Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: May, 2005

A Book Meme

(Via Belicove.com who, yes, tagged me.)

1. Estimate the total number of books you’ve owned in your life.

Probably way too many. A couple hundred at least.

2. What’s the last book you bought?

Urban Shaman by C.E. Murphy. This is fiction. Not some new age voodoo. I think technically, this book should be coming out tomorrow, but I got my hands on it early. What did I get out of it? Well, there’s this terrific description of this policeman captain that the heroine describes as “a superhero gone to seed.” I think he ate too many donuts.

3. What’s the last book you read?

See answer to question #2.

4. List 5 books that mean a lot to you.

This one is a hard one. It’s like that question in that other book meme which asks you which five books you’d like to take on a deserted island. There are a lot of books that “mean” a lot to me (whichever way you take that) and to be fair, I think a lot of the books I’ve read have influenced me in some way or other. I could include a bunch of non-fiction books (like the first book on genetics I read or the classic college calculus text nicknamed “Tommy” or the molecular biology protocols by Maniatis), but let me just limit down to fantasy novels even though anyone regularly reading this probably can already guess what they are. Why? Because I feel like it.

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley – The ultimate “Heroine Who Kicks Butt” novel as well as my favorite.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis – My first real introduction into the fantasy genre.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – There’s something very laid back about this prequel to LOTR. And I loved the riddles which in some ways was the best part.

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay – The first fantasy book I read that was truly meant for adults. I was probably around 11 or 12 at the time.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – After a long drought of speculative fiction, made me realize that yes, good fantasy is still being written.

5. Tag 5 people!

I’d rather not. But if anyone reading this wants to do this meme, they’re welcome to.

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Board Games and a Meme

For some reason, I’ve been thinking back on board games. Specifically the one called Survive! It’s a bit morbid–or maybe I just like morbid board games (Clue comes to mind)–with exploding volcanoes and waters infested with so many man-eating creatures. And then, in the end, you tally up points by looking underneath your people tokens. And some people are “worth” more than others.

Hm. In reality, isn’t that the truth, though?

* * *
Unconscious Mutterings

  1. Crowd:: Three
  2. Hamburger:: Bun
  3. Choker:: Neck
  4. Lights:: Camera
  5. Tinsel:: Toon
  6. Testament:: Book
  7. Best part of the day:: Is
  8. Election:: Day
  9. Clarinet:: Instrument
  10. Cake or death:: Wait a minute, did you do this one last week?

A Meme

Via Juvin.com, here’s the DVD Meme. Warning: incredibly boring answers to follow.

1) Total Number of films owned on dvd:

0.

2) The last film I bought:

See answer to first question.

3) The last film I watched:

Kung Fu Hustle. Hilarious although a bit violent.

4) Five films I watch a lot or that mean a lot to me:

The five films will probably change with my mood. But let’s see–
The Lord of the Rings (It essentially is one movie isn’t it?)
The Red Violin (An absolutely beautiful film.)
The Matrix (Forget the sequels. The first one is it.)
Nosferatu (Deliciously horrifying.)
The Scarlet Pimpernel (Okay, it’s a TV movie, but I was reminded of this from a comment in one of the previous posts. And who can resist Anthony Andrews’ rendition of: “They seek him here, they seek him there, those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven? Or is he in hell? That damned elusive Pimpernel!”)

Other people to “tag” with this meme:

Go tag yourself if you like being “it”.

Linkage

11 Steps to a Better Brain. I’m sure many people would think medication that keeps you awake is a boon–after all, doesn’t more awake hours equal more work done? But would others exploit this to make people work more? Yet in the same article, they say sleep-deprivation is bad. Also, I can’t see myself eating beans for breakfast.

The flu pandemic: were we ready? Nature has put up a (fictional) weblog about what it would be like if the world was hit by a flu pandemic.

‘Sarcasm’ brain areas discovered. This research isn’t a joke–it may aid in understanding why the autistic can’t tell the difference between sarcasm and normal communication.

