Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: March, 2008

What Did You Mis-Hear Today?

While driving home, I thought I heard the guy on the radio say:

“I used to do math, but then I lost everything.”*

And my thought was: Are they cracking down on calculators now? Am I breaking the law by fiddling with derivatives? Oooh, that sounds kinda dirty.

*(It was actually one of those public service announcements for meth use prevention.)

Semantics Or Something Else Entirely?

I’ve heard people refer to “college” and “grad school” as completely separate things. But grad school is in a college. Even med and law schools are located on college campuses. Let’s just say I’m annoyed that people have co-opted the term “college” to mean “undergraduates”. Saying I go to college and I go to grad school is not supposed to be mutually exclusive.


Booking Through Thursday: Cover-Up

While acknowledging that we can’t judge books by their covers, how much does the design of a book affect your reading enjoyment? Hardcover vs. softcover? Trade paperback vs. mass market paperback? Font? Illustrations? Etc.?

I despise most modern book covers. But since I do read books with recent publication dates, it means that the cover has no bearing on my enjoyment of a story.

I have no preferences for hardcover/softcover/trade/mass market on an enjoyment level although this definitely factors in on the financial aspect. Fonts and illustrations, however, are a different story. These things don’t affect how I read a story–once I start it, that is. But it does affect the probability that I will pick it up in the first place. It’s probably due to some social conditioning I have yet to scrub out. Let’s see, if I encounter these random covers in the bookstore:

Bland classical landscapes or portraits – Maybe, if I’ve heard of the author
Garish horror imagery – Unless it’s Lovecraft, no
Knives/people running/other thriller and suspense designs – Probably not
Cutesy mysteries – NO
Cinch covers and man-titty – Only when I’ve read favorable reviews
Flowers – No
Women in skin tight clothing – NO
Space ships – Maybe
Guys with swords – Um, probably not
Girly fantasy illustrations/cats – Unless I’ve read a really favorable review, no
Cartoons – Quite possibly, especially if it’s really terrible
Plain solid colors – Too easy to overlook

So what kind of cover design do I like? As much as it pains me to say, I like the cover to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. The story isn’t great and the typeface is blah, but the ripped crop of the Mona Lisa is kind of edgy. The various covers of Baudolino by Umberto Eco are pretty cool. Although I haven’t read this book, I liked the Jody Lee cover to Mercedes Lackey’s The Black Swan enough that I once had it as wallpaper on my computer. And I particularly like Thomas Canty’s covers (some scans here). There were also a series of abstract British science fiction covers (here) which were really awesome. Charles Stross also has some neat covers. In short, I prefer covers with a distinctive style yet are not cliche.

Addendum: On the interior stuff–I’m pretty neutral about the typefaces of the story. I’m usually amused by any illustrations within the text and plates found in non-fiction works are always informative. But when the words are in any other color than black (especially if it’s red), it becomes a pain.

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The Thursday Threesome: Something old, Something new, Something borrowed, Something blue

Onesome: Something old- Do you have anything that you’ve owned simply forever? A cherished childhood toy, an antique handed down through the family? …the family Bible?

I don’t remember whether it was my uncle, a great-uncle, or some cousin twice removed who gave it to me, but it’s a stuffed raccoon with a music box inside.

Twosome: Something new- Buy anything new lately?

Does yogurt count?

Threesome: Something borrowed- Have you ever borrowed an item and never returned it?

Not that I recall.

Bonus: Something blue- Can you see anything blue from where you are? What is it?

Your website. If not counting anything on the computer, then it’s a folder on my desk.

Oh, Great

This is probably one of the few times when I’m glad I’m in lab at freakishly early hours. It’s much easier to navigate blizzard struck roads when there’s no one else on the roads. Now the question is: can I get out of a snow-covered school at the end of the day?

Those Pesky Numbers

I generally do well enough that when grade time rolls around I don’t go into full blown panic mode, but there’s one thing I really dislike, even when I find myself at or near the top of the heap. That is: the posting of everyone’s grades. I suppose it might be useful when a curve is involved, but still–it wouldn’t hurt to have posted some averages and standard deviations instead. I don’t care about other people’s grades. More importantly, I don’t want other people to know about my grades. It’s like telling some missionaries you bump into at the local Safeway your home address. That’s just asking for trouble.

When to Find the Time to Read

The 2008 Hugo Nomination List is up and I haven’t read any of this stuff. I recognize all the names though. Does that count?

Well, I have no excuse not to read the stories already online. Definitely want to read the one by Ted Chiang and I’ll have to search for the one by Connie Willis. With the number of entries from Asimov’s, it makes me wonder if I should subscribe to it again.

Amusement at the Grocery Store

Well, that’s the first time I’ve seen a woman stuff several pounds of Easter candy into a salad spinner just to avoid using a shopping bag.

