Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: January, 2007

Best Science Blogging

Coturnix over at A Blog Around The Clock now has the list of the 50 best science blog posts up which he is going to collect into an anthology he is editing. Go, read those gems. Unless you’ve been physically wired to your computer, I guarantee there are some articles you haven’t read before.

I never submitted any of my posts to be considered for the anthology because, um, I almost never checked my e-mail (or my blogroll) over the holiday. Besides, my posts are only good for bad Google-foo.

However, I’d Buy An E-Book Reader For A Buck

You’d think that since I’m such a book glommer, I must be just as obsessed with newspapers. Not so. No matter how many times people call me trying to get me to subscribe to the local papers (and yes, I mean you, the interrupter of dinners!), there’s no way I’m forking over my cash for the stuff. There’s such a gulf between the two types of print media. Unlike books, newspapers are unwieldy and the ink smears. I can find the articles online. And it’s just a waste of trees for something with such limited re-readability–although one could say the same for toilet paper. I suppose one advantage the paper has over the computer is that it’s lighter to carry around. But I’m not a news junkie so I know I’m not missing much.

On Books: Perception and the Imaginary

The Face in the Mirror by Julian Paul Keenan with Gordon G. Gallup Jr. and Dean Falk. What is self-recognition? When you observe yourself in a mirror, how do you know it’s you and not some other person? Keenan and his colleagues explore these questions of cognitive science by reviewing the literature in the field. From Darwin’s rudimentary mirror experiments to the modern magnetic resonance imaging techniques, scientists have tried to tease out the mechanisms of self-recognition, self-directed emotion, and its evolutionary significance. I found this to be fascinating reading–especially the experiments on primates to test for self-awareness and on brain-damaged patients who could not even recognize their own bodies and reflections. And who knew one of the hallmarks of self-recognition was that of deception?

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. The Venetian traveler, Marco Polo, finds himself at the court of Kublai Khan recounting the cities he had visited to the aging emperor. I would recommend this short novel just for Calvino’s scintillating and fantastic imagery. But there’s even more to think about than the writing style–at times, it’s downright philosophical. Is Marco Polo recounting different facets of one city? Is he using his city descriptions as metaphors for more serious matters? Are Polo’s tales part of some mind game he is playing with Khan? Or is this simply the matter of two men tripping on weed and having a bunch of hallucinations?

Brief Geek Randomness

I recently discovered The Dragon Page podcasts which is all about the current state of speculative fiction. I had a total fangirl squee moment when I found out that they did an interview with Connie Willis.

For the past half-year, I haven’t looked at much of the current interactive fiction out there, but it was only a couple days ago that I looked at the results of IF Comp 2006. I glanced a bit at Floatpoint (since I like a lot of Emily Short’s work), but I decided to start playing Delightful Wallpaper instead because I read a review saying that it’s Gorey-esque. And there’s few things that can beat Edward Gorey.

The Usual and Some Notes About Traveling

Tangled Bank #70. Read the latest collection of science-y goodness over at ¡Viva La Evolución!

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The Thursday Threesome: College Bowl Games

Onesome: College– playoffs? Yes or no? …or ‘who cares?’ Is the current BCS system something you think works or would prefer things a bit more ‘tidy’?

I’m in the “who cares?” camp. I also have no idea what a BCS system is.

Twosome: Bowl– of cherries? Chips? Tofu? What’s on your snack list during a game. …or a favorite show?

I have eaten cherries, chips and tofu while watching television before. Just not at the same time.

Threesome: Games– within games: if you’re a sports fan is there any sort of ‘inner game’ you like to watch during the contest? I’m thinking in terms of line work in football or post play in basket ball. …and if you’re not into sports, how about something similar in your favorite pastime?

I suppose there’s also games in books. But it’s getting sort of old with only chess or poker included in the plots. Where’s checkers and Go Fish?

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I don’t think it should take almost 24 hours to fly from one part of the United States to another, but it does. Even without weather being a problem, layovers, detouring connecting flights (dang it, I never asked to go to Portland, Oregon!) and inconvenient bus schedules pretty much eat up the time.

