Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: February, 2009

42 Really Is the Answer to Everything

Just got back from this. Happy, yet tired. Also managed to get one of the last tickets for the Friday show before it sold out (bwahahaha!). I’ll blab more on Saturday.

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A Meme

Booking Through Thursday: Collectibles
* Hardcover? Or paperback?
* Illustrations? Or just text?
* First editions? Or you don’t care?
* Signed by the author? Or not?

In general, I do not care about the book format. I’m more of a series completist rather than someone who views books as objects to be possessed. In other words, I’m more interested in the story, not the container it’s in. So if I manage to find a copy in a used bookstore and it’s not in the greatest condition, I’d still get it–because I want it for the story.

On author signings: I’ve never personally gotten anything signed by a writer. I think it’s cool (depending on which author it is), but I’m not sure I could tolerate standing in line and then given a signature like just another consumerist. Book signings are just another promotional tool to get people to buy more books. It’s not like most authors really give a damn about their readers.

Digital Manipulation

I’ve recently discovered a graphics editor called Inkscape and lately have been fiddling around with it. So far, I’ve found it fairly easy and intuitive to use–I might even use it to make my poster for this year’s ASM general meeting*. Although I do wonder if the apparent ease is really just me being accustomed to how most programs work. Because I definitely recall my first encounter with Photoshop. And it was not a Happy Time. Spending late nights at a computer lab attempting to manipulate yearbook pictures so that all the seniors appeared like streakers** crouching amidst some strategically placed bushes was definitely not high on my list for being artistically creative.

*If anyone else is also there, I’ll be presenting on Thursday morning. Drop by and say hi. And I’d love to blather to you about my research. Also apologies in advance for those of you who might be expecting something else–I promise it won’t have anything to do with naked college students.

**They were the ones who asked to be photoshopped. Not me.

Convert to the Church of Attenborough

Approximately two weeks ago, I mentioned to an undergrad* in casual conversation that I had started watching David Attenborough’s 1975 documentary series The Tribal Eye** since I am a total Attenborough fangirl. I half expected to be ignored (fangirls are always ignored) or at least brushed off for having kooky tastes.

But this week, the undergrad tells me out of the blue, “I have a mancrush on David Attenborough!!!!!” Without sarcasm. Apparently, he has started working his way through the entire Life series and is totally in love with Attenborough’s narration.

Some might say that I’ve created a monster. But I think this is just evidence that my tastes (in documentaries at least) do not completely suck.

*No, he was not one of the undergrads who did this.

**Which I’m still in the middle of. I might do a write-up once I finish the entire series.

Plate Pouring Should Be An Olympic Sport

Urg. I spent most of my weekend making agar plates. Two thousand of them, to be precise*. I could have spent the time being productive on something more interesting (or being completely lazy) if it had not been for some undergrads who had managed to mess up plate pouring earlier in the week**.

I guess I’m more annoyed with myself than with them–I’m totally not the type to micromanage, even when perhaps micromanaging is called for. Teaching how to do a protocol is one thing–I demonstrate first with verbal explanations, then I watch once or twice while the student performs the procedure to make sure that they’re doing it right. But otherwise, I usually have a kazillion and one other things to do, so I’m absent when people pay insufficient attention to the labels of chemicals*** and when things become fast and sloppy–thus sacrificing quality for quantity (which in the end, more time and materials are required to redo it).

A former post-doc had taped a quote on one of the fridges which says something to the effect that if you don’t have the time to do it right the first time, you don’t have time to do it again. I wish more people would read that and brand it on their foreheads.

*And at least two thousand more to go, all before the Big Crazy Experiment planned smack dab in the middle of Spring Break! Cows wait for no one…

**For a lot of people, making agar plates is the laboratory equivalent to boiling an egg. How the hell can they mess it up? One might ask. Well, you can mess it up plenty.

***Which judging from some stories I’ve heard about evacuations of the chemistry building, can be quite dangerous.

Linky Dink

The Sleeping Bear. (via Bifurcated Rivets) It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase sleeping with the fishes bears.

Color in Nature: Seahorse. Ooo, wacky colored ones.

WebUrbanist has a bunch of funky things. I especially like the posts on abandonments, like a recent one on windmills.

Droppin’ Like Flies

I don’t particularly think of people who go into science as being squeamish. Just go to a couple of seminars given by researchers working on infectious disease. There’s almost always a bit of unholy glee when certain clinical pictures come up.

On Friday morning, a research associate and I were training some students on a protocol for processing bovine blood samples. Non-trivial amounts of blood were involved (and it is a non-trivial exercise getting the blood from an animal that could mow you down in a heartbeat–if it was smart enough), but I didn’t think too much about it because, really, it’s just tubes of red stuff. But before we could even get to step two, three-fourths of the students staggered out of the lab on the verge of fainting (the remaining student was too hyped up on coffee to notice anything). You’d think that they had stumbled onto the movie set of some splatterpunk gorefest rather than some fairly routine laboratory procedure.

