Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: April, 2005

Humor Me

Due to a comment I made in my previous post, I’ve been accused of having no fun because I have a stick up my ass. Thank you for the reprimand, but it won’t prevent me from making similar comments in the future.

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I’m Like Margaret Cho on Ritalin

Via Dustbury, here are some questions for you readers to ponder:

1. If you were to make a movie of your favorite character(s) in a book series…what actor(s) would you choose to play them, and why?

I am not one of those people who has to visualize characters as Famous People. I’d like to think I have more imagination than that. I also don’t particularly like reading books belonging to a series. When it comes to multiple books, I’m a commitment-phobe. So I’ll have to dig back further to when I was a kid–I was really into Lloyd Alexander. He’s the guy who wrote the Chronicles of Prydain, but The Black Cauldron was already made into a movie. So I’ll go with his Adventure series starring Vesper Holly, a sort of female Indiana Jones. Vesper is nothing like Laura Croft in Tomb Raider so I’d have to pick someone like Meg Ryan.

2. If you were to make a movie of your favorite blog author (based on what you read there), what actor/actress would you choose to play that author? (you may choose more than one if you like)

Hm. I don’t have a favorite blog author, but here are two that I came up with off the top of my head.

Dustbury – Jack Nicholson (as I’ve posted in his comments)
Pharyngula – Harrison Ford (with a beard)

It’s actually sort of hard trying to pair up an actor/actress with a blogger–I mean, a blogger is so individual and representing them with someone who can only pretend to be them seems so insipid.

Two Novels of Speculative Fiction

After many, many months of saying so, I’ve finally finished Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand. I wasn’t kidding when I mentioned in a previous post that the rich prose can put you into a coma if you ingest too much of it at once. If you’re a speed reader, you can disregard my warnings. Otherwise–well, the only other book I can sort of compare it to is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, but even that is somewhat shaped by circumstance. True, both novels are dark and concern themselves with pagan deities, but I started both with the preconception that they might make for light plane ride reading. I ended up wishing I had been more careful in picking up something less serious.

We first meet the protagonist of Waking the Moon, Katherine Sweeney Cassidy, in her first semester at the University of the Archangels and Saint John the Divine in Washington, D.C. She feels completely out of place in the rarefied atmosphere of academics and privileged kids until she is befriended by Oliver and Angelica, two strangely beautiful students with an even stranger destiny. Amidst the typical college antics of partying and drugs, Sweeney glimpses a horrible fantastic underworld exerting its pull on her friends. Her first semester is cut short by a terrible accident and for the next twenty years, she sinks into an emotional coma until she is given a second chance at the cusp of a possible revolution.

With all the vivid and fantastic imagery, it wouldn’t be any stretch to call it an erotic horror-fantasy, but it would be short-changing it to say it’s only sex and death. The central conflict is between a secret patriarchal society called the Benandanti and the resurgence of a cult demanding blood sacrifices to its moon goddess. Who is right? As Sweeney points out, neither. Extremism on any side, be it the patronizing old boy’s network or militant feminism, is repugnant. And as this theme suggests, it would be a mistake not to take the novel seriously and thoughtfully.

Onto a lighter note, I’ve also finished A Scholar of Magics by Caroline Stevermer. One could say that this is a sequel to A College of Magics but it can stand quite well alone. (Aside: I found A College of Magics as adult fiction several years ago, but A Scholar of Magics is–surprise–marketed as “young adult.” The level of writing between the two novels isn’t different, but I had a heck of a time trying to track down the sequel at the local bookstore.) It’s the early 1900s and Samuel Lambert, sharpshooter for Kiowa Bob’s Wild West Show, has been invited to Glasscastle University to lend his talents to the top secret Agincourt Project. Glasscastle is like the typical British college with its snobbish dons and students and stunning architecture, but in some ways more dangerous because magic is taught there. All Lambert has to worry about is tea with the provost’s wife until the provost’s sister Jane Brailsford unexpectedly drops in for a visit.

A Scholar of Magics is a light-hearted magical adventure set in the very proper Edwardian England and the effect is quite original and amusing. Lambert is an easy going young man longing to study magic at Glasscastle despite the fact that he has the wrong background to be admitted as a student. Jane is a teacher at a girl’s college of magic in France who loves to drive motor cars at breakneck speed. As the reader follows Lambert and Jane as they chase down henchmen in bowler hats, an absent-minded don refusing to take up his post as the Warden of the West, and a mysterious weapon, the magic is actually worked in quite subtly and tastefully. Like one of the dons of Glasscastle might say, the magic follows a certain logic whose study can be approached like science.

Unlike Waking the Moon, Stevermer’s novel is good clean fantasy (perhaps this is the reason it’s been shelved as young adult). There is not that much violence considering the main character’s proficiency with firearms. There isn’t even any kissing despite the romantic subplot. But this is only proof that a story doesn’t necessarily need disturbing elements to make it an interesting story. I thoroughly enjoyed digging into A Scholar of Magics–it was like reading Agatha Christie if she wrote humorous fantasy instead of mystery.

