Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

License Plates Observed

Last year, I was pretty bored being stuck in rush hour traffic so I decided to make my commute a little more productive (or useless, depending on your point of view), by making a note of the location of different license plates. The following figure is a compilation of a year’s worth of data:

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There are several caveats about this geographic heat map. Since the observations were done primarily in California, of course the top number of license plates will be California. I also recorded plates from Canada (a couple) and Mexico (mostly from Baja California and about as many as Arizona plates). I actually saw zero North Dakota plates during the observation period, but about one week after the observation period ended, I saw two separate vehicles with North Dakota plates.

I suspect the map would look vastly different if I lived in a different Californian city (particularly one where there is almost no tourism), let alone in a different state.

The most frustrating aspect about the data collection was that sometimes it was impossible to tell where the plate was from because of the way it was mounted on a vehicle. Sometimes the license plate holders would cover all of the license plate except for the alphanumeric code. Occasionally, I could guess fairly confidently what the plate was if the font/color/design matched the default plate of that state, but if someone had a vanity plate, I had no clue. In the cases where I was unsure, I did not record them.

Postcard #116 – Happy Snowman and Dracula

(Disclaimer for the postcard police: I’ve pretty much blacked out EVERYTHING except the stamp and the sender’s permission to post this postcard. If you still think this is revealing too much personal information, you’re crazy.)

In some ways, I sort of wish I had posted this earlier because it would have been more timely, but for those in the know, I’m doing all these postcards in the order they were received, so this one had to wait until now. I’m actually kind of envious of the sender for being able to find a nice holiday postcard. I literally went to every postcard selling place in San Diego trying to find Christmas postcards, but only ended up with some of those ubiquitous coloring ones. And no, I’m not going to start buying them online because that way lies madness.

Anyways, I’m kind of sad I had to black out most of the postcard because the sender also drew Dracula. It seems like a non-sequitur upon first glance, or at the least it looks like the sender got the holidays mixed up. But I think it’s really cool because to me, it brings back the concept of telling scary stories around Christmas time. Christmas is too sweet as it is–bring back the Christmas horror!

(Oh, and for anyone super curious as to what is underneath the blacked out stuff, aside from a drawing of Dracula, there’s also a drawing of a snowman and the sender wishing me a Happy New Year.)

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At the San Diego Botanic Garden

What I don’t understand is why this place is not named the Encinitas Botanic Garden because it’s actually in Encinitas, not San Diego. Is it because it’s still in San Diego County? Or branding? Or some historical weirdness that no one bothers to talk about?

Ultimate Dinosaurs!

Ultimate Dinosaurs – one of the current exhibits at the Museum of Natural History in San Diego. One thing I found particularly clever: some interactive/virtual reality displays. Short kids, though, may need a parent’s help with those. Accessibility: in English, French, and Braille. Unfortunately, this won’t help the significant Spanish speaking population here. (The rest of the exhibits in the museum are in English and Spanish.) This exhibit was created in Canada, though, so it’s kind of understandable that nothing is in Spanish.

TBR Pile #3 – Dreamland by David K. Randall

Note: The TBR Pile series of posts aren’t strictly book reviews. It’s my excuse for writing a rambling blog post. While it will contain some of my thoughts about the book, I’ll may digress into other topics.

I really enjoy reading popular science books, mostly because if anything I get to learn something from them. Especially if the book’s subject is outside of my expertise. And if I get entertained by the author’s anecdotes and storytelling ability, that’s a bonus. In David K. Randall’s Dreamland, I got to learn all about the science of sleep.

What I found the most fascinating was that much of sleep is cultural. It’s not just about sleeping in separate beds because of middle-class morality or the lack of study in dreams because it’s considered woo. It’s also habit, too. Babies in different countries sleep in different ways. Type of mattress actually doesn’t make a lick of difference in sleep quality. What matters most is consistency, not the type of sleep habit one engages in.

But despite all the sleep labs and pharmaceutical companies touting their solutions for insomnia, there’s still a lot that we don’t know about sleep. I think this is just part of the bigger problem: that we still don’t know much about the brain.

One caveat, though. Randall is a reporter and not a doctor or scientist. He initially got into the topic because he had a problem with sleepwalking and much of the book, I feel, delved into the historical and societal implications of sleep. I would have liked a lot more science (especially since the book was billed as a discussion on the science of sleep)–particularly the neuroscience behind the phenomenon of sleep and the biochemistry used for the drugs that manipulate sleep. But then again, that may just be me. I’m not afraid of reading the technical details about this stuff. The general public, however, would probably be bored to sleep.

Balboa Park on Sunday

These were from the Marston House Museum, the San Diego Art Institute, and the San Diego Automotive Museum.

Some Selected Visuals from Oceanside

So, I went to Oceanside. Here are a few things I saw.

Postcard #85 – From St. Augustine

Before you hardcore postcard swappers start clutching your pearls and foaming at the mouth and reporting me to the authorities, I’d like to say that this is NOT a Postcrossing card and is simply a card sent to me by a NaNoWriMo friend Tiakall. She also explicitly gave me permission to post this on this blog, so if you want to double check if this is true and I’m not lying, you can contact her. (Although I’m pretty sure an influx of messages from the postcard police would annoy her and she doesn’t suffer fools gladly.)