Natural-Born Liars. “Everybody lies … every day, every hour, awake, asleep, in his dreams, in his joy, in his mourning. If he keeps his tongue still his hands, his feet, his eyes, his attitude will convey deception.”

Spring Cleaning and Other Things

It’s been raining for the past so many odd days. Everything is wet and cold and depressing. I’ve also decided to get rid of some books currently in my possession–particularly, the ones which I’ve gotten from used book stores and book sales and I don’t want to read more than once. Some of them I haven’t read yet, so I know I have to get cracking. I want to get rid of these books soon. So I will be on a book reading marathon starting tonight (and possibly ending sometime next week if my sanity holds) and this blog will be even more book-centric than usual.

On annoying eaters: Why do people have to be so loud when they’re eating yoghurt or pudding? They sound like vacuum cleaners. And what’s up with those other people who try to justify their atrocious eating habits with: “But I exercise every day!” If there’s even a lapse, they’re going to become bigger than a pig on a poke.

Typology Test. Did it tell me something that I didn’t already know? No.

Desktop Cloaking Device. Hm. A gizmo for people with no self-restraint.

What is your world view?. I scored “Materialist”, but this doesn’t mean I’m some hedonist seeking to obtain more and more stuff. This is the quiz’s explanation: Materialism stresses the essence of fundamental particles. Everything that exists is purely physical matter and there is no special force that holds life together. You believe that anything can be explained by breaking it up into its pieces. i.e. the big picture can be understood by its smaller elements.

Locus Awards Finalists. I’ve heard of most of them but haven’t read most of them either. Bah. One needs an infinite amount of time to finish anything these days anyway.

The Thursday Threesome: Comment and Trackback Spam

Onesome- Comment: Are there any blogs you regularly read and comment on? Is it just to say “hi, how are you?” or is there one site that just makes you have to join in the conversation?

All of the blogs that I regularly visit are on my blogroll. But if you’re one of those people who like to look at your stats all the time and you don’t see me visiting (or can’t tell), I’m probably reading you through Bloglines instead.

I would like to think that most of the comments I make on various weblogs pertain to the corresponding post. However, there are certain sites that I feel more comfortable commenting on. On the weblogs I rarely comment–it’s either because I don’t have anything further to add to the author’s insight or a previous commenter has said it far better than I ever could.

The only weblogs (or individual posts) that I don’t feel comfortable posting in are the specialized ones outside my realm of knowledge or interest. Example: I would not comment on an economics blog unless the author suddenly wanted to break things up and blog on his loud neighbors playing rap music.

Twosome- and Trackback: Does anyone actually ever really use this function of their blog?

Yes, people use that function. Just not me.

Threesome- Spam: We all hate it! Anyone have any clever ways of dealing with it? Share it with us, please.

Not really. But this question does remind me of a silly piece of sci-fi in the most recent issue of Nature about dead people and spam.

Grammar, Punctuation, And All That*

Judging from the tone of Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss most assuredly has had at least one apoplectic fit over the decline of syntax on the internet. I don’t mean this in a bad way, of course. I think anyone with any respect for the written language has gotten a headache from seeing something like “LOL HaxX0rz!!1!!” in increasing frequency on the computer screen. Most of this primer focuses on the basic yet insidious mistakes with a wry sort of humor that one will either appreciate or denigrate with something on the order of “get a life!”

Truss, however, is not the most anal-retentive grammarian no matter how much you read into her anecdotes. That honor is reserved for the library patron who checked out the book before I did and penciled in corrections.

I will have to say that personally, I side with following grammatical rules. Without them, words would be strewn pell-mell across the page and no one reading will be able to make any sense of them. It’s not so much order but clarity. A misplaced comma would be a terrible thing in an important sentence, festering misunderstandings and creating court battles.

My feelings on punctuation:

Apostrophe–My major pet peeve is people who have absolutely no idea how to use it in possessives and plurals. They think everything is interchangeable. It isn’t!

