Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: August, 2003


Which Ivy League University is right for you? Rather pointless for me to take it, but I thought this would be funny for the visitors trolling my site for links.

Saturday and Sunday had been perfect weather-wise (except for the mosquitos–I have horrible allergic reactions to their bites and just one has made half my arm look like a red puffy thing) but it has been getting cooler. I had left my window open and this morning, I woke up from a dream about high school French shivering under my blanket.

A Link:
The Hypnerotomachia Poliphilo. This website has scans of a 500-year-old book. It contains a story which is really an allegory illustrating the philosophy of alchemy.

Those Stupid Rankings Again. I typically don’t pay attention to the rankings since one can get any school to be at the top of the list if the criteria are tweaked just so. But this is simply funny. Beer? Greek scene? Which students did they survey? When I was an undergraduate, no one ever surveyed me (of course, this led to that particular institution being labeled as having “suicidal course work”–not that I didn’t agree with it). This leads me to believe that it was done “randomly” although who knows how random it really was.

As an aside, when I was in high school and I was at the point of thinking about which colleges I might apply to, I had also thought about joining a sorority once I got to college. I know, that totally doesn’t sound like me since I would rather get some sleep instead of partying and drinking until all hours of the early morning, but the problem was, I had a misconception about what a sorority was. I thought they were some sort of feminist organizations with serious social agendas. But once I heard about how it really was on the Greek scene, I thanked my lucky stars I went somewhere that didn’t have a Greek scene whatsoever.

* * *
Unconscious Mutterings

  1. Bay:: Michael
  2. Boarding school:: Dress
  3. Riddle:: Me
  4. Hunger:: Thirst
  5. Allergy:: Sneeze
  6. Sponsored:: By
  7. Spin:: Up
  8. Interest:: Dull
  9. Scrabble:: Game
  10. Mold:: Plaster

The Picnic

As soon as I arrived at the edge of the pond which immediately sloped down into a clearing surrounded by lush trees, I felt a stinging sensation on my arm. When I finally brushed the mosquito off, it was too late–an angry red bump was already forming on my skin. At least I was wearing jeans instead of shorts.

The pond was an opaque set of ripples, refusing to mirror the bright sky above. Looking down from the edge, one could discern a few murky green wisps of underwater vegetation. Some intrepid picnickers set off on a small waterlogged raft with only a long wood pole to guide them. In the middle of the pond, the raft bobbed dangerously in the currents tipping from one side to another. The riders shouted and screamed and ultimately, someone was lobbed over the side in a loud kersplash! into the cold waters.

Many pet owners brought their dogs–all of them, curiously, yellow labs. These canines ran willy-nilly across the clearing, under tables, and around people. “All these dogs look the same!” was such the lament, but if one looked closely, they were slightly different physique-wise and temperament-wise. One dog was so hyperactive, he nearly plowed into the pond with his owner in tow.

And am I the only one who finds it rather puzzling yet amusing that dog owners reserve a tone of voice for their pets that sounds patronizing even though these owners would argue it’s for encouragement? Why is it that some people naturally turn their voices loud and simple when it comes to animals, young children, the mentally ill, and others that appear to have no capacity for “greater” thought?

But at any rate, I watched with much laughter as someone threw a tennis ball and the dog owners immediately pointed to the ball and told their dogs, “Go get the ball!”, and instead of listening to them, the dogs started eating the grass.

Here are Shawn’s answers to my questions in the Interview Game.

Read Bud’s answers to the questions I asked him from the Interview Game here.

How to Be a Better Speaker and Writer. Raymond over at Tiger Cafe has some good advice for technical geeks who want to learn to communicate more effectively. The key to the majority of his points is that one must focus more on the people who are being communicated to rather than oneself. I mean just think about it, who on earth would want to listen to someone only concerned about himself?

Company Says It Mapped Genes of Virus in One Day. “Other scientists were more skeptical, saying that sequencing a virus, which has a tiny genome, is trivial and that there are aspects of the technology that might make it difficult to do more complex organisms.” Of course other organisms are more complex and may be more difficult to determine–no one’s arguing that. But to say that this is trivial? It may be easy and it may be fast, but nothing is trivial.

