Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: February, 2003

I’m not sure how I feel being on the other side of a “recruitment” at a place where the students are not unhappy. People can tell it as it is without scaring people off.

I guess what I don’t like about it is the forced mingling that I associate with past events. I’ve had too much experience with forced mingling and socializing as an undergraduate to appreciate any more the finer points of convincing advice.

But I have to consciously tell myself that this is different. For (certain types of) potential graduate students it’s basically a job interview. Once you get accepted, the school is offering you money to attend. For a potential undergrad, (in certain instances) the administrators are attempting to lure in suckers who are willing to pay to learn.

And then, of course, I realize how contrary the means are despite the similar paths. But this leads to one conclusion: since learning has been associated with money, learning or education is a commodity. As an idealist, I find this disconcerting. Education should be a right, not a commodity! Unfortunately, this may remain the case as long as people are fixated on the haves and have nots.

* * *

On the other hand:

Stupidity should be cured, says DNA discoverer. I’m not surprised. Why? Watson is always saying outlandish things in order to garner attention. Case in point, one of his quotes: “People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great.” Of course everyone will disagree with him. That’s why he said it. I’m not saying that the things he proposed are impossible, just that they’re at the very least ethically dubious.

Sonic Doom. “An acoustic weapon disorients rioters and afflicts an invading army with nausea. It can create ‘ghosts’ and arouse animal passions. Fantastic? Jack Sergeant, delving into the possible uses and abuses of infrasound, isn’t so sure.” It’s not infrasound but my personal sonic doom is the telephone. It rings in the middle of the night disrupting me from my much needed unconsciousness. Am I the only person who sleeps around here?

From October 26, 2001:

There is such a thing as too much nerdiness. Oh yeah, just roll your eyes at me–I’m at Tech, the center of nerdom–but I’m not kidding. There are those people who keep asking annoying questions in class, but it’s worse when they’re actually not asking a question. They’re just rambling about what they think they know. And the professors just nod and smile and privately think, “Stupid kid.” This gets worse with graduate students.

Additional Commentary:

This appears to be universal. It’s extremely bad when graduate students who think they know it all start arguing with the professor. (Argument is good–constant agreement is a sign of complacency–but just to argue to show off your brilliant “deductive” skills is just plain egotistical. Yes, I know you read a gazillion papers each week, but I do too and I don’t claim to have an encyclopedic knowledge.)

On the other hand, maybe this egoism is a product of a brilliant mind. Perhaps my observations only give more evidence that I am only average. There are plenty of bright scientists out there who are, shall we say, a bit unhinged.

Mister Rogers dies at age 74. When I was younger, I felt like an aberrant kid for watching Mr. Rogers while everyone else was watching cartoons, exclaiming over the likes of Transformers, He-Man, and Jem. Was it wrong for me to be fascinated by the videos that Mr. McFeely brought with him about manufacturing every day things like crayons and shoes? I identified more with Daniel, the tiger with a watch at his wrist living in a clock, than strange equines in pastel colors.

The Thursday Threesome: Big Band Music:

Onesome. Big. Anything “big” happen to you lately? Come now, what’s the biggest thing in your life these days?

No, nothing big. It’s been quite ordinary, thank you very much.

Twosome. Band. I didn’t do the band, but I did choir when I was in school. Tell us: what kind of extracurricular activities did YOU do when you were in school?

I’m still in school, but my extracurriculars have dwindled down into almost nothing since I have no extra energy to devote to something as draining as, say, going to regular rehearsals. But this is graduate school, so I guess it’s okay to be obsessed with your work.

When I was in high school, I played the “intellectual and cultural geek”. I played in an orchestra. I was also in the band for a little while–the marching band no less. It was fun learning the formations and dressing up in uniforms but I also learned to hate football (standing around in the rain took the cake). I was in the French and Latin clubs as well as the math club and the knowledge masters and quiz bowl where you had to answer pointless trivia questions. To this day, I’m not sure I really liked doing all of these things. They were more like a means to an end than actual enjoyment.

Threesome. Music. Our topic of the week is music, so why don’t YOU share little about your personal tastes in music. Favorite band? Favorite song? Have a song you love to sing along with but hate to admit it? Now’s the time to fess up!

I am generally fine with any sort of music, except perhaps country, but I can tolerate that too for short periods of time. I don’t have a favorite band or song nor do I sing along, mostly because most of the music I listen to don’t have lyrics. I’m a film music buff and if that’s not around, I listen to western classical: mostly solo piano, solo cello, chamber music, orchestral music, or opera. If I had to pick, I’d go with Mendelssohn and Chopin’s solo piano works.

Today I experienced short-lived happiness.

The aftermath was a mixture of denial, anger, and longing.

Of course I didn’t explode or whine. On the surface I probably looked the same as all the other days before–the people around me would be hard pressed to say definitively how I act when I’m ecstatic or depressed. I don’t throw tantrums or cry. Instead, I bury myself in work.

