Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: February, 2009

Old People Appropriate Social Networking, News At Eleven

Why Facebook Is for Old Fogies. (via Fimoculous) I’m not on any social networking sites and I do not consider myself cool. Or hot for that matter. I’m a distinct shade of temperaturelessness. At any rate, I’m very easy to find by Google. If you’re trying to reach me–yet you cannot bother to find my e-mail address by one single Google search–let me save you the trouble by saying that I’m not worth finding anyway.

I can see the appeal of something like Twitter. It’s just like blogging except with limited characters. One of the reasons I’m not doing that is due to time. I don’t have time to twiddle on the keys, spouting out inanities whenever it strikes me (not that I already do it here, albeit on a more occasional scale). The main purpose of a social networking site like Facebook or MySpace is to connect with people–which has nothing to do with why I’m clogging up the interwebs with my blather. I write because I want to write. I will continue to write even if I had no audience. Connecting with other people or other people connecting to me just happens to be an interesting side effect, definitely not something I actively strive for.

Besides, I don’t see the point in me signing up for this kind of thing. As I’ve mentioned above, Google is already a pretty good tool in tracking me down. I can sort of see someone who has no other internet presence using Facebook, but it kind of seems too much if an individual has a Facebook on top of a website, a blog, and any number of other online doohickeys.

But Isn’t That Overkill?

On my way home from lab, I counted at least five police cruisers within one block. Maybe I’ve just discovered the ultimate in speed traps. The road is part of a short cut to the south side of town for anyone wanting to avoid the traffic lights. And people are heading back into town from a three-day weekend.

Random Robot Linkage

Pretty Robots. They would be so cool if they were flying wind-up toys.

Recycled Robots (via Drawn!) Hm, old and unused lab equipment could make some interesting fodder for an art project…

Let’s Pretend It’s Yesterday

Booking Through Thursday: Authors Talking. Do you read any author’s blogs? If so, are you looking for information on their next project? On the author personally? Something else?

I read authors’ blogs sporadically–mostly to find out about their latest work. Sometimes I’m interested in what they have to say about the writing process or other kinds of issues related to publishing. Sometimes it’s other issues in general. I gloss over personal posts, though. I’m not interested in what they had for breakfast, what their kids did over the weekend, or how they felt when the bagger at the local grocery looked at them strangely.

One thing I wished authors’ blogs talked more about is books they’ve read that didn’t work for them. Books that have failed expectations. Boring books. Books that they hate with a passion. I’m really curious as to what they feel would be a failure of craft. Yes, I know this might result in catfights and boycotts by rabid fans and, well, making enemies of other authors isn’t exactly something to aspire to. I’m not thinking about bashing–more like critical analysis. But I doubt most authors have any inclination to do this since some people might view this as shooting their own reputation in the head.

This Year It’s “Catching-Up-On-Sleep” Day

The Tide of Pink and Flowery. I mentally groan whenever someone asks the question, “What do women want?” It’s like asking, “What’s the weather like?” with no point of reference. It could be sunny, raining, or as unbearable as a Plutonian winter. As to what I want–well, no one gives a damn anyway. And I couldn’t care less. I like the attitude of expecting the worst and being pleasantly surprised if anything goes the other direction.

I suppose there’s a lot to rant about V-Day: how it’s too commercialized, how it sets up unrealistic expectations and makes single people feel bad, how it engenders the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses attitude (my bouquet is bigger than yours!), how the whole thing is as ridiculous as a kid getting his sweetheart a teddy bear big enough to hold a dead body in, blah blah blah. But frankly, I’m too uninterested to rehash all this stuff. When resentful people start raving about Valentine’s (i.e. whining about their lack of love life), my eyes glaze over.

Sometimes I tell depressed singles, “Hey, I’m single, too!”, just to let them know that they aren’t abnormal in their lifestyle, that they’re not the single outcast freak in the sea of coupledom. But these depressed singles look at me as if I’ve lost my marbles. Anyone who knows me understands that my personality is such that I have a tendency–even a preference–to go off and do my own thing. Yet most just don’t comprehend why. Then again, I don’t understand why some people are bitterly unhappy if they aren’t attached to someone. For instance, I had to listen to another grad student in lab complain all of last semester that she didn’t have a boyfriend. This was both uncomfortable and weird. It was like being forced to watch a televangelist when all you really wanted to do was to chill out with a James Bond marathon.

A lot of people would be happier if they viewed this hoopla with amused apathy. It’s like Lent for non-Catholics. Smile and nod your head whenever you come across a fanatical participant. The rest of the time, treat the day like any other.

Besides, why worry about that when today is Darwin Day! (Thanks, Google, for reminding me with your funky logos.) I think I’ll celebrate by making some “primordial” soup for dinner. I’ve got some chicken stock handy…

Not Much Into Junk

The Trough of No Value (via Boing Boing) explores “the time in an object’s life-cycle between when it’s valuable because it’s new, and when it’s valuable because it’s old and collectible — the long period in between when it’s worthless.” And I’m thinking, Antiques Roadshow.

I’m not sure it’s even worth it to keep around anything which has no utility except for its monetary value. If you’re not going to sell it, it’s not going to make your life appreciably better.

Objects, for me, generally come in two classes: useful and useless. These days*, I’ve internalized a minimalist and utilitarian aesthetic in my daily life which includes not buying anything which I consider useless. I’m not much of a hoarder–excessive clutter drives me nuts. And if I needed to move tomorrow, well, that would be one less thing to worry about. True, I sometimes do accumulate piles of stuff, but this stuff is 100% books. I don’t have knick-knacks or posters adorning walls. No random shiny things reside in my living space to give it a homey atmosphere**.

