Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: July, 2003

The Echo Chamber

However, blogging can have a downside [called] a “clustering effect,” where people only link to like-minded sites, creating “an echo chamber.” –From Welcome to their Worlds (via

Actually, linking to unlike-minded sites is pretty easy.

The hard thing is commenting on them without sounding like you’re barging into a clique-y conversation as a raving idiot. Whenever I encounter a new, interesting blog, I’m very hesitant to comment. Usually I read a while before I work up the nerve to say anything. This is because I know people aren’t like me. I’m always happy to get comments (whether the commenters agree with me or not is irrelevant), but that doesn’t mean that other people are.

I’m more comfortable with sites that have a small to non-existent following. But maybe this comfort is part of my egoism; I’m a lot more confident that what I say will be read by the blogger. On sites that have a large core following, I am most likely not to comment. Sometimes it’s because I feel lost in the shuffle, that everyone will ignore me as the stupid outsider. And other times, I don’t want to look like a has-been who’s desperately trying to look cool.

Naturally, I think about the comments on this site. It would be outright lying if I said I didn’t care, but I’m not going to alter my writing habits just to garner conversation. But I do wonder: why do people comment on some posts and not others? Are some posts more interesting than others? Do I sound like an idiot or a pretentious ass in the posts that don’t get any comments? Or are the posts so self-contained that commenting on them would be merely extraneous?

Is the right audience not finding me? I have no idea what my “right” audience is. Maybe it doesn’t exist. But the audience that does exist is linked intimately with the blogroll–which admittedly are filled with people who at first glance are as unlike me as you can get. Of course, I could fill my blogroll with the sites of other students, but how interesting is it to read about college life and academia all the time?

The Thursday Threesome: Three Dog Night

Onesome: Three- Lucky happenings are supposed to come in threes… What else comes in triplets and trios in your experience?

In my experience, there are no lucky numbers.

As an aside, three seems to be a very prevalent number if not exactly lucky. Religions especially like to co-op the number. In Christianity, there is the Holy Trinity. Pagans like to think of another type of trinity: the maiden, the mother, and the crone (which in turn are personifications of the Fates.) People like to think in threes for some reason. Past, present, future. Father, mother, child. Red, yellow, blue.

Why couldn’t we have thought of a different number as “lucky”? We’re inherently symmetrical: two eyes, two hands, two feet. We have ten fingers and ten toes. What about four-leaf clovers? Why not 167?

Twosome: Dog- Dogs and cats… Got a preference? …and how about pedigree vs pound puppies/kittens? What do you think?

I like cats. Dogs are nice too, but if I had to live with one or the other, I would pick cats because they don’t demand as much attention and they seem to fit my temperament better. Besides, they’re cuter. Most likely I’d go to the pound and get an adult cat rather than a kitten or a pedigree.

Threesome: Night- Hey, do you ever do a Sports Night and head out to watch a local team/event? What draws you out? Is it baseball, football, hockey, racing, lacrosse?

Sports is evil. I never understood some people’s fervent religiosity towards the whole thing. This is coming from a person who had to sit in the rain in a stuffy band uniform watching football players dance around like ballerinas on the fifty yard line. I’ve had close encounters with screaming mobs of students and heard old alumni discussing the newest game as if it was the only thing in the world worth talking about.

So yeah, if someone invited me to a sports night, I would think up of excuses to not go. If those don’t work, I’ll run the other way.

Darwinian Poetry. Interesting concept, but I wouldn’t say that this is Darwinian. There’s nothing natural about the selection. I’d say it’s more like breeding dogs or cattle. For animals, people pick out the offspring that has the traits that they desire despite whether or not it would survive in the environment. In “poetry”, no word is intrinsically better than the other words. People just pick the words that they desire by “votes”.