Comma–I’m more lazy about this one. I usually use it whenever there’s a pause in speech. I’m a little more fanatical about the Oxford comma though. In a series such as apples, oranges, and pears I always put the second comma which is after the word oranges. The entire thing looks a little funny to me if it isn’t there.

Semicolons and colons–I use them whenever I feel like it. Maybe I should be more strict with myself about their usage and stop inserting commas wherever a semicolon is more correct.

Dashes–I probably use too many of them even though I think it contributes to my writing style (whatever that is).

Periods and quotation marks–In this weblog, I try to follow the British rule rather than the American one simply because it makes more sense. If I had a sentence that said Harry saw a “UFO”. I would write that rather than Harry saw a “UFO.” The idea that a period always goes inside the quotation is daft. Clearly, the period ends the entire sentence and not the quotation mark.

*Any grammatical errors in this post are unintentional.

Update On Recent Reading

I have to admit, I have an inordinate amount of fondness for HWKB (Heroines Who Kick Butt) novels. My favorite book happens to fall squarely into this peculiar genre, The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, where the main character is a young woman who feels very out of place in a foreign land but ends up saving the day by dropping an entire mountain on an army of evil demons. Of course, this must be distinguished from other HWKB books (Heroes Who Kick Butt) where the male characters save the world and bed the sexy femme fatale. I don’t particularly like those books–they seem nothing more than a parables of boardroom brawls and marriages to top-heavy trophy wives.

Catch the Lightning by Catherine Asaro. This one has a heroine but I find it more like a traditional space opera than an HWKB. There’s a one sentence summary of the book on the reviews front page which probably describes it the most aptly: “A young girl from Earth falls in love with a handsome stranger–and becomes a pawn in an interstellar war.” The Earth the young girl comes from, however, is from an Earth in a parallel universe which the handsome stranger accidentally blunders into when his spaceship breaks down. There’s telepathy and explosions and genetics and bad guys. My favorite part was when the characters spent some time at Caltech (abet a Caltech in an alternate universe), and the author actually got the details right–all the way down to the combination locks on the dorm room doors.

The Grand Tour by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer is the sequel to Sorcery & Cecelia. Cecelia and her cousin Kate are up to their hijinks again–their adventures take off just where the previous book left off. The two have recently married and along with Kate’s mother-in-law, Lady Sylvia, make plans for a Grand Tour on the Continent to (hopefully) visit all the ancient ruins that Cecelia’s scholarly father suggested. Everything goes swimmingly until they arrive in France. A mysterious lady mistakes Kate for Lady Sylvia and presents her with a strange flask which had been used in magical rituals for crowning kings. Everything goes downhill from there–as usual–with highwaymen, murders, knitting codes, and not so coincidental meetings with the same people over and over again. The tone is not quite the same as Sorcery & Cecelia as this story is told through journal entries rather than letters, but like its predecessor, quite amusing fun.

Patricia C. Wrede also wrote two other books set in the same alternate Regency England as Sorcery & Cecelia and The Grand Tour. In Mairelon the Magician, we meet Kim, a homeless girl disguised as a boy and living by her wits in London is hired by a suspicious-looking gentleman to break into Mairelon the Magician’s wagon in search of a silver bowl. Mairelon catches her in the act, but instead of turning her over to the authorities, offers Kim employment and tutoring while he races towards Essex in search of the magic silver platter that comes with the bowl. Mairelon is actually a real magician and not just a stage magician who has been accused of stealing the magical objects, but he is trying to recover the set of silverware to clear his own name. Recovering the silver platter, however, is not as easy as it seems as the usually serene countryside is suddenly teeming with evil sorcerers, fops, cultists, ambitious social climbers, and a whole host of dubious characters–all clamoring to get their hands on the “sacred platter”. Kim proves to be quite cunning and resourceful, but in the end, you’d be grinning as the entire cast makes fools of themselves over something that is (not quite) in plain sight.

