Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: September, 2003

A New Kind of Revolution in the Dorms of Dartmouth. Woohoo! Free calling for the whole campus. All I need to do is to get a headset–but I don’t want to shell out $50…


Parents seek to ban books. (via Dustbury) Are some parents overprotective? Too conservative? It probably totally sucks being a kid of a domineering parent. They force ideals on you, they don’t want you to think for yourself, what they say goes. Sometimes I think I’m incredibly lucky to have parents who never questioned what I brought home from the library.

Forbidden Fruit: Something About a Mangosteen. Ah, so that’s what they’re called. The first (and so far only) time I’ve had the pleasure of consuming one was many years ago when I was visiting Vietnam. Here’s something interesting from the article which I have never heard of before: “In this balance between yin and yang, mangosteens supply the cool element to offset the heat of the other most-loved Southeast Asian fruit, the huge, spiky durian, whose foul aroma would stun a goat. Many Asians therefore like to consume the two fruits at the same time.”

Air Passengers’ Carry-Ons: No, Not Bags, Dinner. These people are complete sissies. I’m sure a couple hours without food won’t cause them to starve to death.

Googling Me, Observed. Spend money to see who’s trying to find you? There’s got to be a more insidious way of tracking.

Going to Harvard for $7.50. I always notice the custodians and the cleaning ladies. Maybe this ignorance of the “underclass” is more endemic to students and administration who feel they have more privileges?

Trying to Kill AIDS Virus by Luring It Out of Hiding. Many AIDS specialists are working on ways to tease the virus out of hiding so it can be killed, and real progress has been made. A laboratory at the University of California at Los Angeles recently reported 80 percent success in mice. Even that, however, cannot stop the virus from roaring back. “Eighty percent is close,” said Dr. Roger J. Pomerantz, an AIDS researcher at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. “But close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

Death Stinks, but It’s Revealing. Even if they claim there’s nothing morbid about leaving corpses to rot out in the open (and all for science, too), it’s still creepy.

Children of the Alley
Naguib Mahfouz

Children of the Alley, also published as Children of Gebalawi, is a narrative of the trials of an Egyptian family through the generations.

To be honest, I thought it was depressing. The history of this family was ever repeating–if the novel were to go on, the cycle of jealousy, violence, and redemption would also go on. This pretty much mirrors the history of mankind where people forget about what happened in the past (or if they remember, it’s only thought of vaguely in mythological terms) but continue fighting and waging wars against each other.

Another interesting parallel is the novel to religion. For instance, in the first chapter in Children of the Alley, Gebalawi, the lord of the alley, expelling his son Adham and his wife from the luxury of his palace to the squalidness of the outside world because of their temptation of trying to glean what was in Gebalawi’s will. One can immediately point out that it’s the same as God expelling Adam and Eve from Eden because of their temptation with the tree of knowledge.

But this isn’t a repeat of the Bible or the Torah or the Koran. When the novel was first published religious leaders denounced it as blasphemous and it was banned in Egypt. It’s easy to see why, especially at the conclusion where Arafa the magician claims to have killed Gebalawi with magic. Even the people of the alley claim, “if we had to choose between Gabalawi and magic, we’d choose magic.” It’s pretty clear that the magic that Arafa is perfecting in his workrooms is supposed to be science. Haven’t people already declared that science has killed God and haven’t most people turned to science rather than faith as the savior, particularly for material and physical things?

Again, interesting but depressing. Children of the Alley was recommended by Media Queen.

In Defense of Cats

I don’t really care what people’s opinions on household pets are. If they don’t like dogs–fine. If they don’t like cats–that’s fine too. But I completely object to twisting scientific data to suit one’s agenda, like this article. It makes one sound like a crooked politician.

First of all, a lot of people are already infected with Toxoplasmosis (more than 60 million people in the U.S. alone, according to the CDC) and the majority of those don’t show any symptoms. That’s because most people have normal immune systems that can contain the disease.

Toxoplasma gondii is a parasitic protozoan that can come in two different forms–the active tachyzoite with fast growth and the bradyzoite which is basically a dormant cyst. One reason why toxoplasmosis is so widely spread is the parasite’s success in allowing the host’s immune system to regulate its growth. Killing the host is a bad thing for the parasite so through sensing the signals from the immune system (of which the mechanism is still unknown), it switches from the tachyzoite form to the bradyzoite where it can lurk undetected. Some recent research suggest that maybe one of these regulators is a metabolism pathway that curiously is completely eliminated in Toxoplasma.

Typically people get Toxoplasmosis from contamination of cat feces or eating undercooked meat. Any living thing can get infected with Toxoplasma, but it’s particularly important in the cat because the cat is the only known host where the parasite reproduces sexually. Cats don’t show symptoms of infection either, but in rodents, the parasite attacks the brain (if you want to be dramatic, using mind control) so that the infected mouse or rat might run into danger rather than away from it. One can easily speculate from that how the parasite gets from the rodent to the cat.

The only people who have to worry about Toxoplasma are severely immunocompromised patients such as those with AIDS and pregnant women who get infected while they’re carrying the child. Otherwise I wouldn’t worry too much about the typical cat owner going “mad”.