Museums Defend Fudge Factor. In one way, this completely annoys me. Why do museums have to stoop so low as to bribe people with chocolate to visit their exhibits? Do people not want to learn for the sake of learning anymore? Am I one of the rare people left who would still happily go to a museum if all they had were Neolithic artifacts behind glass cases?

Cyborg Liberation Front. One would think that the issue of rights for “post-humans” should be left up to the sci-fi pulp found at the local bookstore, but these people at Yale think it’s an issue to be tackled today. It’s a noble goal to try to hammer out all the ethics before technology catches up, but I can’t help thinking that they’ll have a hard time getting the general populace to accept it when people are still squabbling among themselves. Just a brief look at the news tells us we’re still a long way from being accepting of anyone who is even slightly different–affirmative action, rights for gays, ethnic grievances and religious fanaticism, class elitism–the list just goes on. I’m just not sure that they will succeed if the majority of people continue to think in categorizations.

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocketful of rye;
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish,
To put before the king?

The king was in the counting-house,
Counting out his money;
The queen was in the parlor,
Eating bread and honey.
The maid was in the garden,
Hanging out the clothes;
When down came a blackbird,
And bit her on the nose.

Maybe the blackbirds were tranquilized first before the cook put a crust over them. But why would they sing once they’ve awakened inside a pie? Well, none of it makes any sense, but I still like this nursery rhyme.

Something else:
Music ‘makes the brain learn better’. I’m not so surprised that there was no improvement on visual memory. There were times that I faked my way through a recital by remembering how I played and not what I read in the music book. A former cello teacher called it “finger memory” when after many hours of practice, you just trust your hands to play the next phrase. As for correlating music lessons with improved analytical skill–maybe. Is it because musical kids are just more inclined to be academically successful because their parents care about that? Or does music really help the brain? Anyways, I guess now we know why we’re all called “band nerds”.

Seven deadly sins of web writing. This article was written for business websites, but I think it pretty much applies to anyone who is writing for the web.

Chocolatada! This weblog is all about chocolate. Lots of interesting trivia. Like how the church used to think that chocolate was evil.

America Yawns at Foreign Fiction. This really sucks. There are a lot of awesome books out there that were originally written in a different language. This insular outlook in the publishing world will only make it harder for me, as a reader, to find these books. (But of course, the publishing world doesn’t care about people like me–I’m not their average reader.)

Prime Numbers: What Science and Crime Have in Common. So these researchers think it’s all about getting the chicks. Sorry, but no thanks. Sure, I’ll be impressed, but even if a guy has ten Nobel prizes behind him, I don’t think I’ll marry him (or in the evolutionary psychology stand-point “have access to my reproductive resources”) if he has the personality of a jar of mayonnaise. I have my own happiness to think about.

An Observational Aside

It’s been a while since I’ve gone to the medical center. The medical center is part hospital and part research center, which to me, seems like two different worlds at odds with each other. On one side, there are the armies of doctors and nurses in lab coats and scrubs as well as the multitude of patients in wheelchairs. On the other side are the labs–which are kind of spooky if you know nothing about research because everything (from the hallways) looks clear and silent.

I went there today to speak with someone who was an expert at cell culture. We discussed mainly about the caveats on cell lines and human donors when using them for experiments. One thing that sparked my interest was the ethics of using human donors. One question was: what if you’re doing some experiments using donor cells and then find out something weird about them? Do you go on about your experiments and just chalk it up to error, or do you really try to find out what’s wrong and inform the donor? At any rate, there’s supposed to be some class or seminar which discusses all these things.

The strange thing about this entire excursion, though, was at the very end, when I was waiting for the bus to take me back to campus. Almost everyone who passed by me during my wait was smoking in clear view of the hospital. This annoyed me to no end even when I knew that it is human nature to be contradictory.

Batman’s Symphony No. 3

I’ve started listening to Mahler again. I’ve forgotten how overly dramatic and moody his music is. And for some reason, it also makes me think of brooding superheroes in black spandex standing on rooftops in the rain.

