Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: May, 2014

Reading on Electrons

It’s probably safe to say that my view on ebooks have changed throughout the years. Like with a lot of new technology, I have been a slow adopter. I didn’t get my first CD player until I was in college (everyone else already had one when they entered high school). My first mp3 player was in grad school. So was my first iPod, but I would have never gotten that had not a more trendy relative given it to me as a gift. I also got my first cell phone in grad school. I still don’t have a smartphone. But mostly because I don’t feel like I can justify the expense on a post-doc’s salary (and I almost never get calls anyway).

My first exposure to ebooks was through Project Gutenberg. This was probably around the time that I first started browsing the web seriously. My first impression was that this was awesome. I could read all these books from the comfort of my own home without going to the library or a bookstore. Perfect for a lazy bookworm. Quite a bit later, I discovered all the digitized books on Subsequently, I got my mom hooked on that site because there are several Chinese universities that have put up their digitized texts. As a consequence, my mom could download one of those classic Chinese texts with a click of button rather than go through the hassle of ordering those books from halfway around the world.

Anyways, it took me a while before I started to convert entirely to ereading. I only started seriously doing this about a year ago. For me, reading on a screen never deterred me. I had gotten used to reading pdf files of research papers in grad school. (I am one of the few people who does not have huge stacks of papers at my lab desk because everything is on the computer.) The biggest obstacle was the price of ereaders. It would have to be low enough that I wouldn’t have to buy too many books to make it worthwhile.

At this point, I think ereaders have gotten cheap enough to make buying one a practical matter. Now, I can have a whole bunch of books on a device that could fit in a purse to read wherever I happen to be. This saves on space and would definitely ease the stress of moving (depending on how my job hunting goes, I could move in as early as two months from now–and I do not look forward to boxing up all the physical books that I already have). This does not mean I’m abandoning print altogether. I’m still buying print for reference books and favorite authors. But it does make me think a bit more before buying a physical book. Because I care more about the content of the book than its physical presence.

And one more thing: ebooks make organization a hell of a lot easier. Searching on the computer is easy. Searching through the stacks of physical texts that somehow get mixed up no matter how hard I try to keep them straight is another matter entirely.

The First Fantasy Novel

Out of my entire time in elementary, middle, and high school, I only had three (Ed. now that I think about it, probably seven or eight–but three of them come to mind immediately) male teachers. The first male teacher was one of my second grade teachers. He was tall with dark hair, wire-rimmed glasses, and piercing eyes. He played the piano and the tambourine. And he looked just like Stephen King. For some reason, he scared the hell out of me. He told my parents I was too quiet in class. Well, fear makes one not want to make any noise at all.

The high school geometry teacher, by contrast, was a really likable nerdy guy. Bald, mustached, in perpetual khakis and button down shirts. I thought his enthusiasm for the subject was infectious. And, of course, it helped that I managed to ace all his tests without much trouble (or any studying).

In hindsight, though, I think it was probably my fourth grade teacher who made the most impact on my life. He’s the one who introduced me to the fantasy genre and planted the seed that has now grown into my full blown writing hobby. The writing madness all began with an assignment where he encouraged the whole class to write their own story and create their own book. I, of course, went the whole hog with the assignment. I couldn’t write about kid life like everyone else in class. No. I had to craft some noir pulp about a jaded detective, a femme fatale, and over the top villains (flanked by henchmen). Do normal fourth graders do that kind of stuff? Probably not.

My introduction to traditional fantasy fiction was not just a recommended, “Hey, here’s a book I think you’ll like.” My fourth grade teacher was the grandfatherly type, with the white-gray hair, the spectacles, and the patience. I don’t recall him losing his temper with anyone (or perhaps the class I was in was particularly well behaved and it was one of the few times that I remember that everyone just got along). It was during the end of the second half of the year that he would have a storytelling hour.

Storytelling hour was nap time for some of the other students, but for me, it was magical. It was the first time I really experienced the transportive power of good fiction. The lights would be turned off, but the afternoon sunlight would still be streaming in from the windows on one side of the classroom, hitting dust motes and making the air strangely sparkle. My fourth grade teacher would be leaning back in his chair, behind his desk, his spectacles clinging to the end of his nose. He’d crack open a book and start reading. And suddenly, I wasn’t in a classroom any more. But in Narnia.

