Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: September, 2003

I Didn’t Realize…

…that this is the 916th post, more or less. I say more or less because I’m not quite sure this is the 916th post. I’ve only counted all of them once. There will be more counting, just to make sure, but I probably won’t post any more numbers until I reach one thousand (which would be at the end of the year if I keep the same posting rate I’ve been doing the past few months).

On Guard Against SARS, Inside the Laboratory and Out. It’s the problem of familiarity and insensitivity. If you work at a lab for a while with infectious agents and after a couple of months nothing happens, you start thinking, “Oh, this will never happen to me,” and you might start getting lax on your safety procedures if you’re not disciplined. If you’re that type of person, someone needs to watch over you like a hawk. Better yet, you shouldn’t work in a lab filled with infectious reagents. Some people might be comfortable handling vials with their bare hands and opening them up in the general atmosphere, but if you’re like me–that is, extremely paranoid–always use gloves and work in a hood where the air is not in general circulation. And if you’re in doubt (no matter how small), disinfect like crazy!

The Role of the Delete Key in Blog. An article on the question of whether or not weblogs should be edited. I don’t see the problem especially if the blogger states that he is working for a news organization. It shouldn’t be surprising then that he is being edited.

Blovel: Bloggers Writing Novels. An assortment of bloggers daring to take part in National Novel Writing Month, striving to put down 50,000 or more words in the month of November, and hoping against all hope that at least some part of it, in some small way, some small, immeasurable, break out the microscope way, won’t suck eggs. A futile hope, of course, but then again “blovel” is blogger + novel, with love in the middle. And that means something. Or not. I will probably also add this link to the link page on my writing site. I’ll blab more about this tomorrow.

The Problem With Titles

The post at Talk With Desiree ruminated about the usage of titles, particularly when and when not to use them. I personally don’t think there is too much to worry about–I use titles when I don’t know the person and will continue using it unless that person specifies otherwise. Sure, if that other person is 70 years old, I’m going to feel very uncomfortable using a first name–I was raised to respect the elders–but after a while, people should just let it go. There are people who argue among themselves about the pronunciation of my name, but for some reason, I care very little about it. They can pronounce it however they want (of course, it’s only four letters and there are only so many ways one can mangle its pronunciation).

What bothers me is the kind of title that one is supposed to use. Men have it easy. They’re always Mr. I don’t understand why one must differentiate the marital status of women with Miss or Mrs. Does this relegate unmarried women to a different social class than married women? Do married women have more authority because they’re married? If you think about it, a Mrs. Smith would command more respect than a Miss Smith. You would automatically think that a Mrs. Smith is older and thus have more experience. Ms. somewhat solves the problem, but even though it looks more professional, it carries the baggage of being a feminist construct.

Aside: Out of the three (Miss, Ms., Mrs.), I dislike Mrs. the most. It implies ownership by one’s husband and loss of identity. It’s like eliminating your own family in order to be adopted by another one. I guess this is a rather sore point with me–I have relatives who are disappointed that my father and uncle only have daughters. In today’s patriarchal society, our last names will be lost unless we don’t follow the norm.

So which title do I prefer? Well, I would use Ms., no one would take me seriously if I used Miss. What I would really prefer is a gender neutral title with no marital modifications. In today’s world, does it really matter whether someone is married or not, male or female? (But wait a minute, maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll get a real gender neutral title in a couple of years.)

Horatio’s Drive
Produced by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns

Both Duncan and Burns are natives of New Hampshire (and Burns received recognition of his film work at Dartmouth just before he burst onto the national scene with his Civil War series) so it was no surprise that both showed up for the advance screening of their latest documentary.

Unlike their other documentaries, though, Horatio’s Drive is relatively short–just 107 minutes–but they make all those minutes count. In 1903, Horatio Nelson Jackson, a Vermont doctor, made a bet for fifty bucks that he could cross America in a car in under 90 days. This was before the Model T and reliability. The transcontinental journey was beset by numerous breakdowns and other delays. There were threats from competitors. And despite the new fangled technology, Horatio and his companion Sewell Crocker (along with an ugly bulldog named Bud he got for fifteen dollars), they often had to rely on old technology to bail them out of a problem.