Oh no, don’t get me wrong. I’m not making fun of Mahler or his music. A comparison between comic books and classical music is apt though. For anyone outside the fandoms, everything may appear overwrought and perhaps more than a little silly. However, comic book fans look past the pulp and the exaggerated drawings to examine the story beneath. A classical music enthusiast is the same way. Sure, there is the stuffy convention of wearing dress shoes and listening to the proverbial fat lady belting out Wagner’s Ring Cycle, but someone who looks a bit deeper will see the thoughts and the psychoses of the composer.

What’s so appealing about Mahler is that his music is so identifiable. He takes that innermost, darkest part of himself and reveals it for the world. Like an excellent thought-provoking novel, his symphonies give listeners the courage to look inside themselves and not be so afraid and ignorant of their “shadow” selves.

Of course, one doesn’t have to be so over-analytical about these things either. Even as a comic fan can enjoy the latest comic book only for its drawings, I usually just sit back and enjoy the mixture of orchestral sounds.

Living in Television Static

I’m on the fourth floor of one of the libraries at a desk next to the window. A couple yards away is a glass door leading out to a narrow brick balcony which rims the top of the building. Unfortunately, that wall obscures half of the view so only the tops of a few trees and the sky are visible.

It is the sky, however, that is slowly (and insidiously) driving me nuts. Right now, it’s a uniform gray, but even just an hour before, it was white. Only white. I’d rather have those obnoxiously sunny days or when it’s dark and raining, because even then the atmosphere isn’t completely homogeneous.

A white sky is like living in television static: all sensory deprivation and mindlessness. It’s one of those things that can make one into a gibbering and drooling fool. I want something to smell, touch, taste, hear, see. Sensing nothing goes against everything.

The Alarm Clock

Back when we were only hairy fledgling humanoids wandering around the African plain, hunting down whatever that moved and searching for edible plants, did we ever have that concept of time–that concept that we had to get up right about now so we could get things done? I assume life was a bit more idyllic then than the present, if only being concerned about your next meal could be considered that.

Today everything is so hectic, so required, that a rat race doesn’t even begin to describe how life is. Perhaps a more accurate analogy would be that of automatons in a computing industry. We work like machines, getting things done at a specific time. We must continually upgrade as things get exponentially faster or we’ll get dumped into the next landfill with the human equivalent of the Commodore 64.

We are only made of flesh and bone, though, and biological processes no matter how wondrous and strange have limitations due to their own complexity. We are not the simple little photons that go along happily at the speed of light, but we try to be that and more, ignoring all the way the warranty that comes with our bodies. Instead of trying to understand how people work so they could be outfitted with a compatible lifestyle, what we want overpowers reason and lifestyles are thrust upon us whether they fit us or not.

One prominent example is the clock. No one can argue that the clock didn’t compartmentalize our lives. One can’t argue either that the clock hasn’t rearranged our days so that morning, noon, and night are no longer relevant. Who cares when the sun rises or sets when working shifts can begin at 2AM as well as 2PM. In theory, the clock may make us more efficient, but how many times do you remember sleeping in, trying to stay awake, falling asleep in the middle of a task? Probably too many times than you care to remember.

I don’t propose that we go back to our willy-nilly ways of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. It would undoubtedly wreak havoc on what we’ve built up now. What I do suggest is that we don’t take such a breaking-all-limits approach to our lives. Challenge is good and even necessary to better ourselves, but we can’t rely solely on that “clock” by setting that alarm earlier and earlier every day until we no longer get any sleep.

Unconscious Mutterings

  1. Partner:: Do-si-do
  2. Goddess:: Head
  3. Village:: People
  4. Relationships:: Sour
  5. Irrational:: Fear
  6. Volcano: Erupt
  7. Fabulous:: Fashion
  8. Unencumbered:: Hair
  9. Coyotes:: Howl
  10. Fulfilled:: Career