He managed to finish The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by the end of the year and by that time, I was hooked and had to read everything else in the series. I suppose it was obvious I was the only student who loved the books and not just using it as an excuse to zonk out because he ended up gifting me a copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Around that time, the BBC adaptations for The Chronicles of Narnia were fairly recent. I really enjoyed watching those even though my parents were puzzled as to why I would want to borrow the tapes from the library and my sister was still too young yet to appreciate it with me. My favorite books in the series were actually the later books, The Silver Chair and The Magician’s Nephew. The first three books still held nostalgia, because of the way they were introduced to me, but I think the others stuck out more because I was reading them out of my own initiative. The Silver Chair is notable because my favorite character of the series is in it–the cynical and pessimistic Puddleglum. The Magician’s Nephew, on the other hand, stood out because of its world building and its concept of the multiverse. Around the same time, I was getting into science fiction and physics so it really matched my then current interests.

Unfortunately, things fizzled for me after I read the first two or three chapters of The Last Battle. It was then that it finally clicked for me what C.S. Lewis was doing with the series and that I noticed the religious overtones of the stories. It was no longer just about fantastic adventures but the author’s philosophy. But still, even once I was finished with C.S. Lewis, I was hooked on the fantasy genre. I just moved on to other writers.

I wonder, though, how much of my fuzzy feelings of nostalgia for that particular series was influenced by the way that it had been introduced to me. At that time, before I understood the larger significance of the series and simply looked at them as adventures, would I have glommed onto a different series if my fourth grade teacher had chosen to read something else? Would I have had the same reaction if he had read Harry Potter or The Hunger Games? Or even Goosebumps or Sweet Valley High?

The answer is probably both yes and no. If I had not read so many older fantasy books about wizarding schools before, I’d probably be a big fan of Harry Potter instead of being rather neutral about it now. The same could be said of The Hunger Games or Goosebumps. My prior reading experiences shape how I view books I come across later. On the other hand, I don’t think I would have been interested in the Sweet Valley High books no matter how I got introduced to them. As a nerdy, minority outsider, I had no interest in reading about the social lives of privileged and popular blonde girls unless they were fighting dragons or getting abducted by aliens.

Camp NaNo Prompts for Week 4

Well, Camp NaNo for April is over. And the last day was crazy, probably because I was foolish enough to leave everything to the last minute. But I made it. Barely. If this tells me anything, it’s to budget my time more wisely for the July version of Camp NaNo.

I think I was also sort of running out of steam when it came to prompt ideas for the last week. Part of the problem stemmed from pantsing the sprint schedule. My inclination is to not really decide on a prompt theme until I know exactly when I’m sprinting. And with April, sometimes I didn’t know I’d be sprinting until just that moment.

So that was really a learning moment for me. My inspiration is usually not like a flash in the pan as it is for so many others. I need some time to mull over and contemplate things before it really gets going.

Anyways, here are the @NaNoWordSprints prompts for the final week of April. For a list of every single prompt I’ve used on that Twitter account see here.

April 22, 7:00pm-9:00pm (UTC -7)
Earth Day

  • Vernal pool tadpole shrimp (10 min)
  • Madanga (20 min)
  • Fine-lined pocketbook (20 min)
  • Calamian deer (15 min)
  • Tibetan Sugar Palm (25 min)

April 23, 12:20pm-1:20pm (UTC -7)
Smoke Signals

  • Signaling (10 min)
  • Code (20 min)
  • Vote (15 min)

April 23, 8:00pm-11:00pm (UTC -7)
Sherlock Texts

  • Deduction (15 min)
  • Serial killer (15 min)
  • Do some research (30 min)
  • Forgetting your pants (15 min)
  • Theory (15 min)
  • Miscalculation (30 min)
  • Broken heart (10 min)
  • Something in the punch (10 min)

April 24, 12:20-1:20pm (UTC -7)

  • Puns (5 min)
  • Screwball (15 min)
  • For hire (25 min)

April 24, 8:00pm-11:00pm (UTC -7)
The Triple P (pumpkin varieties, poisons, parasol materials)