The Magician’s Ward takes place approximately one year after Mairelon the Magician. The tone of the sequel is far more subdued as the main theme is more coming-of-age than adventure. Mairelon has formally taken Kim on as an apprentice, but for Society’s sake, she has also become his ward. For a significant part of the story, it is Kim who struggles with her identity as a former street thief turned lady and there is much worrying about gossip, what is proper (or not), and social events. Meanwhile, a housebreaker sneaks into Mairelon’s town house in search of a magical book that is a key to a treasure hidden by seven French magicians, and the magically gifted living in Kim’s former (poor) haunts are disappearing left and right. Once again, it is up to Kim to save the day–but I found this particular episode more melodramatic than humorous.

Crown Duel and Court Duel by Sherwood Smith is yet another duet of books with coming-of-age heroines intended for teenage readers. In Crown Duel, Meliara–“the barefoot countess”–and her brother have promised their dying father to uphold the Covenant of the Hill Folk and fight the tyrant king Galdran who wants to cut down the Hill Folk’s rare colorwood trees for profit. Meliara is both foolhardy and courageous which lands her in many a scrape in the fight against Galdran. Court Duel, as the title suggests, lacks much fighting with swords and armies, but for Meliara, the danger doesn’t lie so much with the blade but with court politics. Meliara prefers the country life of her home in Tlanth, but with the uneasiness stirring because of the lack of king, she heads to the capital. Despite being tutored on court etiquette by her brother’s fiancee, Meliara constantly berates herself over her ignorance of what is expected of her and always questions who may or may not be the enemy to the throne. And on top of that, she is being courted by an Unknown who insists on sending her anonymous gifts and letters. I found both quite readable (I like both equally well, although I suppose those who are into the swashbuckling to like the first whereas the more romantically inclined might prefer the second). The only problem I had was with the magical aspect to the fantasy–when it was subtle, it was too subtle and when the Hill Folk finally came into play–they seemed more like an excuse to steer the plot one way rather than a fully integrated aspect of the story.

Unconscious Mutterings

  1. Heimlich:: Maneuver
  2. Gesture:: Hand
  3. Party:: Favors
  4. Cuddle:: Snuggle
  5. Room with a view:: Window
  6. Sebastian:: Bach
  7. Ooooh:: Lala
  8. Sigh:: Languidly
  9. Two fish, three fish:: Four
  10. Cake or death:: Quote

The Mitochondria Eaters

IricES1 inside a mitochondrionFrom an aesthetic level, I find ticks themselves to be rather repulsive. But if you look inside this gruesome little insect–oh, how things get fascinatingly bizarre! In a way, a tick’s hidden secret is even more horrible than mere blood-sucking. I’m talking about a carnivorous microbe that devours a eukaryotic cell’s powerhouses: the mitochondria eater.

On the lookout for intracellular pathogens such as Rickettsia bacteria during the 1970s, David Lewis examined a species of ticks, Ixodes ricinus, found in England under electron microscopy. He certainly found some bacteria, but they were doing something really weird–they invaded only mitochondria and not other organelles of the cell.

Nowadays, there’s still not that much known about this mysterious bacterium–it still doesn’t even have a proper name. (Scientists are still calling it IricES1 for Ixodes ricinus endosymbiont.) What is known is that IricES1 belongs to a group of bacteria called alpha-proteobacteria and its niche is restricted to the eggs of the female tick. A bacterium will invade the mitochondria of the egg and eventually consume the entire mitochondrion matrix until there is nothing but “a swollen empty sac containing a rich population of bacteria.” Luckily for the tick, the egg itself seems unharmed and when fertilized, will develop into a seemingly healthy tick.

But with this predatory/symbiotic relationship restricted to the female germline, one can’t help but draw parallels between this and other sex related symbiotic relationships such as Wolbachia and its myriad invertebrate hosts. But can this be something totally different or is this just one stage in the process of a bacterium becoming inexorably linked to its host?