Of course, I’ll make an exception if the object in question happens to be a lava lamp.

*I used to collect things when I was younger, but I currently have no plans for augmenting those collections.
**I’ve moved around too much in my life to call any particular place “home”. My current residence? Also transient. It seems a little presumptuous to call a place home (or even decorate it as such) if I’m not planning on staying there permanently.

Brie Lobotomized

Last weekend, I discovered spreadable brie at the local supermarket.

I really like brie. And if it’s spreadable, that only means I could put it on anything I wanted. Easily win-win, I thought. I was wrong. I expected Igor Stravinsky and ended up with John Denver. What freakin’ gives?

The resulting cheese product is spreadable all right, but it’s quite bland and tasteless. It’s the kind of thing that would be perfect for a football party held in a McMansion populated by aspirants who want all the frou-frou trappings of yuppie beatniks except without all the existential angst.

I’m no foodie, but I’m beginning to appreciate that the rind of good brie is the part that gives the cheese individuality. Without it, there’s no tang, no coy sharpness, no wit. The spreadable brie had no rind, thus no character. It’s not even a cheese anymore, let alone brie.

So grocery clerks, take note: spreadable brie should be shelved with the processed guacamole and year-old salsa. Definitely not any place close to the dairy section.

Mumbling into the Chalkboard

The Lecture System in Teaching Science is an essay pointing out the uselessness of lectures and the advantages for learning in discussion.

Discussion works out fairly well in graduate level courses, but I have mixed feelings about the undergraduate courses. I don’t think abolishing all lectures would be the answer–I learn in part by taking notes. Especially in chalkboard/whiteboard lectures, there’s something about the process of hearing, seeing, translating the material in my mind, and then writing it which helps lodge the information into my head.

I can tell you, though, what sort of lectures I despise–the PowerPoint lecture. PowerPoint works okay for a seminar where the speaker’s aim is to give the high points and the take home message. But a lecture where every slide is going to count in the final exam? No. Not even if the slides are copied for all the students. PowerPoint condones laziness on all sides: the professor drops a bunch of figures onto the slide with a click of a mouse and babbles the info he already knows without much forethought about how the audience is going to absorb the information; the students treat the slides as an extension of their textbook (which 90% of them won’t read anyway) and don’t bother to take notes because, look!, the prof isn’t writing anything down himself. I coped with such lectures by semi-transcribing the speech. I didn’t even bother looking at the pictures since I already knew I could scrounge out a copy somewhere.

The idea that a student reads material before class and then participates in a discussion to actually learn has merit. But I really don’t think this would work on huge groups as mentioned in the essay. Ten students, max. Because if most students are like me, only the loud mouths, know-it-alls, and teacher’s pets will be doing any discussing. Discussion is virtually impossible in settings where there are too many people to fit around a table. Instead, it’s more like a two- or three-way ping-pong match with lots of observers.

Heavenly Silver

When it comes to driving, I consider myself the practical sort. I go from point A to point B without much mind about all that stuff in between. It’s not that I zone out while I’m driving–of course I pay attention to the traffic–but I don’t contemplate much on the scenery. It’s like reading a book. Once you’re reading, how much attention is really paid to the typeface, the paper quality, the formatting of the text? Not much–unless it causes considerable eyestrain.

But sometimes the scenery is beautiful for its own sake. The example that immediately comes to mind is the Lewiston grade on Highway 95, heading south. You’re winding down among the steep landforms and if you keep your foot off the gas pedal (which you should), you’d feel like you’re flying into a tiny, hidden valley.

Going up the grade is another matter. Most of the time, you’re just concentrating on keeping a constant speed as your vehicle climbs. And you’re also keeping half an eye on the extreme traffic–either you’re a semi going 20 mph or a smaller four-wheeler flying out of there like a bat out of hell. But earlier today, in the late afternoon, the scenery really startled me. So much so that I fancied that I had briefly driven through an alternate dimension.

I was at a point in the grade where the mountains jutted out like fingers. And these fingers were a frame for a teal sky and a frighteningly large moon with the texture of a gray horse’s hide. It was as outrageous as a 60s sci-fi set. The landscape in words might sound like a mundane one. But for some reason, that moment in time, nature on the other side of the windshield struck me as weird and awesome. Or maybe I’ve spent too much time in lab and too little time looking up at the sky.

At least I didn’t mistake the moon as a UFO.

Cilantro Therapy

Sometimes, like today, I wish I was a bit more vocal about things which really annoy me. Take, for instance, the post office. What the heck is up with only handling certain things from Monday to Friday? Why can’t you also do it on Saturday when you’re also open?

I’m one of those people who feels guilty when I’m not in lab during the “usual hours”. (I also feel guilty when I’m not in lab during the unusual hours, but for obvious reasons, a little less so.) I don’t want to have my work disrupted because of some bureaucratic thing–although I know some people who’d use this excuse to take off the entire day. Thus when I reserve Saturday to get real life stuff done and find myself thwarted, I’m more irate than pissed.

I’ve heard that some people do retail therapy when they’re upset. Spending money and buying things doesn’t make me particularly happy (especially when you consider the bills), so I’m leaning toward stress-free culinary havoc. Cilantro, meet knife. Mmmm.