  • Sugar treat, warfarin, nylon (30 min)
  • Winter luxury, cyanide, palm leaves (10 min)
  • Jackpot, caffeine, bronze (15 min)
  • Big moon, methanol, leather (30 min)
  • Funny face, hydrofluoric acid, feathers (10 min)
  • Spirit, iron, paper (20 min)
  • Baby bear, opioids, lacquer (15 min)

April 25, 8:00pm-11:00pm (UTC -7)
Icelandic Magical Staves

  • Kaupaloki: trade and business (10 min)
  • Angurgapi: preventing barrel leaks (20 min)
  • Hulinhjalmur: invisibility (30 min)
  • Draumstafir: to dream of unfulfilled desires (10 min)
  • Óttastafur: inducing fear (10 min)
  • Feingur: fertility (15 min)
  • Lásabrjótur: opening a lock without a key (10 min)
  • Vegvísir: sign post, guide through rough weather (30 min)

April 26, 12:00pm-2:35pm (UTC -7)
Western Slang

  • Harum-scarum (5 min)
  • Tornado juice (15 min)
  • Down in the mouth (30 min)
  • Put a spoke in the wheel (10 min)
  • Windies (15 min)
  • All beer and skittles (20 min)
  • Exfluncticate (30 min)

April 26, 10:00pm-1:00am (UTC -7)
Word Count SmackDown!

  • The Undertaker (10 min)
  • The Snake (20 min)
  • The Hammer (30 min)
  • The Devious One (15 min)
  • The Dragon (20 min)
  • The Brain (5 min)
  • The Heartbreak Kid (10 min)
  • The Dirtiest Player in the Game (30 min)

April 27, 10:30am-1:30pm (UTC -7)
Adaptations of Sherlock Holmes

  • Private life (10 min)
  • Hypnosis (30 min)
  • Fabrication (10 min)
  • Spoof (15 min)
  • Music (15 min)
  • Gender swap (30 min)
  • Deerstalker hat, inverness cape, calabash pipe (30 min)

April 27, 4:00pm-5:00pm (UTC -7)
Short Words

  • Yen (craving), yew (a tree or to rise), yex (to hiccup or spit) (10 min)
  • Dag (dirty tuft of sheep’s wool), dal (a dried legume), dap (to dip gently in water) (10 min)
  • Rep (a plain woven fabric with crosswise ribs), ret (to soak), rev (to run an engine before use) (30 min)

April 27, 10:00pm-1:00am (UTC -7)
Für Elise

  • Poco moto, little movement (10 min)
  • Identity (30 min)
  • Singer (10 min)
  • Prodigy (15 min)
  • Incorrect transcription (30 min)
  • Turning down a proposal (15 min)
  • Code (5 min)
  • Lost (30 min)

April 28, 8:00pm-11:00pm (UTC -7)
Alice in Wonderland

  • Down the rabbit hole (10 min)
  • Pool of tears (20 min)
  • Advice from a caterpillar (30 min)
  • Pig and pepper (10 min)
  • The queen’s croquet ground (15 min)
  • Who stole the tarts? (20 min)
  • The rabbit sends a little bill (5 min)
  • A mad tea party (30 min)

April 29, 6:00pm-7:00pm (UTC -7)
The Spork Room

  • Hybrid (10 min)
  • Patent (10 min)
  • Stainless steel (30 min)

April 29, 10:00pm-1:00am (UTC -7)
Mushroom Folklore

  • Devil’s eggs (10 min)
  • Portal (20 min)
  • Sacred (30 min)
  • As you wish (10 min)
  • New moon (20 min)
  • Perch (15 min)
  • Longevity and strength (5 min)
  • Souls and rituals (30 min)

April 30, 12:50pm-1:50pm (UTC -7)
Frozen Song Titles

  • Let it go (10 min)
  • Fixer upper (10 min)
  • For the first time in forever (30 min)

April 30, 9:00pm-2:00am (UTC -7)
Random Symbols

  • Cattle (25 min)
  • Fourfold (20 min)
  • Ether (20 min)
  • Sacrifice (30 min)
  • Joy (30 min)
  • Crystal sphere (20 min)
  • Destiny (25 min)
  • Growth (25 min)
  • Head (20 min)
  • Abundance (30 min)