Humans related to humble mud worm. My (perhaps completely unfounded) guess is that this worm is an example of devolution. That is, its genome may be similar to all the higher organisms, but over time, it may have lost the physical characteristics inherent in other deuterostomes to better fill its niche. What I find really curious is that this worm doesn’t even have a proper gut and it is the structure of the gut that is one of the essential elements that defines the class of organisms that it is supposedly placed in.

Interview game: The Rules
1. Leave a comment, saying you want to be interviewed.
2. I will respond and ask you five questions.
3. You’ll update your website with my five questions, and your five answers.
4. You’ll include this explanation.
5. You’ll ask other people five questions when they want to be interviewed.

My questions were provided by Chad. I had read his interview here.

1. What is the significance of ‘yellowrook’, ‘Gargouille’ and ‘Doomsayer’? As much detail as you’d like — I’ve been curious about your machine and email names for a good long while.

Yellowrook: I suppose I’ll have to start all the way back when I was writing bad fantasy stories when I wasn’t busy dealing with high school stuff. The Yellow Rook is actually directly from a short story I wrote titled “The Yellow Raven.” My e-mail isn’t yellowraven simply because somebody else had taken it. The Yellow Raven was the animal form (and nickname) of an empress-sorceress who plots to overthrow her hedonistic and kill-happy brother (the Ibis). She uses a young girl (who was on her path to becoming a priestess in an obscure cult until the Ibis slaughtered everybody at her temple) as a tool to accomplish her ends. I keep telling myself I need to buckle down and rewrite the thing if I want it to go anywhere.

Doomsayer: When I plugged my old clunker into the network back at my undergraduate school, I realized I needed to give the computer a name that at first glance would identify it as mine. My friends were always telling me how disturbing I was, especially with all the rather dire messages I kept posting on my door, so I figured this was a rather fitting name.

Gargouille: I’m actually rather fond of mythological names and I picked this one for my laptop because, well, it sounded nice. Also, I liked the story. Gargouille was a monster who kept flooding the area in France around the Seine until St. Romain tamed it and led it to be burned. I always wondered why they couldn’t have just kept the Gargouille as a pet and made him the main attraction in a traveling circus.

2. To me, college seems like a vast waste of time except for a very few disciplines — the area you’re studying, molecular cell biology, would naturally (pun not intended) be one of them. What exactly are you studying within MCB and how did you get there? What event or series of events convinced you that you wanted to do that?

I’ve always liked science. Part of it, I think, was my father’s influence. He’s an electrical engineer and it was fascinating to watch him tinkering around with random parts of computers and circuit boards and learning how to program in his spare time. Biology is a lot like these networks and programs but is many magnitudes more complicated. Engineering, in a way, is a problem already solved and the mechanics are known. I didn’t want to waste time on already “known” problems. I want to study problems that are already in front of our faces and most likely will impact everyone’s lives directly.

Yes, that sounds grand-sweeping and idealistic, but I’m still young and I can still dream.

Molecular cell biology is an incredibly diverse field, but the beauty of it is that one can learn the techniques in any subarea and apply it elsewhere if one decides to do something “entirely different” (like switching from plant genetics to neurobiology). I chose to specifically study in microbiology because 1) the research in this area is and will be increasingly relevant to our well-being and future medicine and 2) the mechanisms underlying pathogenesis is an interesting intellectual conundrum in itself. I also find it a bonus that my current project has also allowed me to delve into immunology as well.

I suppose my reasons for getting into the field are a lot more intellectual than mercenary, but I figure I’m probably in the wrong field if I’m in it mainly for the money.

3. I was quite surprised to learn that you are not actually a citizen of the United States. Does that mean you hold Vietnamese or Chinese (the two other countries you mention most in your writing) citizenship? Don’t answer if you don’t want to, I’m merely curious.

I have alluded to my nationality in a previous post (actually several posts, but I am too lazy to find them all now). I’m ethnically Vietnamese and Chinese and have been to both countries, but I actually hold Canadian citizenship. I hesitate to mention this too often because I cannot be considered the typical Canadian. The first few years of my life was spent in Quebec–that’s why English is technically not my first language even though I’m most fluent in it. My family moved to the States when I was seven for job reasons and I have lived here ever since. This also explains my Americanized spelling habits.

4. Who are your three favorite obscure composers and why?

Erik Satie, Gabriel Fauré, and Luigi Boccherini.

