Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: June, 2008

Idiots Up Ahead

On a two lane road, the driver of the oncoming car was using both his hands to comb his hair. I don’t get it. Gas pedals and personal grooming go together like nitroglycerine and an open flame.

Memes (And Memes Past)

Booking Through Thursday: Definition

What, in your opinion, is the definition of a “reader.” A person who indiscriminately reads everything in sight? A person who reads BOOKS? A person who reads, period, no matter what it is? Or, more specific? Like the specific person who’s reading something you wrote?

It depends on the context. The word “reader” doesn’t have to have just one definition. A small kid can be declared a reader if he/she has learned to decipher words, no matter what the material the words are printed on. When someone calls themselves a reader (or when I say I’m a reader), the reference is usually about books. But I have no problem with the constructions of “reader of newspapers”, “reader of comic books”, “reader of weblogs”, or even “reader of grocery receipts”. There’s also the phrase “my readers” used by authors of various written media–and that’s okay too, if you understand on the outset what they’re talking about.

* * *
Booking Through Thursday: Flavor

Think about your favorite authors, your favorite books…what is it about them that makes you love them above all the other authors you’ve read? The stories? The characters? The way they appear to relish the taste of words on the tongue? The way they’re unafraid to show the nitty-gritty of life? How they sweep you off to a new, distant place? What is it about those books and authors that makes them resonate with you in ways that other, perfectly good books and authors do not?

It’s a mixture of story, character, and authorial style. I like stuff with plot, with characters who are sympathetic or at least understandable, with flowing language. I can forgive lack of plot and obnoxious characters, but style is essential. Bad writing will make me put down the book unless I’m feeling stubborn or I have some outside reason to finish it.

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The Thursday Threesome: Guts and Determination

Onesome: “Guts”– sometimes can determine the outcome: whoever digs in and plays through the injuries and circumstances. What is your favorite memory of someone or a team driving past adversity to win the big one?

I don’t follow sports, so I don’t know of any sports teams or sports players overcoming adversity. In my life, I don’t have a memory of ever witnessing anyone really overcoming adversity either. Well, maybe if you count handicapped people, or homeless people, or ill people in a hospital. And in those cases winning the big one meant living and not getting the highest number on the scoreboard.

Twosome: …and– what brought that question on? The local team won the College World Series last night, winning every elimination game possible to advance as the lowest seed ever to win a National Title. No question, just kudos to them. Okay, easy question: did you hear anything about the games where you are?

As stated above, I know nothing of sports. If someone else is talking about sports, I don’t bother to eavesdrop. If they’re talking about sports to me, I will most likely tune out. So, no, I haven’t heard about any games. And even if I had, it went one ear and out the other, without a pause in between. (This doesn’t mean that I won’t read a book about sports, but that’s probably a little too meta for this question.)

Threesome: Determination– helps in life: what have you accomplished through sheer determination that will remain with you as a bright spot in your life?

I’m still on the determination part. Focusing on the accomplishment is sheer folly and hubris–possibly a way to madness. Sometimes, the fear and humiliation of failure is a larger motivator. Mostly, I waver between running from something and running after something. I pay little attention to the signposts that I pass.

* * *
The Thursday Threesome: Stating the Obvious

Onesome: Stating– things clearly? In your job/vocation/school do you like to have everything spelled out in detail? …or are you one of those people who does better with broad guidelines and a free rein?

Detail is good–for following experimental protocols, for explaining things to other people, for writing science-related stuff. But for things in general, I like broad guidelines (if there are any guidelines at all). I hate micromanaging. I intensely dislike having someone tell me every little thing I need to do. If someone was breathing down my neck and watching every move I make like a hawk, not only will I feel squicked by the fact that someone is invading my personal space, but I will also get the impression that others think I’m an incompetent. Besides, how can one be creative with too many restraints?

I’m aware, of course, that there are some people who need rules–giving them free rein is like dropping them in the middle of the ocean without a flotation device. This is neither bad nor good. But rules work for people with certain temperaments. I’m just not one of those people.

Twosome: the– food I miss the most is? (loaded question, but hey…)

Dim sum and Vietnamese cuisine. I’m in freakin’ Idaho. It’s so whitebread and conservative, not even the Mexican restaurants are all that good.

Threesome: Obvious– to some, but not to others: what is something that seems obvious to you but others seem to miss? …or how about something you just don’t ‘get’?

I don’t get rap. I don’t get some popular books. I don’t get olives. (But I do get olive oil.) I don’t get iPods. I don’t get flip-flops. I don’t get TV. I don’t get big hair. In short, I mostly don’t get fads.

