Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: March, 2004

Belief-O-Matic. (via Bud) This quiz says that I’m more of a neo-pagan than a nontheist (i.e. atheist/agnostic)? Pfft! Although I’m not too surprised about #5 since I remember being forced to go to church until I got to high school.

1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)

2. Theravada Buddhism (93%)

3. Liberal Quakers (93%)

4. Secular Humanism (86%)

5. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (83%)

6. Mahayana Buddhism (70%)

7. Neo-Pagan (68%)

8. Taoism (65%)

9. Nontheist (61%)

10. Bahá’í Faith (58%)

11. Jainism (55%)

12. Orthodox Quaker (53%)

13. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (51%)

14. New Age (50%)

15. Hinduism (49%)

16. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (48%)

17. Reform Judaism (44%)

18. Sikhism (44%)

19. New Thought (41%)

20. Scientology (38%)

21. Jehovah’s Witness (37%)

22. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (36%)

23. Seventh Day Adventist (30%)

24. Islam (20%)

25. Orthodox Judaism (20%)

26. Eastern Orthodox (14%)

27. Roman Catholic (14%)

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Gender Politics in the Blogosphere. There might be an equal number of men and women writing weblogs but the data suggests that men are heard more. Analysis of the blogrolls of the ten most popular weblogs reveals that men are consistently blogrolled more often than women. A commenter remarked that since the “A-list” is primarily manufactured by men, then women should just stop clamoring to get on it and form their own list. This is not so easy. I suspect that the number of readers are rather limited if you ignore all the Google searches and it would be difficult for a new “A-list” to get a foothold when the other “A-list” is already established.

I thought the number of Blog Sisters who responded to the survey was rather meager. If it was anything to go by, it was mostly a bunch of 40-year-old women who are well-educated yet think that they’re not good enough to get on the A-list. It sort of correlates with the documentation of a blogosphere brouhaha where a female blogger apologized for ranting about how male bloggers only linked to her when she wrote about sex. Both indicate that women bloggers believe that this inequality in the blog community is due to their own fault.

I’m all for admitting one’s own mistakes, but good grief, shouldering all the wrongs in the world is taking Chodorow‘s theory of mothering to the extreme. I’m sure there are people who are not popular even if they write like Pulitzer Prize winners. Weblogs are a lot like books. Bestsellers of both are manipulated by the establishment and to put it bluntly, most readers are too dumb and too lazy to find other stuff out there.

Yay!

I think it was worth camping out in front of the ticket office during the morning. I had to listen to bible-thumping students attempting to be trendy by talking about their spring break where they did Bible study in London and tried converting southeast Asian immigrants to Christianity.

But I got tickets to that sold out Joshua Bell concert.

Joshua Bell!!

I think I’m going to faint like a crazy fan girl.

The Ladykillers
written and directed by the Joel and Ethan Coen

A quirky comedy remake? Okay, it sounds less depressing than the current stuff out there, I thought. I needed something funny to unwind during the weekend. Odd then, that when I entered the theater, it seemed as if I had entered a comedy of my own–the audience was mostly composed of little old ladies. Maybe they were all Tom Hanks fans. After all, Hanks did win a bunch of awards for something or other. Me? It might be blasphemous, but I’ve never really sat through an entire Hanks movie before this one.

Hanks plays G. H. Dorr, Ph.D., a professor of dead languages who is supposedly on sabbatical for studying the music of the Renaissance. He rents a room from Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall), a little old lady who likes to go to church and talk to the portrait of her dead husband which hangs above her fireplace. Dorr tells the widow that he is using her cellar to practice with his ensemble.

But the ensemble is actually Dorr’s assorted criminal cohorts who are helping him dig a tunnel from the cellar to the bank vault of a casino. Closely watching the criminals’ plans is the widow’s cat, Pickles. However, when Marva catches Dorr and his gang red-handed, the bad guys decide to bump off the old lady. Unfortunately for them, Marva Munson is a much harder target than one would expect.

