Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: March, 2009

Something Else

Vintage Radio Script Library. While looking for examples of radio scripts, I came across this. I’ve been thinking of doing one for this year’s Script Frenzy–the previous two years, I attempted movie scripts and they totally did not work. I’m also going to switch up the genre–since action/thriller has pretty much been a bust, I’m trying for something with less explosions. Current idea: a contemplative look on the Russian folklore figure Baba Yaga. Aunt Babs is trapped in her own house–and while her niece slowly makes her way through the enchanted place to rescue her, she discovers that the past of her kindly old relative is littered with thwarted love, violence, and revenge*.

*Yeah, I know this sounds totally melodramatic. It sounded cooler in my head.

Can I Please Have A Day Off?

At the moment, I’m feeling as if nobody cares about my unhappiness.

That is all.

No Fairy Dust

So, it’s the start of Spring Break and while everyone is off on their vacations, I’m sitting here agonizing about some experimental troubleshooting. I just totally don’t get the literature on what should be a simple protocol–there are little things that everyone does differently, with apparently no rhyme or reason. Which of these myriad conditions are going to actually work? I’ve already tested some of them, and I’ve seen nada.

“Maybe they’ve added some magic,” my advisor tells me.

Arrrg. If it’s magic, troubleshooting is the least of my problems.

Job Versus Job

I just read on another blog where a fiction author commented that she spends fourteen hours a day writing. For some reason, I’m not impressed.


You know things are getting stressful in lab when the PI, who almost never comes into lab, starts dropping by every couple hours or so and even starts helping out. What I don’t understand is why the person* whose humongous project this is, has been into lab even fewer times** than my advisor. As a whole, this project is pretty important*** for two labs and everyone is pitching in except this person. And supposedly, this person is going to present the data at his seminar. As one of the people who is pretty much sacrificing all the weekends this term to prepare for the experiment, troubleshoot it, perform it, and analyze the data–I have my doubts about this person being able to fully understand the data once he gets those spreadsheets full of numbers.

*I don’t really quite know who he is since he hasn’t even deigned to show up at lab meetings.
**Total number of times = 1.
***The project has several phases with deadlines. If you miss one, you’re screwed.


Just came back from watching a screening of Frost/Nixon in the university’s indie film series. I liked it because it was quite character driven. Although one can’t help comparing Michael Sheen’s performance to the one in The Queen. He does the frozen-smile-oh-shit-I’m-screwed look really well. And while Frank Langella was really good in the film, his interpretation of Nixon was nothing like what I had in mind–it was more of a crazy alternate reality Nixon, with a radio broadcasting voicebox and plenty of mutant cheeseburgers.

Is It Friday Yet?

Okay, obviously I’m not completely wiped out since I’m posting this, but I am pretty tired. I’m not one of those people who sleeps till three in the afternoon if given half the chance, but I think four in the morning is a bit much*. Qualitatively, I feel more brain dead when I wake up earlier compared to waking later (say, around seven AM) but doing an all-nighter. So, I wonder, does the time you wake up matter more than how many hours of sleep you get?

*Besides, the roads don’t even get plowed until eight. What’s the point of getting to work early if the result is getting stuck on a snow-covered hill (which a sporty convertible promptly did this morning)?

Bzzzt! Interrupt!

This past weekend, I volunteered to be a scientific judge at the regional middle school science bowl which was sponsored by the Department of Energy. The winning team gets an all expenses paid trip to Washington D.C. to compete nationally. I figured I’d do my part to get kids excited about the sciences. The more young people who are interested in finding out how the world works, the better. We already have too many people working on explicating the oeuvre of T.S. Elliot*.

I was on a quiz bowl team when I was in high school, so on a logistical front, I found it pretty fascinating to be on the other side. As the scientific judge, I had the final say on whether or not to accept an ambiguous answer, to control the buzzer system, and to call on the kid who buzzed in first. The score keeper had a pretty easy job, but I did not envy the moderator who had to read out questions non-stop for the entire day or the time keeper who had to keep track of several timers at once. Knowing me, my voice would have probably gone out after the second round and I would have gotten the timers mixed up.