I know, they’re not entirely obscure, but I love their music. Satie and Fauré are both romantic French composers who have written heady and lyrical piano pieces. Actually, my favorite genre is impressionistic French classical (possibly because it appeals to my latent romantic streak) so it’s no surprise that I picked those two.

Boccherini, on the other hand, lived in the 18th century and was somewhat a contemporary of Haydn. He was also a virtuoso cellist and it’s just too bad there are no recordings of him. However, he has written quite a few cello concertos and some beautiful guitar quintets.

5. If you found a bone or champagne-colored silk blouse that you had to absolutely have (I know this really doesn’t sound like you, but bear with me), would you mate it with black slacks or some shade of red? Some other color? Why?

Black. Black goes with everything for some reason. I don’t really like red. The only red clothing I own is a red t-shirt.

I’m curious about this question now. Is it just random or is the answer to this question supposed to be psychologically revealing? Or maybe it is you trying to find something to match a bone or champagne-colored (who thought up of those silly color names anyway?) shirt and is not so subtly attempting to pry advice out of me?

Anyways, don’t blame me if it turns out that black doesn’t go with everything.

This entire week, I’ve been wishing for something insightful or at least remotely interesting to expound about, but so far, nothing has come to me. Maybe this is a good thing for the people who only come here for the links with commentary.

Off to Freshman Year, a Perfect Score in Hand. I did not get a perfect score on any standardized tests (well on second thought, that may not be technically true, but that is besides the point) or get front page coverage in my hometown newspaper (that, I think, was reserved for the prom queen), but I believe having this sort of publicity is perfect for spawning neuroses that may affect his next years in college if not for the rest of his life. Sure, one should have high expectations for oneself, but having other people expecting great things of you? I still get the shudders when I think about the time I got voted for “most likely to succeed” during sixth grade.

Does IM Make U Dum? Perhaps IM-speak is useful and perferred in some instances, but I don’t frequent message boards or chat rooms. I don’t even have instant messaging anymore due to my paranoia of spyware or viral programs hijacking those communication tools. So I guess I’m free to indulge my linguistically luddite preferences and sound like an old-fashioned dork. I do have shortcuts for taking notes, however, but in that case they’re not meant to be read by anyone except me.

Outer Space Weirdness. A flash game. It looks very interesting, both visually and as a puzzle. I got stumped for a little while on that guy who smoked pot.

Chasm. Another great flash puzzle game. You are a purple platypus who must help restore electricity to your town so everyone could watch the game. The problem is, the electricity is generated by a fiendishly complicated network of hydraulics built on dangerous terrain.

The Thursday Threesome: One trick pony

Onesome: One- One thing that’s being bandied about a bit in the communications press is the ongoing replacement of land line phones with cell phones. Hmmm… Have you ever considered dropping your wired phone and living a wireless existence?

I share a land line phone with my housemates. I don’t get very many calls, though so I guess theoretically, I could ditch the phone. But based on various articles and opinions (for instance, the New York Times had reported that during the blackout, the wireless network was more overloaded than not) I would not completely go wireless. The infrastructure is simply not there to sustain maximum traffic.

However, I am connected to the internet pretty much all the time. Or at least that would be theoretical too since I am not chained to the computer, but my laptop is either connected by LAN, wireless, or both. (Thus, if anyone wants to get in touch with me, e-mail is more reliable than the phone.) Unfortunately I wouldn’t depend on wireless in this case either. The service is rather spotty at best, even at an institution that’s armed to the teeth with wireless installations (and even if you’re sitting in prime reception location), and when the LAN goes down, well, the wireless service is no better.

Twosome: Trick- Okay, everyone one should know at least one magic trick. Do you have one? …or is there one you really, really wish you knew how it worked?

I know this black box trick where the magician can guess correctly what color face was picked on a multi-colored cube inside the box. Other than that, I have no use for magic tricks unless you know one that helps me get my work done faster.

Threesome: Pony- Admit it: did you want a pony as a kid? Still do? Never liked them? Nah, we know better ! …and did you ever have your picture taken on one?

I had My Little Ponies when I was about seven or so. I would have to say that I was more fascinated by the unnatural colors the toys came in than in any real animals. I’m not sure if I ever got my picture taken on a pony or a horse. Yes, I had ridden on real ponies before, but they smelled.