Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: April, 2013

Those Last Thoughts

What do I not want to think about in my last seconds of life?* A lot of things, obviously. I wouldn’t want to waste my last seconds thinking about inconsequential things like whether or not I’ve turned off the stove or errands that I’ve left unfinished. I wouldn’t want to waste that time thinking about regrets or things that I’ve never had the chance to do. You know, trivial stuff in the whole scheme of things.

Then again, it’s human nature to wish that our lives aren’t trivial. That we have more meaning beyond the seemingly small random events which make up the bulk of our lives. In hindsight, we can assign meanings and influences to what has happened to us. And we can speak about it as a narrative. Usually when someone asks us to tell them about ourselves, we are able to shape our past into a story that we find interesting. We have control over the details, filtering out anything we might deem irrelevant.

But those last seconds are out of our hands. And I think that’s why it may seem unsettling. The implicit lack of control may be one of the reasons why we even have preferences for what we want to think about in those last seconds. Because in those last seconds, any thought could cross the mind. If the thought is about something inconsequential or about things not done, one’s end fizzles into a non sequitur. If it was the ending of a book, it would be a wall-banger because it doesn’t make sense in the context of the story. For storytellers, that would be unacceptable. The end should involve some kind of grand, profound statement. An insight. A koan. Or at least something that is related to what is happening at that moment.

However, this is reality. And real life isn’t a neat outline with all the causes and effects mapped out. The saying that fact can be stranger than fiction is true. Characters in fiction must be “believable”–in other words, their actions must flow logically from what was established about them in the narrative. Real people, on the other hand, can behave randomly and irrationally. I could act randomly and irrationally. And who’s to say what thoughts will logically float into my consciousness at any time, let alone in those last seconds?

Let’s step back a bit, though, and perhaps ponder if there is a more fundamental question than asking what sort of thoughts I would want or not want to have in my last moments. I think a critical question is, does it really matter what I think–whether it’s trivial or profound? My instinctive answer to that question is no. Or at least it doesn’t matter in my case. Unless I somehow get a case of verbal diarrhea on my deathbed (or that somehow in the near future, someone develops technology to upload everyone’s thoughts for all to see–like Twitter with a neural interface), no one is going to really know what I will be thinking. And after I’m gone, I wouldn’t be here to care about what I thought anyway, would I?

*Written for a writing group prompt.

Mid-Month Meanderings

Update on Camp NaNoWriMo progress: I am behind. Extremely behind. By 20,000 words. So I’m going to have to really kick it up a notch for this second half of the month. As to whether or not I’ll be able to reach the 50k goal–maybe. But I have other things that have more priority at the moment, like preparing for the ASM general meeting next month.

And speaking of ASM, sure it’s kind of stressful if you’re going to be presenting anything there, but it’s fun, too. If you’re a microbiologist or want to become one, I highly recommend attending the conference at least once. And even if you’re not, there are plenty of interesting talks. (I saw that they had a cool workshop for do-it-yourself whole genome analysis, but it’s already sold out.) Most of the talks can get pretty technical, though, so you might get lost if you’ve never taken any biology courses in college.

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If you’ve followed me on Twitter, you’ll know that my website,, got wiped out last month when the hosting server suffered a catastrophic hardware failure. I wasn’t too worried about this since I had my website backed up elsewhere and otherwise, I’ve never had many problems with the hosting company for the approximate decade I’ve been with them. However, I did take it as an opportunity to streamline the site as it had grown rather labyrinthine.

Among one of the semi-hidden corners of the old site, I had a section titled “Linkrot” where I had stashed a bunch of links that I thought were interesting but not interesting enough to be taking up permanent residence in my browser’s bookmark folder. It was all hand-coded which after a while, got rather tedious.

So, what to do now? Well, I’ve decided to stick all those extra links on Tumblr. Technically, I’ve created two Tumblrs. Textual Curiosities contains cool stuff I’ve found on Its sister site, Strange Interlinks, contains everything else. The thing about Tumblr is its simplicity. I can just dump a link into it and tag it to help categorize it rather than spending too much of my time manually adding to my old page. And since it’s now on Tumblr, other people can follow and/or share these links if they wish. Of course, if no one else does, I don’t mind. This is more for my own edification and organization than anything else.

After reading some opinions on Tumblr, I was thinking about how my own views about the blogging platform has changed over time. When I first encountered it, I couldn’t really understand why anyone would have one in addition to a weblog on, say, Blogger or WordPress or LiveJournal. But I think, in some ways, simplicity is a good thing. And it also depends on what sort of project you’re working on and what sort of platform is best suited for it.

When I first started blogging, I had also included random links I’ve discovered on the internet in my posts. Sort of like or Rebecca’s Pocket. But eventually, I ditched that format and concentrated on writing posts that were a little more focused and coherent. So that’s sort of how I view this blog today: a journal-like site containing long content or commentary (in text or in pictures) generated by me. And while Twitter and Tumblr can in some sense also be blogging platforms, they’re both more ephemeral in my mind. I like using Twitter because it’s quite amendable to quick observations (which can be extremely cumbersome on a traditional blog) and it has an instant messaging-like capability that doesn’t quite have as much stress as an actual instant messaging program*. And as for Tumblr, you have the ease of chucking things in there without the worry of moderating comments. And these days, I find that ease has a lot to recommend it.

*Aside: One thing I hate about the electronic age is the expectation of immediacy. Some forms of electronic communication, however, have greater expectations of immediacy than others. Like instant messaging, for instance. I once had instant messaging eons ago, but I am prone to multitasking and getting distracted by more important things than random chitchat. This, of course, pissed off people I was IMing with so I ended up not doing any sort of instant messaging at all. E-mail, on the other hand, is more flexible. I respond fairly quickly if it’s from family or work, but otherwise I can put it off for a couple of days. Or respond not at all. (Or pretend that it got lost in the aether if it’s from someone I don’t really want to talk to.) Twitter is a mix between the two. While I like the IMing aspect of interacting with other people online in a semi-immediate way, I don’t think many people would get really angry with me if I get distracted and respond two hours later.