The narration is humorous and optimistic. It’s also punctuated by poignancy as Horatio wrote back to his wife (mysteriously nicknamed “Swipes”) in Burlington, Vermont about his daily setbacks and hopes. The wonderful thing about this film is how the producers want you, the audience, to feel as if you’re taking this first American roadtrip alongside Horatio. I suppose this can only be adequately felt in the large theater that I viewed the film: the rumbling jumps and starts of the car engine as it putters along a rocky road, the jerking of the camera that gives the illusion that you’re sitting in the car having your insides nauseatingly jiggled about.

Burns mentioned in the Q and A after the showing that we often view history as in the past and immalleable, but the fact is, history is very malleable. In this case, Horatio’s Drive is about taking a little known facet of American history, digging up new material that hasn’t been seen beforehand by scholars, and putting a whole new spin on what it means to see a country on the edge of something revolutionary.

For those of you not lucky enough to have attended the viewing, Horatio’s Drive is going to be shown on public television on October 6. The discussion of the film on NPR is located here.

How To Do The Asian Squat. A very funny (in a Mentos commercial kind-of-way) mockumentary.

Thinker Quiz. So it says I’m a linguistic, intrapersonal, and naturalist thinker. I guess I can live with that.

* * *
Unconscious Mutterings

  1. Herpes:: Disease
  2. Freddy:: Kruger
  3. October:: Fest
  4. Hunting:: Dog
  5. MSN:: Webpage

  6. 36:: 42
  7. Hotel:: Motel
  8. Travesty:: Dilemma
  9. Health:: Doctor
  10. Conditions:: Weather

No Mooncake

Many major universities have some sort of Asian student community that organize cultural events every so often. The community that I am most aware of, existence-wise, is the Chinese student community. Unfortunately, I mix with the other Chinese students like oil and water. The best description I’ve heard so far about such a community is “cliquey.” And I’m about as anti-clique as you can get.

Maybe I don’t look Chinese enough. Or at least my style isn’t Chinese. I hate to admit it, but I can tell between an Asian student born and raised in a Western country and one that was born and raised in the East. And if I can see the difference, it’s not such a big leap to imagine that others can too. I guess it’s the little things that add up–everything from physical appearance to clothing styles to what kind of writing utensil that’s being used to take notes in class. Someone from mainland China might be right at home using a Hello Kitty pink eraser, but I’d feel like a freak.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate my ethnic and cultural roots. It’s that I feel that I’ve been rejected from what my predecessors have taken for granted by those who don’t tolerate anyone who shows evidence of assimilation. The more I try to reconcile Western sensibilities with Eastern thinking the more they drive each other apart–at least on the social level.

The way I see it, that’s the entire problem with forming ethnic, cultural, and racial clubs on campus (or anywhere else). What sort of understanding is going to be fostered if you’re only preaching to the choir? What’s the use of these clubs when the only people in them are just like each other? Isn’t this just perpetuating segregation and isolation?

There must be a better way to be “multicultural.”

Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music. (via Metafilter) Very comprehensive guide to electronic music although I don’t think the likes of Enya should have been included at all. About 140 different genres are listed. Not really sure what the point is, but it’s interesting, in an avant-garde kinda way.

What’s your DuckType? (via Shawn Allison) What’s up with the question of being a sculptor or a rocket scientist? They know what I’m going to answer given my general ineptitude with visual art.

Are Some Things Too Mainstream?

Anyways, one of my housemates asked me for advice on some niche blog reading. She’s one of those growing number of grad students doing a thesis on weblogs. But I’m afraid I wasn’t much help. I know far more about the microbes you breathe in every day then the posts people upload on the internet.

A Small Link Binge

I never mean to post a bunch of random links every so often instead of something original, personal, and possibly opinion-provoking. I just run across things that are interesting, faddish, and not worth keeping on my hoard of bookmarks–yet I can’t bear letting them go without some sort of acknowledgement.

Compatibility of Weblogs and ISSN. Unlike my idea of dewey-decimalizing weblogs or categorizing them by the LC system, this one is apparently fairly popular. In fact, this article reached the front page of Blogdex at one point (maybe it’s still there). But there’s one problem. You have to register to get an ISSN–and that is undoubtedly a pain.

Evil Animal Minion Generator. For wannabe writers in Nanowrimo who want to devise something campy for their novels, this is probably an excellent resource. Release the vampire oxen with laser eyes!