Science Linkage

Tangled Bank #108 is now up at Wheat-dogg’s World. Go read some articles on physics, birds, and drugs.

A Personal Observation

Why is it that the majority of single twenty-something people I know are always whining about their lack of love life and plotting ways to get a date? I’m in the same age group, and as a single person I should empathize, but I don’t. Not really. I have no inclination to commiserate. Instead, I just listen and privately wish for someone to ram a screwdriver in my head so I don’t have to be inundated with their ranting anymore.

Or maybe most twenty-something people aren’t very good conversationalists*.

*Heck, I know I’m not. Nobody wants to hear me expounding on how cool it is that some people have neurological disorders that make them scratch their brains out. But at least I don’t stoop to constantly complaining.

Why My Posting Has Been Sporadic Lately

Old Faithful has nothing on bison crossing a river.

bison crossing
More pictures later when I actually get somewhere that doesn’t have spotty cell reception (i.e. pretty much anywhere outside of Yellowstone).


Booking Through Thursday: Clubbing

A combo of two suggestions by Heidi and by litlove

Have you ever been a member of a book club?

No. I have contemplated joining one from time to time–but only in a hypothetical sort of way. Book club selections are always of a certain type of book (no variety!) and I have no inclination to set aside time for going to a meeting when I have other priorities.

How did your group choose (or, if you haven’t been, what do you think is the best way to choose) the next book and who would lead discussion?

At the local library, there is a book club. At the check-out counter, there is a sign advertising for it with a list of what will be discussed in the next couple of months. This reminds me of high school reading lists–which is way too structured and limiting for me.

Although I haven’t been to a book club, I’m in a journal club. In many ways, journal clubs are completely different, but I prefer the way in which scientific articles are chosen for the week–that is, in a more egalitarian method. Different people lead the discussion each week. Those people get to pick papers which they find interesting. So when it’s your turn to present, you have relatively free reign on what to pick. Book clubs should operate on the same level if they aren’t already. Everyone should have a chance to pick a novel and lead the discussion. And it should be a surprise–not known six months in advance.

Do you feel more or less likely to appreciate books if you are obliged to read them for book groups rather than choosing them of your own free will?

I don’t think I would necessarily blame the book. I’d be more dissatisfied about being forced to read it. I already read a lot out of my own volition–I don’t need some club to direct my focus. Book clubs are possibly more suited for those who need encouragement to read, lack a certain decisiveness when it comes to choosing books to read, or cannot help talking* non-stop about books.

*I’m not much of a talker. Spewing out comments on the fly isn’t my style. On the whole, I prefer writing about books because it’s easier to organize my thoughts that way.

Does knowing they are going to be read as part of a group affect the reading experience?

Yes. Reading will be less enjoyable because there will be the expectation of contributing some kind of insight at the club meeting. This is exactly why I like opining about books via a blog rather than some other route. I write about a book and people can take it or leave it. The only expectation is from myself.

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The Thursday Threesome: Work Hard and Play Hard

Aside: “Work hard and play hard” is probably the most heard-of phrase from academics. Yet when they actually praise people specifically–like grad students–it’s all about the work. Six days a week, at least twelve hours a day. This “play hard” stuff is nonexistent.

Onesome: Work?– Work! Summer jobs: how about the worst one you’ve ever had! …or maybe the most interesting one? You decide…

Once I got into college, I worked in labs during the summers. Before that, I was working at a local library in my hometown. So no, I’ve never had a bad job. Although I suppose my library job was interesting due to dealing with various types of patrons and that all my co-workers had been older ladies who knew little about computers. So yeah, I got to be tech support even though I have rather average computer knowledge.

Twosome: “Hard” and– “Tight”? Words take on new meanings all the time. …used to be both those words were compliments; now it appears “sick” is a good thing (according to the lexicon of the local fourteen year-old). What have you heard lately that took you a minute to figure out. I mean, like “bad” is still “good”, right? Tight, man!

I don’t hang out with teenagers so don’t hear slang all that often. Although a couple months ago, there was a commercial playing on the radio about a local store and they actually used “WTF” and a bunch of other abbreviations. The acronym, not the actual words. And I was somewhat taken aback because I had thought it was mostly a written/internet phenomenon. (I have read somewhere else that some people have started inserting in their everyday conversations lolcat-speak–so maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised.)

Threesome: Play Hard?– What is your idea of “Summer Fun”? …and no, walking on the beach doesn’t count for this one!

