Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: August, 2004

Hot Trend

Since February, the number of hits this site gets per month is steadily declining. It will only be a matter of time when that number hits zero.

Coincidently, the number of silver minivans I’ve observed on the streets of Hanover have been increasing. It will only be a matter of time when every single vehicle in Hanover (with the exception of mine) will be a silver minivan.

Just thought you’d like to know that.

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And Yet Another Collection

Desiderata. (via Watermark) Cats and Vivaldi in Flash.

The Hook Project. (via Metafilter) People can enter and vote on the opening paragraphs of books. Some of them are interesting, I guess, but I don’t take books home with me because of the first page. I don’t “sample” books (just as I’ve ranted before, I don’t sample food) before I borrow it from the library or buy it from the bookstore. I’m also rather indiscriminate when it comes to cover art although a pretty (or terrible) cover does help catch my eye. I usually judge books by their content–gleaned from back cover summaries and dust jacket blurbs. If there’s nothing but rave reviews about how spectacular the book is, I’d probably put it down unless I’ve looked it up beforehand on the net.

100 Most Frequently Challenged Books. Did I post this one before? Anyways, when I did my stint as a librarian at a very small library down south, all the books about sex ed were kept locked in a cabinet. I thought this was pretty crazy, but what do I know? At least the library had the books. If they were in regular circulation, who knows what the conservative patrons would have done.

Seven-Layer Bars. (via Rebecca Blood) Frankly, I find this gross. You might as well buy a bag of chocolate chips and eat them right out of the bag.

Ode to the Breast Pocket. (via Evhead) For obvious reasons I don’t use one but I think there’s an even better way to carry things you can’t stuff in your pocket. The bookbag. That’s right. I have a bookbag with me pretty much all the time and I can stuff anything into it as long as it’s not an entire set of encyclopedias. So take that, you pocket protecting geeks!

Beyond Bullets. (via Evhead again) If you have to use Powerpoint, this is something to read.

A Newbie and High School Remembrances

Somehow, I found myself in conversation with a first-year med student. The first thing I noticed was that she’s really, really hyper. Once I mentioned that I’m a grad student going into my third year, she immediately asked me how I liked it here.

Bad question. Wrong person to ask it to. I’m one of those people who feels ambivalent about a lot of things and whenever someone asks me that type of question, I can immediately tell that they’re looking for one kind of answer. Of course, I gave her a rather non-committal reply which probably made her mentally file me under “closet depressive” but what do I care? If you’re a new or prospective student, the correct question to ask is, “how is student life here?” Then you can evaluate whether or not studying at whatever institution you’re looking at is worth it. My feelings are irrelevant. My level of happiness will not be any indication of how happy you will be.

This med student reminded me of my high school physics teacher who at the time was probably not much older than the med student I was talking to. She too was hyper–on the borderline of psychotic to be honest. While the chemistry teacher always bragged about her sons, the physics teacher bragged about her husband. She would pontificate to the class that her husband graduated high school (yes, the same high school that we all were attending) as valedictorian and went to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (or if I’m remembering incorrectly, it was definitely one of the UT schools) because he knew it would be easy to get high grades there. He then graduated in the top ten percent and went on to law school–blah blah blah.

I am not sure if the quality of the UT schools have changed in the past decade but something about the physics teacher’s narcisstic ramblings just struck me as wrong. Only a selfishly driven person who really doesn’t care about learning anything deliberately picks a school because it is easy to get A’s. If you don’t work for your grades, what’s the point of going to school anyway?

Maybe people are afraid of failure. Who’s not? But glory without any risk, in my mind, is just patting yourself on your back for nothing more than counting to ten.

Gmail Giveaway

I have more invites for Gmail accounts. This means that this is your chance to get one! (If you want one, that is.) Send me a request at this e-mail address with the subject “8/30 Gmail Giveaway at Syaffolee” along with a link to your weblog or webpage or, if you happen to be a member of Monkeyfilter and don’t have a weblog or wepage, send me a link to your profile. If you personally know someone who wants a Gmail account but doesn’t have a weblog, webpage, or profile at Monkeyfilter, you can sponsor them–this means you will have to send the request e-mail on their behalf with your own webpage/weblog/profile as the surrogate link. If I don’t get any requests by the time this entry scrolls off the main page, I will have to resort to other measures.