I know it’s wrong to suppress my emotions, but I know no acceptable alternative. I don’t want to be known as the complainer–moody, tempermental, malingering. I don’t want to disgust people. I don’t want to be the person who makes people roll their eyes and say, “Oh God, there she goes again.” There are too many of those people in the world already.

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The New York Times: Genetics. It’s an excellent collection of articles detailing the recent history of science, beginning notably with Watson and Crick. The lay person will probably get the gist of them. I read them mostly for amusement value, to see how many scientists mentioned that I recognized (all of them) and to chuckle when my alma mater and one of my former professors was mentioned. I guess it’s sort of akin to a politician’s intern browsing the politics section in the newspaper.

Johnny Cash music video. (via Metafilter) I don’t really like country music, but the Hurt video was very cool. From what I can tell, the song is a remake from the Nine Inch Nails version. One reason why I thought the video was noticable was that it shows The House of Cash which is a major landmark if you’re driving north to Gallatin. When I had been living there, I took the whole thing for granted. It was closed to the public, next to a rather seedy new age glass decor shop and an overpass notorious for speed-watching cops. Across the street was Trinity Music City–an attraction that rivaled the fictional Willy Wonka factory. I never saw anyone go in or come out.

Front and Center

Show and tell was probably the first exposure many people had to public speaking. It was probably easy and fun, too, for many of these people. You got to talk about the thing you were most interested in be it a teddy bear or an action figure and you were always sure that someone would be interested in what you said (or at least what you’re showing). I, however, found the entire ordeal boring, frustrating, and intimidating. I was still proud that I could count to a hundred in English or read the days of the week or write the first letter in my name. Who cares about show and tell? I began bringing in the same thing week after week and the teacher began to worry that something was wrong with me.

Teachers always find something wrong whenever I’m forced to stand up in front of a group of people. It’s not that I’m afraid of the audience, I’m afraid of the teacher because they’re usually the only one paying attention. Of course, they find it their job to criticize me in front of the class after I give my spiel to make an example of me. “Speak up!” “Don’t talk to the paper, talk to the audience!” “You lecture like a professor!” Ouch.

I’m doing a little bit better now. No one tells me to speak louder or to get my face out of the papers (powerpoint helps, obviously, as well as the laser pointer which makes me feel like I’m aiming a saber at the audience). I’m not sure if I still lecture like a professor although I definitely don’t stutter. I used to practice speaking to an empty room every time I had to do a presentation. I would make note cards. I would attempt to memorize. I don’t do that anymore. If I’m reasonably comfortable with the material, it’s a good bet that once I start talking, I won’t stop too soon even if I’m winging it.

But still.

Public speaking courses should become required.

Blogarama. Yet another blog index.
The Worst Breakfast Ever. Ugh. That’s disgusting. The only thing I need in the morning is caffeine.
Daypop Top Word Bursts. This is the first time that I actually consider some piece of metadata actually interesting. Witness the collective (un)conscious!
Fainting Goats. Like we need any more tipped over farm animals.
Simple Vandals or a Unique Social Movement? “[T]rolling is an unwelcome yet unavoidable aspect of modern communications. The application of collective behavioral research techniques, however, show a possibly emerging social movement.”

I slipped on ice.

I probably have a bruise on my hip.

If I had been an 80-year-old lady wobbling around, I would’ve broken my hip.

Then again, if I were that old, I’d probably carry around one of those nifty transponders that would call 9-1-1 if I’d gotten myself into a scrape.

And then again, when I reach that age it would be 2060. There’ll probably be no 9-1-1 dispatchers available let alone hospitals if this happens.

Thanks a lot, Newton.

Oh, and those e-mails you wish you’d never sent? Those would be gone too if the earth goes up in flames at the apocalypse. That would be good for you.

Of course, don’t hold your breath for that to happen.

Bad for you.

Good for me. At least I’ll be able to get to the hospital.

Slightly acidic commentary:

One Writer’s Secret. Yeah? You could have avoided all the dramatics if you did at least one thing: backup. Not all writers like the freedom entailed from having posts mysteriously disappear. That’s why I save all my entries on a word processing document first. (And if that makes my writing more pedestrian, so be it. I never claimed to write like The New Yorker.)

Top 50 Interesting Recent Blogs With Context. Whatever. It’s just like those popularity indices that list the sites with the most links, like Blogdex or Daypop. If I wanted interesting I’d either check out random obscure blogs or read the people on my blogroll.

Prokofiev and propaganda. So music can be scary because of its political underpinings. So what? That doesn’t mean that you can’t appreciate it. This column was a bit of a serendipitous find, surprising in that I was listening to a recording of Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges (the Russian version, not the French) this morning which isn’t so absurdist as being one giant fairy tale where princesses die and the bad guys get away. Besides, I liked the passage where the characters were laughing in time with the music. I’d imagine it’s very difficult to do that and sound believable all at once.