Finally, Pictures from the Center of the Universe

downtown WallaceCoeur d'Alene RiverTaking pictures of manhole covers would be too cliche. So I’m showing some other stuff.

Earlier this month, I decided to visit Wallace which was part spur-of-the-moment and partially planned. It was spur-of-the-moment because I came across this small town on some random internet searching and it was partially planned because I wanted to go on a day during spring break on which it was not snowing. Of course, that didn’t prevent snow from wreaking some havoc anyway.

After getting out of lab at 6:30 AM, I took US-95 north to Coeur D’Alene and then I-90 east to my destination. Sure, this was a couple hours of driving, but it was no hardship. The scenery, especially as the sun bloomed from dawn to early morning, was a revelation. How can the poetic soul not be swayed by the swelling ground crowned by evergreens and little spoiled by human detritus? I-90 as it went through the steeply graded Fourth of July Pass at 70 mph could have been terrifying. But it was exhilarating. Something about frosted mountains and clear sky makes one want to fly.

I first stopped at Kellogg. At the nadir of tourist influx, the place was half sleepy village, half abandoned ski resort with an empty garish amusement park visible from the highway. Some people may only be comfortable when a crowd is around. I enjoy places where I feel like I’m the only person in the world. After poking around with nothing other than the occasional car coughing past, I stumbled upon a mining accident memorial and a place advertising for mining tours (although it was closed). Then I decided to turn around via a parking lot which deceptively looked like it was covered in a fine layer of snow. And my car got stuck in that hellish brew of one inch white slushy. I spent half an hour spinning my wheels before a passing motorist helped push my car out. Yes, let that be a lesson: don’t enter an unplowed parking lot even though there’s just a sprinkling of snow. Seemingly inconsequential things can bite you in the ass.

Sunshine Mine MemorialKellogg's Jackass
Oasis BordelloWallace itself was a cluster of historic buildings nestled in the navel of mountains. And aside from a couple of shady looking characters with trucker hats, was as empty as a ghost town. All of the museums were closed as well as the trinket shops. I did discover a used bookstore, Placer Village Books, which I couldn’t resist visiting. The front door warned of tough guard cats although while I was poking around the inventory (surprisingly extensive for a town with only a couple hundred residents) only one cat was briefly interesting in sniffing my fingers and another more neurotic feline peeked at me from behind a rack of thrillers. There was also a cockatiel stationed at the front of the store with delusions that it was a rooster. Cuk-cu-cuk-cu-coo! Cuk-cu-cuk-cu-coo!

On another spur-of-the-moment impulse, I decided to visit Murray, another historical mining town. But I never got there because the road I took was a dead end. I did end up driving through Osburn though–a tiny town with a somewhat creepy-looking bar as its focal point and the impression that it’s been permanently stuck in the 1950s.

Placer Village BooksFor someone who enjoys hectic soccer mom vacations, these places in the Idaho panhandle may not be ideal destinations–particularly at this time of the year. But for someone who loves the unusual, these last outposts skirting the boundary between civilization and wilderness, where wilderness looms heavily in the background threatening to take back what it once owned, are fascinating. It’s not literally the center of the universe, but when you’re physically standing at a remote crossroads surrounded on all four sides by chilly, sheer rock, you certainly feel like you are.

Wallace Mileage Sign

Small Tweaks

Only of interest to myself, I was fiddling with typefaces as a design element and ended up changing the entrance page which used to have a painting of a valkyrie against a purple background to plain black and white with an abstract balloon thingie. My Nanowrimo-related site got a face-lift because I’m currently enamored with Telegrafico. I also put up a page for Script Frenzy 2008–in case I do end up writing anything for it.

And I finally found out the name of an annoying font: Scriptina. I see this thing everywhere and I hate it. Probably as much as Comic Sans. Scriptina screams ultra feminine chic that overshoots its goal for runway and lands into a warehouse filled with expired Valentine candy. It almost makes one want to take multiple shots of indecipherable grunge fonts to wipe it from the brain.

It’s Certainly Very Odd

I just found out that a younger relative of mine has gotten engaged and I’m feeling sort of odd, like I’m stuck in a time warp. Or I’ve been thrown into a parallel universe. See, I’m not a particularly nosy person. Quite the opposite. I never really ask how anyone else is doing because I’m too busy trying to get to the next day without going mad from stress. So when I find out something significant has happened to someone, I feel a bit surprised. Not that anyone bothers to inform me of things anyway.

Hm. Now I’m thinking about weddings. Particularly how I’m never invited to one, whether it’s supposed friends or relatives. I don’t blame them. I mean, who wants a loner who is forgettable, non-photogenic, quiet, and conversationally uninteresting at their party?