Four Links and a Meme

10 Things I Have Learned About Blogging. I could agree with most of these. Except #1 and #2. Never been linked by him. I don’t think I want to be linked by him.

Internet Gives Teenage Bullies Weapons to Wound From Afar. All I can say is–stupid kids! Well, maybe you could say I don’t know what I’m talking about since I never got into bullies’ crosshairs when I was a teenager (being a mostly ignored nerd does have its perks!) but they shouldn’t be wired into the net in the first place. What I mean is–turn off the freakin’ instant messaging if someone is harassing you. Get a new screen name. Use a pseudonym. If people ask you for your e-mail address, direct them to some dummy account. And for goodness sake, don’t post pictures–let alone movies–of yourself on the net. Bullies who harass people from behind the screen but ignore you in real life are cowards.

Pesticides in Produce and Washing Fruits and Vegetables. (via Rebecca Blood) “Nectarines also had the highest likelihood of multiple pesticides on a single sample — 85.3 percent had two or more pesticide residues — followed by peaches (79.9 percent) and cherries (75.8 percent). Sweet bell peppers were the vegetable with the most pesticides overall with 39, followed by spinach at 36 and celery and potatoes, both with 29.”

Unconscious Mutterings

  1. GAME BOY:: Thumbs
  2. Biopsy:: Tissue
  3. Attack:: Killer tomatoes
  4. Convention:: Prevention
  5. Jewels:: Sea
  6. Genetics:: DNA
  7. Impostor:: Ant
  8. Doug:: Out
  9. Arbitrary:: Number
  10. Oscillate:: Solenoid

Recent Reading

So how many books have I read so far this year? Well, I double and triple checked and yes, the total is fifty with the culmination (if you excuse the pun) being Gravity’s Rainbow. Which means I achieved the goal of this site (even though I never signed up for it–don’t you have to get an invitation to join in the first place?) and I’m well on my way to beating this guy (even though the competition is sort of one-sided since he doesn’t know that I exist).

Does God Play Dice? by Ian Stewart. In a relatively straightforward manner, Stewart explains the concepts of chaos theory to the non-mathematician with almost no equations and plenty of illustrations. Like most people, I first heard about chaos theory via popular culture–specifically from one of Michael Crichton’s blubbering characters in Jurassic Park when I was in seventh grade–but had no clue what it really was except that it was apparently a hot and new topic in math. But actually, it isn’t so new.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Henri Poincaré–a mathematician who unfortunately fit the stereotypical absent-minded prof to a “T”–paved the path from abstraction to chaos. Poincaré worked on dynamics, but when he set about trying to find out the stability of the solar system by working on the three-body problem, specifically Hill’s reduced model, consisting of two very large bodies like Neptune and Pluto and a third insignificant particle like a speck of dust, he found that the trajectory of the dust particle was so complicated that there was no way to draw it. In fact, he was “horrified” by the chaos he unearthed–nature is not so neat and pat.

Chaos theory has evolved since then–the gist being that complex behavior can emerge from a few simple elements. This is not to say that nature is completely unpredictable; it only seems that way because we can’t take into account every variable and every condition. We can’t really make the most accurate measurements no matter how hard we try. But Stewart takes pains to explain that chaos theory isn’t some exotic beast that only mathematicians in ivory towers look at. Chaos theory is applied to everything from weather to bed springs and cardiology to epidemiology. Stewart ends with a tantalizing glimpse into the next hot math topic, the so-called “edge of chaos” or complexity theory where we see the emergence of simple behavior from many elements.

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I have one question: Were the judges for the 1973 National Book Award on crack when they voted this book the winner? Every two pages, I wanted to scream and hurl the book hard enough that it would crash through the wall and conk the person next door unconscious. What was Pynchon thinking? Or more accurately, he wasn’t thinking at all. If this book was a person, it would be an automaton with all the grey (and white) matter blown away except for the brain stem. On the surface it’s just one big phallic metaphor as obvious as a guy with a tent in his pants. Look deeper and you might as well go insane by gazing into an encyclopedic Pandora’s box. Don’t try this one out unless you’re a masochist who enjoys painful lobotomies over a nice relaxing weekend.

Currently reading: aside from previously mentioned books, a book about the night, a book about Robert Hooke, and a book about books.