En février
(Jean Joubert)

En février luisent les hautes neiges. Les bois velus serrent un peu de nuit. Au ventre des collines, un paysan plié pousse une mule vers un clocher fantôme. Dans le silence alors tout se ferme dans les clôtures: meules et ruches, granges, greniers et bergeries fourbues, couvant des soufflés chauds et des odeurs de laine. Une brebis bêle au créneau, vers la charrette délaissée, quelques tonneaux, quelques fagots éparpillés dans la cour que piquent les merles. L’unique feu brûle dans la maison où devant l’âtre, assises, des femmes jusqu’aux cuisses se retroussent, montrant jupons et bas de fil, tandis qu’au ciel dans un parfum de chou fument les linges. Plaisir secret, pauvre richesse! Ailleurs grondent les guerres et les rois don’t les rages du moins s’émoussent dans l’hiver. Souffrir décroit. Vivre est au Coeur cache de la saison. Dans la forêt l’homme coupe du bois. Une vieille en fichu se glisse sous la haie, lui porte la nouvelle: l’enfant est né, un fils, il est dix heures. Sur la plaine éblouie le soleil rayonne d’un plus vif éclat.

* * *

In February by Jean Joubert
Translated by Denise Levertov

In February the snow is deep. The gnarled woods hug a bit of the night. Over the hill’s curved belly a stooped peasant is driving a mule towards a spectral steeple. And in the silence everything shuts itself in behind wattle fences: hayricks and beehives, barns and lofts and ramshackle sheep-folds brewing warm breath and a smell of wool. A ewe bleats through a cranny towards a cart—shafts at rest—a few barrels, scattered bundles of kindling strewn in the yard where blackbirds are pecking. The only fire burns in the house where some women sit in a row by the hearth, their skins tucked up, underskirts showing, and yarn stockings; over their heads, rags on a line steam in the odor of cabbage. Secret pleasure, poverty’s wealth! The wars and kings snarl somewhere else—that fury has at least to abate in winter. Suffering decreases. Life itself is the hidden core of the season. In the forest a man is felling a tree. An old woman wrapped in a shawl, slipping along the fence, is bringing him news: the child is born, it’s a boy. It is ten in the morning. On the dazzled plain the sun shines with a livelier light.

You know you’ve gotten acclimated to the weather when you’re outside in just above freezing weather wearing a t-shirt and sweating. (I can’t believe I was that stoic. Or stupid.)

Caring for Your Introvert. “Introverts are not necessarily shy…rather, introverts are people who find other people tiring.” Exactly! I hate it when people are telling me how quiet I am or that I’m shy or that I need to talk more. I talk when I’m good and ready! It’s annoying when all the extroverts out there tell me to get out more and open my mind and to go to social gatherings to meet new people. I’m not against meeting new people. Nor about having an open mind. Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t the other way around, because extroverts always blab and never listen to the other side of the story. And you know, that gets really tiring. If I wanted to listen to a lecture, I’ll go to a class or a seminar where I actually learn something.

Just Shut Up. (via Blogdex) I wonder if this was influenced by the above article? Anyways, this column is not about burying your head in the sand. It’s about the proliferating drivel out there on pro-war, anti-war, and pseudo-profundity. I liked it because I would never have the temerity of telling anyone to “shut up” especially if something’s written and I have the choice of not reading it.

It’s just one of those days when every minute is occupied–one of those days when I leave the house and my roommates are still sleeping. And when I come back, they would already be back in bed.

No, no. I’m not going to start doing memes every day. Just Thursdays.

The Thursday Threesome: New Paint Smell (Reminds me of a paper I’ve read today that observed the phenomenon of foursome schmooing. You can tell I have yeast on the brain.)

Onesome: New – Hey, it’s close enough to spring (even though the East Coasters have been getting hammered) to ask what’s on the “to do” list for March. Do you have plans for changing anything around in your home or apartment? …or are you ready to just get out of the place once the weather clears?

March is Deadline Month. I won’t be able to do any housecleaning or home improvements at all. If possible, I will be even more stressed out then than I am now. At least my roommates and I are relative neat freaks–it wouldn’t be too hard to coerce one of them to do the vacuuming instead.

Twosome: Paint – …any refurbishing or refinishing projects just waiting for the warm weather? That trim that needs painting or that one room with that horrible carpet? …or do you have something you just dream about doing?

No. Not really. I don’t dream about refurbishing anything either. All my dreams lately have been nightmare chase scenes.

Threesome: Smell – …and lest we forget the gardeners out there: what spring madness do you have planned in the plant world? New flowers for the windowsill? How about that garden where the snails took over last year? …or does a quick dusting of the artificial ficus cover you for another year?

I have no plans for plants, artificial or otherwise.