Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: January, 2008

Snowshoes Would Be Good About Now

So I’m on campus, ready to head back home. Home? You might ask. It’s not even nine in the morning! Well, the snow’s pouring from the sky, students slipping about on the walkways, people getting about on snowshoes, cars bumping into each other, the visibility is about nil, and there’s just so much snow that no one’s bothered to plow anything. (It felt like swimming in jello just to get to campus.) Oh, and yeah, school is closed. Now that’s a first. Universities usually never close, even if there’s a blizzard going on.

Urg. So in a minute or two, I’m heading back out. And it’s going to suck getting blinded by cold cotton.


Booking Through Thursday: Quirky

What are some of the more outrageous characters you’ve read, and how do you feel about them?

I’m not going to name any examples, but I will say that I will accept the existence of a quirky and outrageous character in a book that has quirky, outrageous, and comedic tones more easily than in a book that attempts to take things seriously. It’s not to say that a serious book can’t have an outrageous character but often it just becomes annoying.

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The Thursday Threesome: Long Ago and Far Away

Onesome: Long ago– I was sure I would become a _ _ _ _ _ _ when I grew up! Hmmm…

The first job I thought I wanted was to become a teacher. It was in first grade and there was this assignment to draw a picture of what you wanted to do when you grew up. So I picked something.

Twosome: and– how did you end up where you are (currently) if that didn’t happen? (Students, you can talk majors and changes and such!)

Well, all I can say is, I’m most likely more suited to be a scientist than a teacher. I have mixed feelings about my experiences as a teaching assistant.

Threesome: Far Away– from any thoughts of the Super Bowl? Are you tuning in? No? Whatcha’ doin’ instead?

Even if I had a TV, I would not be watching the Super Bowl. Sports bore me. I’m not sure what I’ll be doing this weekend. Maybe catching up on some reading.

A Class, Canceled

Hm. Well. The weather’s bad and some students had their classes canceled but not the way I had my class canceled. The prof didn’t show up even though we knew he/she was on campus. Somewhere. (The class I’m taking is of an interdisciplinary nature and it’s team taught by professors from many different science departments. That is, a different prof gives lectures every week.) So after eighteen minutes after what was supposed to be the start of class (applying the fifteen minute rule plus three minutes “grace period”), all the students left. I also wanted to add that before we left, one of the students volunteered to hunt down the prof at his/her lab and office in case he/she had somehow “lost track of time”. The student didn’t find the prof so…

One of the other students jokingly said that we might all be given Fs because we weren’t in class. Grades are based partially on attendance so I suppose part of me isn’t taking this lightly. But really, how fair is it to fail everyone if even the prof doesn’t bother to attend class?

A Link About Books

Booksthatmakeyoudumb. It’s a rough plot of popular books versus SAT score. The presumption is that the books at the lower score range are “dumb” while the ones at the high end are “smart”. Well, if I wanted to get smarter, I’d read some non-fiction by an expert in that field. Everything else is entertainment (which doesn’t relate to intelligence, just taste).

Watching the Rats Scurry By

A little bit of ambition is not necessarily a bad thing. Overachievement isn’t a sin. But some people don’t have to be so blatant about it.

A student was bragging loudly about his triple majors and completely unrelated minor. He does research. He helps kids with cancer (overseas!) in his spare time. He wants to go to med school.

I kept waiting for him to stand up like a beauty queen to talk about world peace as a rousing denouement for his whole spiel. And if I were an interviewer, I’d be rolling my eyes–mentally, of course. It’s not the accomplishments that have me dismissive, but the delivery. I can’t decide whether this guy is too self-assured (really, there is such a thing) or trying to cover up an insecurity.


Booking Through Thursday: Huh?

What’s your favorite book that nobody else has heard of? You know, not Little Women or Huckleberry Finn, not the latest best-seller…whether they’ve read them or not, everybody “knows” those books. I’m talking about the best book that, when you tell people that you love it, they go, “Huh? Never heard of it?”

The Poison Master by Liz Williams (my review is here). I first read about this book on a mailing list/Yahoo! group. I usually lurk on such things, if I don’t have anything else to do or am bored–not that often, really–and the current thread at the time was a discussion about books people recently read and liked. Of course, there were plenty of well-known authors and books being bandied about, but one person mentioned The Poison Master. But other than that one mention, no one else on that mailing list ventured any opinion on whether they had also read the book or that they thought they might try it.

I’m not sure what prompted me to note it down on one of my scattered lists for “books to find and read”. The poster was rather vague about the book’s premise and I never bothered to look elsewhere online for a synopsis or other people’s reviews. The poster wasn’t a regular and didn’t have a track record for having similar tastes to mine. I just went straight to the library to find a copy. (Of course, after I read the book, I went to look for other reviews. They’re rather mixed–which is understandable. I don’t think Williams’ literary style is for everyone.)