Why do you blog? Some people blog about technical challenges they’ve overcome and how they did it. Some people blog about fashion DOs and DON’Ts. Either way, it seems to be an altruistic behavior.

Blogging is not an altruistic behavior. A weblog is a personal soapbox where you can rant about your opinions. You’re not trying to help your readers. You’re trying to impose your ideas of politics, life, how you do things onto anyone hapless enough to be sucked into your little place in the web. Weblogs are ego-boosters. Searches, comments, hits, stats, readers, linking, popularity aggregators. Okay, so maybe some people will find some of the stuff helpful, but I don’t like the word “altruistic”. The majority of bloggers do not start their sites with altruism in mind.

The Heavenly Appeal of MoonPies. Actually, I don’t understand the appeal, but it reminded me of one of Shawn‘s posts about the subject.

Scientific Team Puts Together a Rough Draft of a Dog Genome. Yeah, but I don’t see why they had to sequence the dog genome before chimps and monkeys. Sure, the dog is a pet loved by many owners, but how immediately useful is it compared to a monkey genome? Dogs aren’t major laboratory animals. Dogs are less related to us than chimps. But I guess my point is, why is this in the NYT? In 2000, it was a big deal that the human genome was sequenced, but nowadays, genome sequencing is somewhat routine.


So I went to a puppet show.

It wasn’t your ordinary sock puppet shenanigans or those singing marionettes from The Sound of Music, but Japanese puppet theater–particularly a show put on by the Hachioki Kuruma Ningyo Puppet Theater troop. The auditorium was predictably packed; when I went to get tickets two weeks ago, most of the seats were sold out. Luckily, I got a seat just three rows away from the stage.

Hachioki Kuruma Ningyo is mostly a family affair. The art of puppeteering is passed down from father to son. Outsiders taking up the trade is an extremely rare occurrence. The master puppeteer, Nishikawa Koryu, is the fifth in his line. The master shinnai musician who does the voice-overs, Tsuruga Wakasanojo, is the eleventh in his line. There are several types of puppetry in Japan; this type is the kuruma which is much less known and less well-funded (thus access only to smaller venues) because the Japanese government doesn’t consider it a “high-brow” cultural achievement.

Kuruma was developed four hundred years ago by the first Nishikawa Koryu. The technique was heavily borrowed from bunraku puppetry which requires three people to operate one puppet, but in kuruma, only one person is required. The innovation was the rokuro-kuruma, a small seat with roller wheels that the puppeteer sits on. This allowed a lot more accessibility for the performer as well as the audience. The puppeteer also dresses entirely in black, including his head. This convention of black equaling invisibility (so that the puppet is the main attraction) dates back to the 1600s of the Edo Period when the art form was created.

I wasn’t surprised that many of the adults with children escaped from the theater after the intermission. Kuruma puppetry is not children’s fare. The puppets themselves are stately creations–perfectly proportioned and garnished with magnificent kimonos–nothing like the grotesquely shaped western puppets that we’re used to. The stories are also more serious, contemplative, sometimes sad. The voice-overlays are traditional Japanese singing accompanied by traditional instruments. Wailing and sorrowful (but beautiful) tunes that may be alien to ears too accustomed to overprocessed bubble-gum pop. Sometimes the stories are also burlesque and violent–puppets hitting each other with sticks and attacking genitals for revenge.

But despite the sometimes adult and bawdy nature of the plays, kuruma is looking for new blood to infuse its art. Training takes a long time. Would-be puppeteers would have to start when they are just children, ten or so. Perhaps that is why few people have heard of kuruma–it takes intense dedication to perfect yet is still regarded as low-brow by its own culture.

The Thursday Threesome: Green Eyed Monster

Onesome: Green- Are you ready to go from all things green to the vibrant colors of autumn? Or for those of you down under, from winter to spring green? What do you like best about the change of seasons?

Of course I’m ready. Well, as ready as one can expect. The best I like is that the weather is getting cooler. I despise hot weather.

Twosome: Eyed- Have you eyed anything lately that you absolutely had to have? Or have you had your eye on something for a while now that you want to splurge on?

I typically have my eyes on books but lately I’ve really got my reading stockpiled.

Threesome: Monster- Are you a monster movie/ thriller fan? If not, what kind of movies do you like?

Not really although I might watch them if it seems interesting. Most likely I would go see a sci-fi action thriller or animation. I try to avoid depressing movies.