Traveling to places I haven’t been to before would be cool. But I don’t have much time for it.

Tangled Bank #107: The CYOA Edition

You’re trapped on a cruise ship in the South Pacific, bored out of your mind. The swimming pool holds no appeal. Gambling is pointless because the advantage is on the house. The books you brought with you have long been finished. You’ve even resorted to registering for a cha-cha class to relieve your ennui. But that’s no fun, because the instructor is always yelling at you for having two left feet.

Then on a Wednesday morning, the ship docks on a small island. Travelers are allowed to go on land for the day. You debark and after wandering past the marketplace filled with locals hawking loud jewelry and ceremonial masks (probably manufactured in Taiwan), you find yourself in a small clearing with several paths meandering off into the undergrowth. There’s a sign nearby saying:

“Welcome to the one hundred and seventh edition of Tangled Bank.”

At the foot of the sign is a machete.

What do you want to do?
1) Take the south path.
2) Take the west path.
3) Take the north path.
4) Take the machete and carve your own path.
5) Go back to the ship. You had wanted to see Easter Island instead.

* * *
1) Take the south path.

The path winds along the coast of the island. Overhead, the sky turns dark. You see a cave nearby and reach the shelter just as lightning flickers and the rain pours from the sky.

So it’s raining. Big deal. But have you ever wondered how big are raindrops? Julie Kelsey from Mama Joules tries to tackle this question with some data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the USDA, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

In Women and Superstitions – Part Three, Kylie Sturgess on PodBlack continues her investigation on how anomalistic psychology and gender intersect with some analysis on studies involving sports superstitions and conspiracy theories.

Ames at Submitted to a Candid World discusses one of the weirder creationist ideas out there–Biblical scientific foreknowledge, i.e. claiming that the Bible got science right before science did.

And careful where you step (or where you drink). The guinea worm, described at Evolved and Rational, might sound like something from a B-grade horror movie, but it’s a parasite that can cause quite a bit of misery for its human host.

After several hours, the rain stops and the sun comes out. Where do you want to go now?
Back to the clearing.
Back to the ship.

* * *
2) Take the west path.

After a few hundred yards, the dirt path turns into gravel and then cobblestone. It terminates into a grand colonial house that looks as if it had seen better times. The door is open and inside, you discover a myriad of interesting rooms:

Many popular science writers go for the hot subjects which will excite the crowd. But what about the other stuff? Chris Hallquist from The Uncredible Hallq argues why the retina is sexy, too.

Clear the Mud posits that there is only a tiny difference between life and death. It’s wafer-thin–all depending on the coding of your DNA.

Designing communication devices for outer space isn’t such a trivial task as Charles Pergiel from Pergelator reports. After all, one also has to consider the amount of radiation out there.

Ouroboros‘ Chris Patil points out an article by the linguist Steven Pinker which parses out the idea of “human dignity”. During the course of his argument, Pinker discusses life extension technologies.

Monado at Science Notes shows an example of cultural Darwinian evolution where a select few use their social position as an advantage to survive during the hard times.

After a thorough investigation, where do you want to go?
Back to the clearing.
Back to the ship.

* * *
3) Take the north path.

The path steepens and soon dead-ends on top of a hill. But that doesn’t stop you from making your own way down to the other side where you find a number of interesting things:

Prokaryotes. Jonathan Hughes at Ramblings tells us to never trust anything with a nuclear envelope. Cause not only are they incredibly hardy in extreme environments, they don’t need us eukaryotes, even when we need them. Speaking of prokaryotes…

E. coli. P.Z. Myers at Pharyngula explains historical contingency in evolution using this bacterium as an example. It’s not because beneficial mutations just suddenly arise out of nowhere–instead, how organisms evolve is dependent on background genetics.

Telomeres. One of the many examples of noncoding DNA that is not junk. Sandwalk‘s Larry Moran describes these sequences at the end of the eukaryotic chromosomes that help protect against degradation and loss of information when the chromosomes are copied as part of a series on junk DNA and the organization of mammalian genomes.

Angiotensin-(1-7). Possible anti-cancer drug? Scicurious reports on this vasodilating peptide hormone which has the ability to inhibit the growth of lung cancer cells.

Passenger pigeons. Wait a minute, aren’t those extinct? Pinguinus over at Great Auk – or Greatest Auk? did a bit of reading about these birds and proposes that if billions of them were still alive today, they would have a significant ecological impact.

Where do you want to go next?
Back to the clearing.
Back to the ship.