The Silkworm Mouse

SilkwormsLegends are tricky things. Some of them have so many versions that one wonders if one of them was really passed down through the years or someone just made it up on the spot. The Chinese legend about the discovery of the silkworm is one such story. Was it discovered by an ancient empress named Lei Zu as she took an afternoon walk? Was it the Huang Di when he observed a silkworm cocoon dropping into his tea? Or was it Xi Lingshi, a Chinese princess who lived five thousand years ago? Nonetheless the silkworm Bombyx mori has been the center of sericulture for a very long time.

Silkworms also have the distinction of being the only domesticated insect to date. B. mori is entirely dependent on humans for survival as they have lost the ability for flight. Aside from the silk industry, silkworms have also been useful for basic research and biotechnology–particularly on the study of pheromones.

Certainly, Bombyx mori has been one of those fringe model organisms–at least to my thinking. Even as an invertebrate, it doesn’t hold the same cachet as Caenorhabditis elegans or Drosophila melanogaster. To put it bluntly, it doesn’t have nearly as much scientific precedence as the worm and the fly. No one has ever followed the silkworm cell lineages from egg to adult. No one looked for white eyed mutants in a colony of silkworms. But maybe today, it’s slowly changing.

But why use B. mori at all? Well, for one thing, it’s easy to breed. People have been doing it for thousands of years after all. Generation time is definitely faster than that of a mouse (and they probably cost less to house too). And I’m pretty sure no animal rights activist would break into a lab to free all the silkworms.

In a recent issue of Molecular Microbiology, Kaito et al. have taken the silkworm and put it to a quite different use–as an infection model. Most scientists are more familiar with the mouse, worm, and fly as models for pathogen-host interaction and in a way it’s easier to examine how a pathogen infects a host using those organisms because their genetics are more understood. But mice are expensive and worms and flies–compared to the silkworm–are too tiny to work with easily.

To test if the silkworm could be used as an infection model, the researchers injected silkworm larvae with Staphylococcus aureus and a staph mutant for a known virulence gene. The larvae injected with the wildtype staph died off much faster than the larvae injected with the mutant staph–a strong indication that the silkworm could be used as a model. But the real test was, could they use the silkworm to identify new virulence genes in staph?

Staph has over 500 genes whose functions are still not known. In order to search for virulence genes among those unknown genes, Kaito et al. constructed staph mutants for 100 of those genes and injected these mutants into silkworms. Only three batches of silkworms survived–those that were injected with the staph mutants of the cvf (conserved virulence factor) genes. Two of these genes were confirmed to affect staph’s virulence by injecting these into mice. The cvf genes were later found to control the bacteria’s production of toxins.

So the results look promising. But will the silkworm ever be the new laboratory mouse? It’s certainly an interesting model that has some advantages, but I would think not. There are vast differences between invertebrates and mammals, and rodents (and monkeys) are currently still the best models we have for human disease. Sure, virulence genes can be pulled out by using the silkworm–but there will always be false positives while other genes might be missed entirely. It would make sense that a bacterium would use different weapons if it finds itself in a silkworm or a human.

The Thursday Threesome: Sex, Lies and Videotape

Seems like a lot of people are quite fond of that line. I once sat through a seminar entitled “Sex, Lies and Videotape” which was about Drosophila courtship behavior (and yes, there were videos shown of flies doing it). Interesting research, but the speaker was very boring.

Onesome: Sex…When did you learn about sex? Was it through those films at school? Word of Mouth? Your parents?

When I was a kid, I devoured books and among those that I went through with more frequency than most were science books. (I suppose it isn’t any different now.) My parents never really sat me down and told me about “the birds and the bees”–I don’t recall having any such discussion with them. I remember reading about human reproduction although I no longer remember what the title or who the author was. It was all very clinical and at the time I didn’t realize that some people would consider it a Very Big Deal.

Twosome: …Lies– …do you believe little white lies are all around us? Or do you prefer only the truth even if it hurts someone’s feelings?

I prefer the truth. The only exception is when someone asks me “How are you doing?” and clearly they are only doing this as a greeting. So instead of launching into a long-winded complaint of how my life sucks, I just say, “I’m fine.”

Threesome: and Videotape– …do you buy movies on Video and/or DVD? Or do you prefer to rent? What kind of movies do you add to your collection?

I don’t own any movies.

Some Links

Litblog Co-op. (via ricklibrarian) It’s “a joint blog to promote literary fiction.”

A World of Pain. (via Boing Boing) A prof tries to scare a thief into giving back his laptop. So far, it hasn’t worked.

Of Course Macs Are More Expensive…Aren’t They? An interesting article on how to compare the specs between Macs and PCs. I think it’s all a matter of need. I can deal with a stripped down computer without all the “bells and whistles”. I’m no computer geek in need of a lot of processing power to play games. All I really need is a word processor and connection to the internet. And I’d imagine most people are like that too.