In retrospect, I think I picked up this book because the title was similar to another, Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, which I had been looking forward to for several months (because I happened to read the excerpt)–and, I think, publicized enough that a sizable number of people online were talking about it. I read Poison Study after The Poison Master and although it would be hard to compare the two (the former is fantasy, the latter is science fiction), there’s something far more complex and satisfying about The Poison Master than Poison Study even though the endings were, in some respects, up in the air. I think surprise and randomness also plays a part in which books I grant “favorite” status to. Poison Study was good, but I had expected it to be that. I had absolutely no expectations about The Poison Master, and I think my surprise that I really liked this story that no one knew about helped contribute to labeling this as a “keeper”.

Hm. Now that I think about it, the majority of my favorite books were found serendipitously. And they all seem to be books that no one of my acquaintance has heard of–even the Pulitzer Prize winning ones. (Maybe I should get more book-knowledgeable acquaintances.)

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The Thursday Threesome: Harlem Globetrotters Basketball

Onesome: Harlem– Nights? The Apollo Theater? If we came to visit your area, where would you recommend we sightsee?

Hell’s Gate State Park. I took some photos here.

Twosome: (The) Globetrotters– can be quite a show! Have you ever seen them? Are there any “show” teams you like to watch perform? Pep competitions? Bands?

I suppose it would be interesting to watch bands perform, but I don’t have any particular preferences.

Threesome: Basketball– is in full swing, and March Madness isn’t all that far away? Any opinions on either NBA or NCAA teams? …or is it all downhill after the Packers lost?

I do not pay attention to basketball.


Tracking down a source. The New York Times and other news outlets are reporting on a study that links miscarriages to caffeine consumption. However, upon a cursory glance, the study doesn’t seem to exist. I also tried combing through the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology website just as Adventures in Ethics and Science did and found nothing. A search on PubMed using the authors’ names also does not reveal the paper. On Google Scholar, there’s a “citation” to the work, although who cited it and exactly what that means on the search result is pretty much fuzzy to me. I also searched by DOI, and told me: “Error – DOI Not Found”.

Maybe the journalist got the journal title wrong? I noticed on the “lead” author’s webpage that he had published an article in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Maybe it’s in there–but nope. I also looked up Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research, and Obstetrics, Gynaecology & Reproductive Medicine. Nothing in all of them.

Then I searched using keywords on PubMed, particularly “caffeine” and “miscarriage”. I got this article by Savitz et al., published in January 2008 in Epidemiology. Definitely same subject, although completely opposite conclusions.

Get Your Latest Science Fix

Tangled Bank #97 is up at The Inoculated Mind. Brains, cooking, and an interview with David Attenborough!


Booking Through Thursday: Let’s Review

How much do reviews (good and bad) affect your choice of reading? If you see a bad review of a book you wanted to read, do you still read it? If you see a good review of a book you’re sure you won’t like, do you change your mind and give the book a try?

When I’m in the mood to read reviews, I do not read just one review of a book–I read several. A single review usually doesn’t sway me from reading or not reading a book. Bad reviews don’t prevent me from reading a book that I’ve already decided to read. Non-gushing good reviews or well-reasoned bad reviews sometimes convince me to read a book–but only if I’m already aware of the book before I’ve read the review and am on the fence.

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The Thursday Threesome: Apple Pie Crust

Onesome: Apple– turnovers? Bear claws? Do you have a favorite pastry? You know, the one you can’t pass up no matter what!

I like variety. And I know there are times when I can pass on pastry. Like when I’m full.

Twosome: Pie– or cake? You’re out to dinner and you get your choice: What do you go for? …or do you simply have to have the creme brulee?


Threesome: Crust–makes the pie, ya’ think? Which pie absolutely has to have the proper crust or it just doesn’t work for you?

I like the crusts made out of flour. The stuff made out of cookies/graham crackers/what-have-you is not a crust.

Brief Musings

*Still cold and snowy. Walking (or in my case, sliding) down steep hills covered in ice is treacherous business.

*Thinking about redesigning this site. Except I’m not sure how I want to redesign it. Definitely not something flashy, gaudy, or cute. Maybe I’ll just end up changing the colors.

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Move Over, ‘Meerkat Manor’. The nature writer who got plagiarized by a romance author (see previous post) speaks out in Newsweek. I am amused by the variety of reactions this has garnered:

a) People confirming their own stereotypes about a particular genre just because one author writes badly and behaved unethically.

b) People angry at the nature writer for bashing romances.

c) People forgiving the nature writer for this instance of bashing romances because, hey, he was plagiarized.

d) The nature writer gains an army of fan girls.

e) People start donating money to save the ferrets.

f) People wondering why others are donating as an “apology” when it’s supposed to be the plagiarizer who should be apologizing.

g) Donors argue that it isn’t an apology. They just want to save the ferrets.

My reaction: Why are people only wanting to save the cute fuzzy animals? Where I live, there’s a giant earthworm that needs help.