Besides some last minute rushing around and a brief snafu during the double elimination rounds, I’d say most of the event went quite smoothly. I found it really interesting just observing the teams. Some teams were obviously very competitive. They were in this to win. Other teams, it was more for fun. The competitive teams were extremely good. There were several strategies that I saw the kids utilize to help them get points: 1) if you definitely know the answer to the question, buzz in even if the moderator has not finished speaking; 2) there’s no harm in guessing if the other team got the question wrong; 3) attempt every math problem; 4) don’t whisper when you’re discussing a bonus question with your teammates–the captain, who must answer for the team, must hear your answer to make an informed decision. The other team is not allowed the bonus question, so what’s the harm in saying (or even shouting) aloud?

The competitive teams had quite a few parents and relatives invested in the event–whenever one of these teams were up, the room became packed to capacity. Personally, I kind of felt bad for the not-so-good teams who came up against them, because they got soundly trounced. And you could totally see their disappointment with their dejected body language (even if no one broke down crying). Which brings up another interesting observation: all of the really high scoring teams, without exception, were all boys. Now, I’ve seen some good teams with mixed genders, but all girl teams seemed to fare the worst. I don’t think that this says anything about the intelligence of anyone–rather that it’s more an indication of aggressiveness. The boys seemed far more willing to press the buzzer than the girls who probably didn’t want to interrupt the moderator. In fact, I don’t think I recall a single instance that a girl ever interrupted the moderator. This makes me wonder if the cultural “expectation” that girls should be polite is even more insidiously ingrained in us than we already think.

Anyways, I had to leave early so I didn’t get to see the final showdown. But I did manage to attend one of the later double elimination rounds where two fairly evenly matched teams got to go against each other. At half point, they were neck and neck (you could feel the parents’ tension in the standing room only classroom). I thought it was quite exciting–not only were the players aggressive with buzzing in but both teams were freakishly knowledgeable about the material. Obscure astronomical terms? Doing math problems containing factorials in a split second? Figuring out elemental identities out of atomic orbitals? Heck, I was impressed. My middle school science teachers were too busy blubbering about happy little animals and making us copy definitions to teach us anything.

*My biases, of course. But if you think an understanding of T.S. Elliot is essential in keeping the world running, you’re welcome to try to convince others of it.

Brief Linkage

The Perfect Job. What about lawn gnomes?

Mr. Fluffy in the yard with the PVC pipe. Hm. I bet a lot of board games could be improved with a LOLcat version.

Script Frenzy. For those of you into script writing, sign-ups for this one month event is now open. I signed up for it again this year, although I’m keeping my expectations very low.

Links of the Geeky and Bookish Kind

The Making of the Petaminx. It’s like the dodecahedron equivalent of the Rubik’s Cube. I’m getting a headache just thinking about how long one might take trying to solve it.

Over at The Galaxy Express, I discovered an entire series of posts on steampunk (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5). There are a ton of recommendations, from books and comics to movies and websites.

And speaking of recommendations: The Power of a Recommendation. If someone recommends something to me, I’m willing to give it a go. There is always a chance that I will find a favorite author (the last time this happened was many years ago when someone practically shoved a book of short stories by H.P. Lovecraft into my hands). As for recommending books to other people–well, I always assume that they don’t listen to me. So I was pleasantly surprised when a student who is into parasitology took me up on my recommendation for Carl Zimmer’s Parasite Rex.

On a somewhat different note, I mentioned during the course of a conversation with another student that I had heard about a book called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies coming out later in the year. He got completely excited. “I’m going to buy that for my wife’s birthday!” I have a feeling I’m going to get blamed for spoiling someone’s romantic expectations.

So: What to read to impress a date – and which books to avoid. Blech. I’m not impressed by people lauding a singular classic or serious book. I’d rather see a book list with wide-ranging topics and genres. Someone with varying interests and an open mind is so much sexier than an elitist*. (I’m sure someone would accuse me for having schizophrenic and silly reading tastes, but hey, at least I’m honest about what I read.)

Suvudu Free Book Library. (via Dear Author) Free fantasy and science fiction! I already have all of Novik’s novels, but I’m pretty psyched to see that they have T.A. Pratt’s Blood Engines. I’ve been trying to track down a copy for ages.

*Or, one could go the pessimistic route and say that you’re lucky if you stumble upon a man who reads any books at all.