’m not saying that college students condone subjugating minorities or killing for religion, but they may have seen culture as something different, i.e. holidays, dances, regional cuisine. Compare that to the commericalized west’s Mickey Mouse, McDonald’s, and the Gap and you might see why some students responded the way they did.

Want to Read This? Ask First. Very funny rant. If NPR doesn’t change its (useless) “linking policy” because of this, nothing will.