I found the film somewhat amusing, but mostly tepid. None of the characters really became anything more than their flat on-screen images. Dorr tentatively stepped out by reciting Edgar Allan Poe and Marva by temporarily contemplating using all the stolen money, but most of it was similar to the eye-rolling cheesiness of Hank’s character’s hiccuping giggle. The professor and his gang each had a singular weakness that was each man’s downfall–that casino insider’s penchant for waving guns around when he loses his temper, the demolition expert’s irritable bowel syndrome, the general’s chain-smoking habit, the dumb jock’s dumbness.

So if a heist goes wrong, everything goes wrong. However, I can’t help think that if most people wanted to rob a casino, they would have gone about it in a completely different and more circumspect way. Though one mustn’t forget that this is entertainment. I guess I was more in the mood for something more sophisticated than slapstick and pandering stereotype.

Oh man.

I got out of lab today only to stumble onto a prospective student (for a different graduate program) and his parents. The parents grilled me about graduate life and academics here. I answered as best as I could. I hoped fervently that they would not view me as the typical graduate student although they no doubt would. I need a disclaimer tattooed on my forehead: Beware of Weird Student.

Arg. I am not a salesman.

Unconscious Mutterings

  1. Pitbull:: Dog
  2. TD:: TP
  3. Carter:: Administration
  4. Japan:: Country
  5. 50:: Years
  6. Streak:: Out
  7. Rifle:: Gun
  8. Trap:: Trapper (as in, person who hunts animals)
  9. Easter:: Egg
  10. Mitt:: Yarn

Chambers’s Book of Days. A miscellany of popular antiquities in connection with the calendar. I thought it would be cool if I made my own “book of days” but then I thought–nah. A weblog is like a book of days, abet in electronic form.

Book of Days. By Paivi Hintsanen. Interesting strangeness. Beware, it opens up on full screen.

Favicon. Deconstructing the design of favicons, the little images that comes with your bookmarked links. I personally don’t like them. I’m more text-oriented and all those favicons just look like a mess of random stuff that was supposed to be in the closet instead plastered on my favorites list.

Weird Foods of the World. “Tastes just like chicken!” Not.

Digital Kitchen. I think they specialize in design and film making. Anyways, their work is very slick and distinctive. They have a bunch of TV show openings and advertisements (among other things) on site that they have produced. (I recommend the opening to Six Feet Under and an ad for the photographer Annie Leibovitz.)

Life on Mars – but ‘we sent it’. Many of the probes people have sent to Mars were not sterilized properly. “[The microbes] are probably not going to survive in 200 kelvin conditions and in sulphuric acid, [but] maybe they could. And maybe we’ve just done a really terrible thing.” Dun dun dun! Stay tuned for the new blockbuster about alien plagues that really originated on Earth.

The Net’s Late Bloomers. Old people get on the net. I think that’s great and quite brave of them. When I get old and there are regular transports to Mars, I’m going to be one of those luddites who will stay on terra firma.

The Panda’s Thumb. A new group weblog written by evolution and science education proponents. Good stuff. Somewhat off-topic, this reminds me of one of my high school biology teachers. She wasn’t great. She wasn’t even good. She mispronounced terminology and gave people busy work. She refused to talk about evolution because she thought God made the world go round. (This is ridiculous, why would a biology teacher not teach a tenent of the subject? But this was Tennessee, so go figure.) I’m somewhat surprised she didn’t spoil the subject for me–but then again, I spent the entire semester cowering in a corner and hiding behind a textbook. After all, she was the one in control of my grades.

Well, I finally finished Truman. It’s just exploding with a historical story of a farmer from Missouri who became president and ushered in the atomic age. It’s definitely not light reading, but it goes fast. And unless you’re already a history buff, you learn a lot.

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Thursday Threesome: Computer Anti-Virus Software

Onesome: Computer- What was/is your first computer? A clunky old Commodore or something a touch more modern?

The first computer I got to play around with was one of those ancient Apple II computers with those floppy disks that really were floppy. However, I’d say it was more my Dad’s computer than mine. The first computer I got to use for my word processing madness was this really slow PC running Windows 3.11. I’m pretty sure it’s slower than a Pentium I (but not quite sure of the specs). But I’d still say this one wasn’t really mine either since my Dad was still fiddling with it. The first computer I really got to personalize is a desktop Pentium II (that now makes a lot of odd noises) that I got after my first term in college. I still have it, but I’m not using it right now.