Yes, I’m a cranky traveler. I will never be like that young woman I saw who seemed overawed at everything because it was the first time she’s been in an airport or an airplane. I’m not metropolitan chic, but I haven’t been sequestered in the countryside for the past decade either. And speaking of sequestered–what’s up with all the people who never read travel advisories? At the checkpoint, the young woman in front of me got her huge can of hairspray confiscated. A middle-aged man who should know better was complaining about security taking away his toothpaste. And somebody trying to hold his place in line (yes, I was going on Southwest–no assigned seating!) with his carry-on lost it to the roaming patrols on the look-out for lone pieces of luggage.

Some other observations: On one of my flights, I sat in front of a man who complained about the de-icing procedures. He viewed himself as an expert because his father had been a commercial pilot (before he was forcibly retired after a flight to London). A young boy sitting in front of me was yelling, “We’re going to die! We’re going to die!” while the plane was landing. His grandmother never told him to shut up. The middle-age couple I sat next to were making fun of people who did not speak English as a first language. I should have told them to shut up.

And you’re sure to find a laptop junkie at every available electrical outlet in the airport terminal.

Books In Review

2006 was a rather unremarkable year in terms of my own book reading. Which, of course, calls for a major overhaul on my reading habits. If I were to make a new year’s resolution (which I’m not), it would probably be to read more award winning books. You know, just to say that I have. As for any books that stood out among the rest of the pap:

A Few Short Notes on Tropical ButterfliesJohn Murray (for most of the short stories)
On WritingStephen King (definitely required reading for wannabe writers)
The Mismeasure of ManStephen Jay Gould (excellent debunking of the intelligence quotient)
Inside JobConnie Willis (funny novella about pseudoscience)
Dead Witch WalkingKim Harrison (at the time, a fresh take on first person urban fantasy)

Aside from the books on the “currently reading list” on my bookrolling page, I’m in the middle of Gossamyr by Michele Hauf which I’m finding to be very hard going because of the molasses-like plot (I started the book sometime last summer). It doesn’t help that I didn’t like the first book in the series very much either. I just started Julian Keenan‘s The Face in the Mirror and I’m very eager to read Italo Calvino‘s Invisible Cities (I loved the excerpt I read a few years ago and it’s taken me forever just to get my hands on a copy).

The following are the final books I read last year:

Longitude by Dava Sobel – This may seem incongruous, but I’d call this “short and sweet.” I finished this tale of an eighteenth century Yorkshire clockmaker’s quest to solve the “longitude problem” in one sitting. I really liked reading about John Harrison’s struggle with getting his mechanical solution accepted by the establishment which viewed astronomy and mathematics as the ultimate answer to the problem. However, I couldn’t help feeling that Longitude was merely a skeleton for a lengthier, more in depth, and richer work. I would have appreciated more background on how navigators prior to the eighteenth century (particularly in the Ancient World) got their bearings, clockmaking, and Harrison’s instruments in particular.

Thunderbird Falls by C.E. Murphy – This is the sequel to Urban Shaman (which I had quite enjoyed) and the novella “Banshee Cries.” In this second offering, Joanne Walker–mechanic, reluctant cop, and a shaman of both Native American and Celtic heritage–is once again in hot water. Her spirit guide has disappeared, dead bodies are piling up, and demons are taking over Seattle. The plotting is breakneck. Joanne is not the invincible “kick ass” heroine present in today’s glut of urban fantasy and horror, instead she has to be dragged kicking and screaming to the showdowns with the bad guys. However, despite the entertaining action adventure, I’d have to say that Thunderbird Falls suffers the same fate as a lot of sequels and second books in series–the writing lags behind the plotting. There are sections of the novel that could have been seriously pruned or tightened up.

And the Apple Lovers Will Riot

Now that I’m unwittingly in possession of an iPod*, I’d have to say that I’m not impressed. It’s a lot like other portable mp3 players out there and in some ways, it’s not exactly user friendly either.

I think the popularity of the iPod is due more to branding than anyone embracing “geeky hipness” (if such a thing was possible). iPods and Wiis are to the eternally wired as Prada and Jimmy Choos are to fashionistas. Symbols of “coolness” and conspicuous consumption. One could ask, will my quality of life be improved any by this gadget? And I’d answer, “No.”

A few sheets of blank paper are far more useful.

*Actually, it’s the rather miniscule iPod shuffle. Someone might as well implant a suspicious looking black box in my ear canal.