The photos were taken by Susie (a camera-shy but maniacal photographer) at the MCB Retreat. I’m in there somewhere. I’m holding a beer.

The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre
H.P. Lovecraft

Perhaps the best time of the year to read Lovecraftian tales is now, when the weather gets a bit chillier, the trees are turning colors, and the sky gets darker earlier and earlier. The best time to read them is in the middle of the night. Or maybe just before you go to bed so your dreams are filled with “Cyclopean” horrors. The best place would be in New England where all the stories take place. One can so easily imagine that not so far away, in a run-down farmhouse, lurks something strange and horrible. Or maybe it doesn’t really matter where or when one reads them–because you start questioning your own sanity anyway. What was that flitting at the very edge of your vision? Did I hear someone walking behind me? I looked, and didn’t see anyone.

Robert Bloch who wrote the introduction to this collection recalled how some critics would call Lovecraft’s writings “sick” and that anyone who read and liked his stories were also “sick”. The critics are only in denial–despite the frequent, cloying prose, Lovecraft gets into that dark side of us, our fears and deviant desires. In The Picture in the House, a print in a medieval book tips a madman from only thinking about his perverse pleasures to actually acting it out. The Thing on the Doorstep is also about desire–this time an insatiable appetite for immortality.

The majority of Lovecraft’s characters lose their sanity, although a more cynical reader might say that if they reined in their curiosity for reading accursed books like the Necronomicon, they would have gone on living a blissfully ignorant but normal life. In fact, a reader with no sense of the fantastical at all might think that these were all sci-fi tales veiled by lurid descriptions to appeal to the superstitious masses. The most obvious is The Whisperer in the Darkness–maybe all these weird creatures from out of time and space are really like disobedient underlings in a Star Trek universe who are blatantly ignoring their version of the Prime Directive.

The most famous story in the collection is The Call of Cthulhu which didn’t strike me as significantly better or worse than the other stories but was indirectly responsible for introducing me to Lovecraft in the first place. A couple years ago, a friend of mine had tried (unsuccessfully) to draw me into the addictive world of role-playing, particularly the game Call of Cthulhu which was based on the Lovecraft cannon a.k.a. the Cthulhu Mythos. Rolling die and obsessing about character stats didn’t interest me at all, but the stories themselves really struck a chord. I’m not much a fan for blood, gore, and ugly monsters, but the horror genre (especially perfected by Lovecraft) is an incredibly good vehicle for exploring those parts of humanity that we would rather ignore.

Interested in reading some Lovecraft? The majority of his fiction is located online here.

Handshakes. Can you tell anything about a person with a handshake? What does a painful one mean?

AP300.L8 S92 2001

I’ve been thinking about weblog classification again. I know, it’s a pointless pastime that could be resolved by just inventing an entirely new classification system, but it’s also a bit of a puzzle.

So previously, I had mused about the Dewey Decimal System being a way to sort out weblogs. Well, there’s more than one way to shelve a book–so how would the Library of Congress Classification fit into all of this?

On first glance, LC looks a lot more flexible. It’s using both letters and numbers. But even if it’s used by research libraries everywhere, it’s not intuitive. And the rules just make one’s head spin.

But here’s the idea: we stick all weblogs in the section labeled “AP” which is reserved for general periodicals. The numbers after it usually go from 1 to 9999 but everything before 300 is already assigned. That leaves us with 300 to 9999 for which various subtopics for weblogs can be categorized. (Assigning numbers does not seem like a trivial exercise, however. We will leave that problem for the classification junkies.)

After the decimal point, we can then use the author-title version of the cuttering method. For example, if John Doe has a weblog called Tractorblog, we can assign something like AP630.D64 T73 where D64 represents the author’s last name and T73 represents the title of the blog.

The last part of the LC call number is in four digits. It’s the year that a book is published. For a weblog, we can use the date that it was first created. So let’s suppose that John created his blog in 1999. Then his entire number would read: AP630.D64 T73 1999.

But for some reason, I like the LC system even less than Dewey. Or maybe we should use ISBN numbers or even barcodes. Oh, wait a minute, there are already barcode generators on the net.

Banned Books Week. A lot of the top 100 challenged books are, well, not that subversive. Which probably tells us more about the mentality of the challengers than the progressiveness of the authors themselves. I’ve read quite a few of those books while I was growing up and I don’t think I’ve turned into a savage. But you’ve got to wonder: why the heck is a children’s picture book, Where’s Waldo, on the list?

One disadvantage of sleeping like a caterpillar in a cocoon is waking up but still dreaming and you’re having these hallucinations that someone is pounding on you from outside and laughing maniacally.

* * *
Unconscious Mutterings

  1. Savings:: Coupon
  2. On:: Off

  3. Wire:: Rope
  4. Word:: Puzzle
  5. Bladder:: Full
  6. Missing:: Child
  7. Side:: Show
  8. Window:: Wiper
  9. Digit:: Finger
  10. Swirl:: Cinnamon