Twosome: Anti-Virus- Have you ever had a computer virus? How bad was it? Or are you one of the lucky ones who have managed to avoid them?

Yes, I’ve had a virus. I took my laptop to the computer department and had the nice people there clean it up and actually install an antivirus program that actually worked.

Threesome: Software- What piece of software really made you more productive on your computer. …or, as in my case, less productive?

The internet.

Err…

Well, the internet isn’t software, but the browser I use certainly is. But most of the time you can find me at this site doing, uh, productive work. I’m still quite the word processing freak though so I always have notepad or something similar open.

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Other Links:

Why do people give up weblogs? They have reasons, just like everything else. I’m not sure I agree with any of those reasons, but then people don’t really need to justify quitting to anyone else. They can just be bored and that’s fine too.

Night of the Zombie Kitties. Defend yourself from zombie kitties in this amusing flash game.

Scary Go Round. Very slick online comic. I think it’s funny.

Hello Cthulhu. For some reason, someone summoned Cthulhu to Hello Kitty Land.

Microbes, Exposed

In this modern world of antimicrobial cleansers and irradiated foods, people have developed this phobia toward microbes. Most don’t even think twice about downing antibiotics either as suggested by the doctor or injected unknowingly into our food supply. But the truth is, we all live in an incredibly bio-dense world where our bodies–our cells–are constantly in flux, communicating, co-mingling, occasionally battling with other microorganisms. Despite what product propaganda might have you think, becoming a voluntary bubbleboy isn’t all what it’s cracked up to be.

Think of taking oral antibiotics as leveling an atomic bomb on the residents of your digestive tract. It’s going to kill off everything–from the nasty bug giving you diarrhea to the other microbes who were just hanging out, maybe making your daily dose of vitamin K on the side. The problem is, we don’t know very much about how microbes are beneficial to us. To say the least, a microbe making vitamin K isn’t going to elicit much of a side effect compared to Salmonella you might get from undercooked meat. So people reason that if we use the antibiotic to kill off everything, we’ll get rid of the bad stuff and if the good stuff is gone too, well that’s too bad but we’ll manage somehow.

But eliminating everything isn’t all right. Like a nuclear blast, that antibiotic you’ve swallowed has unintended consequences. In various studies using the mouse as a model, the gut microflora is responsible for many aspects of our well-being–nutrition, digestion, immunotolerance, defense, prevention of immune system atrophy from lack of challenge. A recent paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences gives us another angle to look at host-microbe interaction by using another model besides the mouse, zebrafish.

Specifically, Rawls et al. used young zebrafish which are transparent until adulthood. Normally zebrafish, like any other organism with a gut, acquire microflora soon after birth. In this study, some zebrafish were raised as germ-free (GF). (To prevent any microbes from getting into the fish in the first place, the parents were killed and the eggs were fertilized in a sterile environment. The rest of these fish’s lives were spent in a sterile beaker.) When the morphology of GF zebrafish were compared to conventional zebrafish, there was a striking difference. GF zebrafish, like GF mice in prior studies, had distinct abnormalities in the intestine. The frequency of shedding cells in the intestine which normally is quite often in the conventional zebrafish was reduced in the GF animal.

Using microarray technology, the researchers were also able to monitor the expression levels of many genes in the gut. Although there is the caveat that gene expression changes throughout fish development, some of the genes observed in the GF zebrafish had similar expression patterns as that of GF mice. Also, when GF zebrafish were infected with a single microbial strain, Rawls et al. were able to detect a specific host response in gene expression levels to the bacteria.

What is intriguing here is that the data gathered from zebrafish corroborate previous studies done in mice. Although fish and mammals are evolutionarily divergent, host-microbe interactions appear to be conserved on some level. This is very cool news. Zebrafish may turn out to be a relevant model to study how the microflora interacts with us. It may even be a more easier model in some respects. Not only are they’re cheaper than mice but they are also transparent–providing a window to an aspect of microbe life that’s still very murky.