I dislike looking at gross stuff as much as the next person, but this, I’m not quite understanding. It’s easy to depersonalize (or in this case, debovinize*) because the blood isn’t gushing out of some living thing–it’s in a tube. Or maybe this is just me–I can think of it in the abstract and treat it as nothing special in the large scheme of things–just another component in the big picture experiment. Other people, it’s more like: Arg! Blood! Cue smelling salts.

*If this isn’t already a word yet, I call dibs!

From Yesterday

Booking Through Thursday: Storage. How do you arrange your books on your shelves? Is it by author, by genre, or you just put it where it falls on?

I would like to organize my books by author, but at the moment, the order of all my books are a mess. Non-fiction is mixed in with the fiction. The only sort of order they might be in–and my memory is a little foggy on this–is the order in which I obtained the books. I have also been trying to keep all my unread books in the same location so I could have a reading list, in all its cluttery 3D glory.

* * *
Last night, when I was eating dinner, I heard my neighbor upstairs start up the vacuum cleaner. This wasn’t particularly unusual until the whir of the vacuum was interrupted with a rrrrack-ck-ck-ck-ck-rrrrack-ck-ck-ck-ck as if a disgruntled housewife had taken a chainsaw to the kitchen floor. What the heck?

* * *
I also attended a seminar yesterday. It was supposed to be part of a series put out by my department. But I knew I had dropped into Never Never Land when the seminar speaker said early in her talk, “As you all know from plant physiology courses you’ve taken….” What?! I managed to hide my expression of intense bewilderment in the guise of frowning while taking copious notes–no need to alert the nice plant professor seated nearby that I had the urge to run flailing and screaming from the room rather than hear about phloems and xylems.

Well, let’s just say I found it all as enlightening as being lectured on the amino acid synthesis pathways. And as a microbiologist, maybe I’m rather biased, but I was utterly disappointed that while nitrogen fixation was a major topic, there was no mention (not even a hint!) of the bacteria involved. Is it a bad thing to say that there are some areas of science that I don’t find especially scintillating? Must I be enthusiastic all the time? There’s a reason why I study one thing and not something else.

Lovecraft on Happy Pills

Sometimes I wonder if my tastes are too mainstream, that if something finally has come to my attention and I find that I like it, it’s probably jumped the shark. Well, there’s nothing wrong with liking mainstream stuff although if you just look around online, it seems as if a lot of things are described, at best, as pedestrian. But then when you mention this stuff to people in Real Life, they don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. Example: steampunk. This aesthetic movement was written up in mainstream media like the New York Times not too long ago, but when I mention this to people–it’s all new to them.

Lovecraft is another of those things which people in Real Life don’t have any clue about. “Come on, you must have at least heard about Cthulhu!” Blank stares. This makes me feel too geeky to be interacting with normal people, yet not geeky enough for the hardcore crowd. It sucks to be in the middle–a dilettante, a dabbler. No respect as an expert and no excuse as an ignorant.

It’s with this viewpoint that I watched the first three episodes in the anime series xxxHolic: Kei. I really liked the first series of xxxHolic–deliciously creepy and silly self-contained episodes about addictions, obsessions, compulsions, and their consequences all illustrated in a twiggy, serpentine style. This is all as a casual viewer. I’m sure that stuff was lost in the translation, references to other anime flew over my head, explanations in the manga ignored, and cultural subtleties were as transparent as mud. Despite my obtuseness, I do realize that none of this stands completely alone. While Kei may very well be enjoyed by itself, I think the viewer would better appreciate it with the first series already under his belt.

In the three episode arc (“Spiderweb”, “Left Eye”, “Half”), two of the main characters get caught up in the consequences of grudges and a Hammurabi-esque notion of justice. But is it really about the ones bearing grudges who have a worse view of things than the ones who did the damage, or something else entirely? The theme that really intrigued me was that of sacrifice. What does it mean for the person who sacrifices? More importantly, what does it mean for the person who is sacrificed for? Although it might seem noble at first glance, will a sacrifice in the long run be worthless?

Overall, I thought this was a really good start to the second series. It was more character oriented rather than horror–I can only compare my reaction after watching the episodes to when I finish reading “The Gift of the Magi”, bittersweet but fitting. That said, I’m still mulling over the bizarro Alice in Wonderland sequence. I could ascribe meaning to it. Or should I brush it off as just another silly interlude?

Mine’s Eclectic

Well, I finally got around to updating my blogroll (not to be confused with the bookroll, which will be updated as soon as I finish a book). It more accurately reflects my online reading habits–but other than my own edification and cross-linkage, what purpose does it serve anyway? I’m more likely to pay attention to a blog’s commenters.

Sometimes I look at other people’s blogrolls, but they’re pretty much impossible to interpret. Does the blogger actually read these blogs or are they just there for reciprocal linking?

I’m reminded of the recommendation systems at book sites where you find a book and some algorithm comes up with a bunch of other “similar” books that you might also like. It would be awesome if the blogroll also contained sites that the reader might find worthwhile to read. But so far, I’ve found this to be hit-or-miss. Occasionally, I find interesting blogs this way. And other times, I reach a site that I can’t click away fast enough.