* * *
4) Take the machete and carve your own path.

The blade feels light in your hand as you swing it toward some dense leaves. As you make your way through an uncharted part of the island, some things catch your eye…

Like plants. As Bora Zivkovic writes in A Blog Around The Clock, the whole field of chronobiology was started with plants when a French astronomer noticed the daily opening and closing of leaves of a heliotrope plant.

And 10,000 Birds. Well, at least one bird anyway. Mike Bergin shows us Winnie the Whimbrel, a champion flier that set a new record by covering 3,200 miles in under a week.

There’s incredible biodiversity in the world. Nick Sly explains on Biological Ramblings, there were at least 130 new vertebrate species described in the first five months of 2008 alone.

Observing animals out in the wild is nothing like that of captivity. So why have zoos? In Zoo-ology, James Cambias at Science Made Cool explores the reasons and problems behind these animal jails.

Larry Ferlazzo has found an interesting web application called Wild Sanctuary which includes audio of wildlife in specific places.

After hours of hacking away at the undergrowth, your arm is a bit tired. Where do you want to go next?
Back to the clearing.
Back to the ship.

* * *
5) Go back to the ship. You had wanted to see Easter Island instead.

As you board the cruise ship again, you bump into Bubba, the cha-cha instructor. He gives you a repressive glare. “You didn’t want to explore the island?”

You answer in the negative.

“We’re not even coming a hundred miles of Easter Island,” Bubba says incredulously. “You really are missing out on this island’s unique charms. And you have a whole day to explore! I know you don’t want to learn how to dance. So go, out!”

He pushes you back to the island.

* * *
6) Head back to the ship.

As the ship departs, you saunter back to your cabin and glance at the itinerary that had before looked so dull. You notice something that you didn’t remember reading previously. Ah, you’ll be arriving at the next Tangled Bank on June 25, located at the next port-of-call, Wheatdogg. There’s a guided tour included! You can even submit suggestions for places to visit to the event planner at

Then you start wondering, does e-mail even work on a cruise ship?


It’s Idaho, Not Nunavut

I stepped outside without checking the weather. It’s snowing. Gobs of it. With accumulation. With radio DJs extolling the virtues of possessing studded tires illegally still affixed to cars.

Where the heck is summer?

Tangled Bank Reminder

If you’re new to science carnivals, check out Tangled Bank for past carnivals to see how it’s like (I first hosted one here). The next edition is coming up in a couple of days so if you have a great science-related post you’d like to share, don’t hesitate to submit! You can send submissions to or by June 10 with the words “Tangled Bank Submission” somewhere on the subject line.

Memes (Belated)

Booking Through Thursday: Trends

Have your book-tastes changed over the years? More fiction? Less? Books that are darker and more serious? Lighter and more frivolous? Challenging? Easy? How-to books over novels? Mysteries over Romance?

I suppose one could say that my book tastes have changed over time. See for yourself in this reading chronology starting from 1985 and my bookrolling list which has every book I’ve finished since Christmas 2001. I find it somewhat hard to articulate exactly what my reading preferences are. My philosophy is, if the book looks interesting, I’ll try it. It doesn’t matter what subject or genre. And generally, I read more serious books (i.e. non-fiction) when I’m not so flooded with work and/or stress.

* * *
The Thursday Threesome: So, Ya’ll like Music, -eh?

Aside: Isn’t the apostrophe between the wrong letters in “Ya’ll”? It should be “Y’all”, right? Even if you’re trying to do southern slang, it should be done correctly.

Onesome: So– what if everyone else does it?!? I’m different and I’m going to do it my way! Heh, what is that for you? …the peanut butter and banana sandwich? …tie-dyed seat covers for the car? …or maybe an unusual sport?

I’m quite ordinary. Not because I dislike the unusual, but it takes effort to be unusual. And usually, if you try to be unusual, you come off looking like you tried too hard. Or everyone else is also being unusual, so you really end up being ordinary anyway.

Twosome: Ya’ll– gonna’ be catchin’ any big ol’ trout this year? …any fishing people out there on the porch? Hey, even watching on TV counts for something…

The lab next door works on fish. Does that count?

Threesome: “like Music–, like friends”: we all have different varieties we listen to from time to time. How about an update on your musical tastes? Go for it!

I did a post not too long ago on soundtracks that I’ve been listening to. As I’m writing this post, I’m listening to the soundtrack for Snow Falling On Cedars. Soothing and not too intrusive, easily ignorable if you’re busy concentrating on something. And no, I have not seen the movie.