Link Fest

Hamster-Powered Night Light. I suppose this would be useful if you have a pet hamster that likes running at night and you happen to need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night too. Actually, this reminded me of a Nature news article: Geneticists engineer marathon mice. I bet we could use this as an alternative fuel source like wind and solar power.

No Girls Allowed? This Washington Post article ponders why there aren’t any great women guitarists. I think this is the symptom of a much larger problem–why there aren’t any great women in any field, period. When it comes to history, it’s pretty male-centric. If we want to recognize women for their achievements, I do not think we have to go so far as to make women work on men’s terms but nor should we have to go so far the other way.

Cigarettes more polluting than diesel exhaust. Tell me about it. Every time I have to wait at the bus stop to get to school, I swear about ninety percent of the other passengers smoke like chimneys. It’s thicker than pea soup. You could cut the air with a knife! I try to stay upwind, of course.

Blair and Bush up for Nobel prize. If they win, it’s going to be a sign of the coming apocalypse. But you know how these prizes are–the judges are probably mostly a bunch of old fogies who are thinking more about what the future winner could do for them than what they could do for the rest of the world.

Flashmob – The Opera. Sudden opera at the train station! I wish we had flashmobs out here in the boondocks. It’ll make life more interesting.

Tricks of the Trade. “For every occupation, there is a catalog of secrets only its employees are aware of—such as how waiters with heavy platters know to look straight ahead, and never down. Armed with a bag of reader mail, Matthew Baldwin unfurls a whole lot more true insider knowledge.” Hmm. So what’s a trade secret for being a graduate student? I still haven’t found any.

U.S. Issues Its First Plan for Responding to a Flu Pandemic. I know people should really take this seriously but I can’t help but think of the “swine flu” panic during the Ford administration that totally went bust. Anyways, even if you say people should get a flu shot, there will be people who won’t because, you know, it’ll hamper their rights to make choices about their own health. It’s like smoking. Tell smokers to quit and they’ll yell about how you’re trampling their freedom.

Tunes, a Hard Drive and (Just Maybe) a Brain. People anthropomorphize their iPods. Somewhat off-topic, I’m beginning to see iPods get a grip on campus fashion. So not only are there people with armpit bags, capri pants, and those ubiquitous flip-flops, but there are also iPods stuck on belts and earbuds wedged into ears. Lambaste me if you will, but I personally think current fashions look really, really stupid.

How to write a best selling fantasy novel. (via Metafilter) So I’ve been going about this writing thing all wrong?

Downright Stalker-ish

Somebody save me from these middle-aged, gossipy women who just won’t shut up. I now know more about the dysfunctional lives of the residents of Canaan, New Hampshire than any normal person has the right to know.

Hard Rain

Oh great. Now they say we can’t use the north entrance. Apparently there’s a slab of concrete on the roof that’s loose and liable to fall any moment, i.e. if you’re really unlucky, that slab of concrete would fall a total of eight stories before hitting your head.

Ever since the Great Microwave Tirade, I’ve been using the entrance to get to the next building to use the microwave. (Why? Stupid department politics, that’s why.) Now I can’t even do that. I guess I’ll bring a sandwich tomorrow.

The Thursday Threesome: Cool, blue mornings

Onesome: Cool– Well, summer is almost gone (except for those Down Under who are expecting it soon), and the cooler weather is coming. …and other than those who live in places like Hawai’i, things are about to change. Which do you prefer, the coolness of Winter where you live or the warmth of your Summer?

Winter. Actually, it’s a toss-up with Fall. There’s sort of a sadistic glee about watching people get stuck indoors and slowly going batty.

Twosome: Blue– Today’s softball: blue or green? Pick one! …okay, if it’s a tie (high or low), what color do you prefer for decorating or accents?

Green. I blame this preference on my baby clothes. You see, my parents dressed me in green instead of blue or pink because they didn’t know whether I’d be a boy or a girl.

Threesome: Mornings– Mornings, afternoons, evenings, nights… What’s your favorite time of day? …and what makes it so for you?

I don’t really have a favorite time of day. More like favorite moments. Like right now because my neighbors are asleep and aren’t making any noises (like they were at three in the morning). It’s those peaceful, quiet times I like best. Unfortunately everyone else seems to have a different idea.