Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: January, 2009

Revenge of the Bacteria

Lab Wars. A fellow labmate forwarded this Star Wars parody/lab safety video which I thought was hilarious. Another grad student gave one of his little laughs which indicated, succinctly, that he thought it was too geeky. But his threshold for geek is way too low. I can think of a myriad of ways to make it even more geeky.


So I’m planning on a trip to Germany in approximately eight months. This will be the first time since I’ve been to that country since I was one (which was almost a decade before the Berlin Wall fell). Does anyone know the best way to take a self-taught crash course in German that doesn’t involve buying silly language tapes?


It’s interesting what you find doing some self-googling. Hilarious: apparently someone would rather torture his tender parts rather than read my handwriting.

Heck Yeah It’s Disturbing

I’m reading this story about a grad student getting decapitated and my first reaction is: WTF?!!!

As a grad student myself, I worry about a lot of things. But until today, “other grad students” weren’t even on that list.

On Anonymity

At the start of this month, I searched several bookstores before finally finding a store that only had one copy of a book that was the last in a series I had been following. The series is so-so; I only kept up with it due to a curiosity for how the author would end it. Would the last book somehow pick up the slack from the middle books in the series or would it just fizzle out? Disappointingly, it did the latter.

Not long after finishing the book, I did a little surfing online and discovered the author’s blog. In one entry, she talked about a review she found in which the reader didn’t whole-heartily like the book. But that, apparently, wasn’t what bothered her. What she didn’t like was that the review was by an anonymous person. My first thought was: what use would it be if the review was signed by a real name? Is the author going to call the online reviewer to tell them that they’re wrong? (My view on books is this: the author may have a particular intent when writing a book, but when it’s finally out in the wild for mass consumption, what really matters is the reader’s own interpretation and experience of the story. No one, let alone the author, can dictate how someone should read something.)

I’ve done brief reviews of some of the earlier books in the series. And I suppose I have been anonymous. But only in a semi kind of way (anyone with any inclination to do so could easily dig up the pertinent info). There are others who are even more anonymous than I am, and I respect that. There are reasons why people don’t put their real name on everything–ranging from professional to privacy issues.

What I don’t understand is why the author dislikes the anonymous. As I asked before, what use would it be otherwise? Is the author going to make a list of names to harass? Is the author paranoid that the anonymous is actually some famous New York Times critic, an influential editor, a rival author with an ax to grind? Does it even matter if they are?

One argument against being anonymous is that being anonymous is tantamount to being cowardly. The thought is–one can hide behind anonymity to say whatever they wish without repercussion, especially saying things in which they would never tell another person to their face. Perhaps. But in some ways, I think there is more honesty in anonymity. If one is speaking to another face to face or real name to real name, one must consider that it may not be real at all–just a genteel mask used to mute and hide the actual thoughts and to influence others’ perceptions.

Fictional Diversity

Writing for the Other et al. is an interesting discussion on ethnicity in fiction. There are two schools of thought about this: 1) write everyone as a person first, ethnicity second and 2) people are too complicated to be written as “persons”. I tend toward the second view since the first is rife with assumptions. You can’t assume that everyone has the same core values and definitions for what it is to be a person, and you can’t assume that ethnicity can be layered onto anyone the same way that you pick a hat to wear.

I’ve written in this blog before that I would like to be seen as a person first rather than as my background. Now, this does not mean that I want the reader to think that I’m just some nebulous voice box with some opinions snatched from thin air. I’m aware that everyone comes from somewhere. The background always has some sort of influence on point of view. I just don’t want anyone reading some fact about me, like my gender for instance, and then automatically assuming that I’m a certain way before I say or do anything as an individual.

I see it this way: A person with background A and another with background B have a range of experiences and personalities. Some of it overlaps. Some of it doesn’t. The stuff that doesn’t overlap isn’t superficial. Maybe on some level, the first person understands the experiences of the second person. But qualitatively, it won’t be the same unless the first person had actually experienced it in the same sort of circumstances–i.e. the overlapped section.

Anyways, I think writers should be aware of the complexity of depicting different ethnicities in their fiction but that they should also go ahead and write it all out on their own first. Don’t let others dictate what to write because of somebody else’s idea of what’s nice and just. Nobody’s ideas for nice and just are the same*. Get the story out and then let the fanatics for identity politics tear it up. Because let’s face it: no matter how the story turns out, there will always be someone who will nitpick even if it’s something as inconsequential as the kind of shoes a minor character is wearing on page 189.

*Of course, there’s the argument that there’s a baseline for what’s nice and just and maybe writers should keep that in mind. But where is that baseline? Is it fine for an author to include other ethnicities in any capacity? Must the author also strive for authenticity? How will we measure “authenticity” when people within an ethnic group have different experiences? Or will it only be acceptable if the author is also the ethnicity of their characters?

First, a Short One

I’m blaming my reluctance to post on inertia. After a break of not doing much online, it’s kind of hard getting into it again.

Anyways, what did I do during break? Well, I managed to watch the 2005 season of Doctor Who. I consider this sort of an accomplishment–because these days, I have almost no inclination for watching anything except documentaries and maybe the occasional movie. I liked most of the episodes well enough. My favorite for that season was the two part arc, The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances. It was a good blend of sci-fi and horror without becoming campy or gory.

I told another grad student about Doctor Who, but she had never heard of this series before. My first reaction was disbelief–I mean, who hasn’t heard of Doctor Who? Then again, I guess I’m just assuming too much. I shouldn’t be surprised. Even people out here in the backwoods are too sophisticated to waste their time messing about with stupid geeky stuff.