Correspondence Regarding Various Magical Scandals

Last night, I breezed through a short novel titled Sorcery & Cecelia written by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. It’s really a shame that this book (and others like it) are being marketed solely to “young adults.” Sorcery & Cecelia is quite an amusing fantasy piece but somehow, I doubt the audience would be anyone but twelve year olds. How many adults do you ever notice perusing the young adult fiction shelf? None, with the exception of overbearing mothers who want to control their offspring’s literary intake. Even the publishers of the wildly successful Harry Potter series had to reprint the books in adult editions in an attempt to get more adult readers.

(Aside: Of course, I’m not ashamed to read anything. Only the marketers have the bad taste of putting bad covers and pigeonholing manuscripts which deserve no such thing.)

Sorcery & Cecelia was originally conceived by the two authors as a letter writing game with each author writing a letter in character but not revealing to the other what plot she had in mind. The correspondence in this novel is between two cousins who are also friends–Cecelia and Kate. After the “goat incident”, Kate is sent off to London with another cousin and aunt to attend a Season while Cecelia remains in the country. Despite the distance between the two of them, Kate and Cecelia manage to get into hot water anyway. Kate nearly gets poisoned by some hot chocolate from a magic chocolate pot meant for a mysterious marquis while Cecelia discovers a charm-bag underneath her brother’s bed after she notices him acting strangely.

The authors describe it as Jane Austen inviting J.R.R. Tolkien for tea, but perhaps a better picture would be Regency England in an alternate universe. Cecelia and Kate’s world is not at all surprised that there are wizards and enchantments running amuck. Perhaps with those of you with more high-brow fantasy tastes, the genre would fit squarely in that occupied by the far more verbose and ponderous Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (which I have yet to finish, but I’m getting there).

Rainy Weekend

Something about driving in the rain raises my hackles. More people than usual seem to have a death wish on the road, driving fast and reckless. They tailgate, even when I reach five miles over the speed limit. The slick grayness and the churning clouds overhead–is this what dares people to tread that line between here and oblivion? Is it because unlike their dull jobs and boring home lives, this is the only moment that they feel alive?

I must admit there’s a certain beauty about rainy traffic. A car is not just a car–but a mechanical mermaid rising out of a silver mist–as the hind wheels kick up water. The roads are dark things curling intimately around dripping hills and buildings and budding trees. Perhaps the other drivers feel this too and subconsciously desire that morbid thought of running aground, skin upon cold wet pavement.

* * *
A book sale, how could I miss one? This one was held at a local high school, the books filling two gymnasiums. Why the school had two gymnasiums, I don’t know–the high school I went to was larger than this school yet only had one gym. Patrons stuffed boxes and bags with books–it was half-price today–seemingly without any thought about what the books were about.

What makes a person pick up a book for consideration? Besides the author and the title, there is something said for typeface and color and cover art. For some reason, none of those things really caught my eye at the sale. There was too much popular fiction–the plot-driven and cardboard character action adventure kind–and not much of anything else. It’s pretty bad when I say even Stephen King was almost non-existent.

As for non-fiction, it was mostly sociology and history and religion and cooking books. The only book I bought was one about the transcontinental railroad. I was somewhat disappointed, but there will be other book sales.

* * *
Unconscious Mutterings

  1. Detachment:: Ignorance
  2. Regard:: Less
  3. Community:: Supper
  4. Strike three:: Out
  5. Congregation:: Segregation
  6. Generous:: Donation
  7. Pretention:: Abstention
  8. Pregnant:: Baby
  9. Drinking:: Water
  10. Brilliance:: Dalliance

What Balance?

The relationship between good things and bad things is like the second law of thermodynamics. When bad things happen, it’s really bad. When good things happen, something else bad will happen. Just as no matter how much order you put to things, things will naturally become disordered, packaging things in good will not stop all the bad things from spilling out and swamping everything.

Three steps forward and two steps back and all that drivel. For about ten minutes, I was glad that all my efforts for one thing wasn’t for naught. And then I found out that my efforts for another thing was definitely for naught. Such is life, you may admonish me. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

The Thursday Threesome: Domain Name Renewal

Onesome: Domain–Hypothetically, if you could own any domain name you wanted, what would it be and why?

The first thing that came to mind was noodle.com, but that was only because for some previous question about personalized license plates, I answered NOODLE.

Or maybe something with a color in it like purple.com–something simple and easy to remember, that’s for sure, except I wouldn’t really know what to do with it.

Twosome: Name– Are you called by something other than your legal name? If not, have you ever had a nickname? Or done something weird with your name, to try and stand out? Like an odd spelling or a slightly different pronunciation? Or just flat out wanted to change your name? To what?

No. I don’t have a nickname. I haven’t done anything weird with my name (too short for that). My name is also way too short for weird spellings although different people have done different pronunciations without any prompting from me. I don’t particularly want to change my name–at least it isn’t too common (like Jennifer or Michelle or Grace or whatever Asian parents give their daughters).

Threesome: Renewal–Do you have any magazine or other subscription that is an absolute ‘must renew’ whenever you get the notice?

Nope.