Okay, with that disclaimer out of the way, I will say that this card looks simple with the line drawing of a house. Also the printed message about this restaurant and inn doesn’t make it sound all that scintillating either. But Tiakall says this place is haunted. And I think that’s awesome. Not because I think it’s really haunted (hey, I’m a scientist–I don’t believe in ghosts), but because it makes a cool story. And perhaps this place is also a little weird even if it isn’t reflected as such on the card. I mean, it would have to be weird whether or not there were real or fake ghosts there. It’s billed as a romantic getaway, so wouldn’t it be awkward at best having a (non-)corporeal voyeur drifting around while you get it on with your SO?

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Some Notes from the Museums

I love going to museums, but sometimes the other museum patrons drive me nuts. I thought today would be a great day to go to the local museums because most people would be staying at home due to the iffy weather. Unfortunately, that didn’t help me avoid the lady who glared at me as if I should just crawl back into the nearest ghetto even though I wasn’t bothering anyone while I was looking at a painting. Or overhearing some old guy loudly complaining that one of the latest exhibits was “dated”. Seriously, dude. Everything in that exhibit was made before 1973. What did you expect?! Pictures of Justin Effin Bieber?

Anyways, aside from that, I saw some new art exhibits at Balboa Park. As I’ve mentioned on Twitter, the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) is a really interesting gem that not many people pay attention to. Currently, they have some Ansel Adams photographs as well as an exhibit of contemporary Californian photographers. It’s fascinating contrasting the two–Adams is well known for grand nature in black in white which can, in turns, evoke timelessness and nostalgia (although these days with the destruction of the environment, it feels like Adams has documented a past that will never be any more). The contemporary Californian photographers have also documented nature, but in color, abstraction, and scarring by humans on the landscape. It’s as if nature is not simply nature any more but some kind of idea that humanity has marked, transformed, and destroyed. There’s a sort of beauty to that, too, but it’s also stark and terrible.

At the Mingei International Museum, which specializes in folk art, I’d like to point out one of its newest exhibits on tools and utensils. There’s all sorts of interesting tools there, everything from rug beaters to betel nut cutters (as well as the usual saws and hammers and mixing spoons). An entire section is devoted to Japanese lacquer tools. Apparently the hairs on the brushes are made from human hair–specifically of Japanese women. Which is pretty creepy if you think about it for any length of time.

The major new exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art is a retrospective of Louis Kahn, an American architect. I think the only work of his that I’ve seen in person is the Salk Institute in La Jolla. He primarily worked in Philadelphia and transformed urban planning in that city. Kahn’s style is very geometrical. There’s a lot of evidence that he drew his inspiration from nature and science, yet at the same time, his structures don’t feel quite comfortable–they are too perfect to fit into the landscape. Postcard aficionados out there would also find this exhibit particularly interesting because a number of Kahn’s postcards to his family are also on display. It’s less about the message than his choice in postcards, though. He always chose postcards that showed the ancient architecture of the places he was visiting. And the classic lines of these ancient buildings also influenced his style.

Another new exhibit was one entitled “Visible Vaults”, where a section of the museum was transformed into a replica of its archives. Most of the museum patrons, I noticed, passed by this exhibit, too afraid to touch anything even though there were signs encouraging interactivity. Me? I was like a kid in a candy store–I looked in all the cases and pulled open every drawer to check out what was inside. I found some really cool stuff, like a nightmarish etching by Goya of men with bat wings. Or a drawing by Andy Warhol of butterflies.

Finally, at the Fleet Science Center, I went to see the world’s largest display of LEGO art by Nathan Sawaya. The start of the exhibit starts out pretty safely with replicas of famous art in those tiny plastic bricks. But then, as you wind further into the exhibit, things take a dark turn as Sawaya gets into his own art. The penultimate series of LEGO sculptures was probably my favorite because they were a nihilistic interpretation of traditional American postcards. In some ways, it was surprising this got exhibited at all. The science center caters more towards kids and you’d think that anything with LEGOs should equal happy fun times. But I’m glad this was shown because it’s a great illustration of the fact that you can still express some serious, adult ideas with media that society might arbitrarily deem “childish”.

TBR Pile #2 – The Shape of Desire by Sharon Shinn

Note: The TBR Pile series of posts aren’t strictly book reviews. It’s my excuse for writing a rambling blog post. While it will contain some of my thoughts about the book, I’ll may digress into other topics.

Okay, so my attempt at posting more regularly by writing about my to-be-read pile is not going as smoothly as I’d like. For one thing, I’m pretty busy with work stuff and I just haven’t found all that much free time to devote to reading. And another thing, despite my higher expectations for Shinn’s The Shape of Desire, this has turned out to be a dud. It was even less interesting to me than the first book on the TBR pile. So much so that I’ve decided to give up on it after page 70. Because I really don’t want to waste my time trying to slog through the rest of the book when there’s other stuff I could be reading.

Of course, the book could be absolutely awesome in the latter half. But I don’t have the patience for that. If an author is going to put out a book, it really should hook me from the beginning. I mean, it doesn’t have to be utterly brilliant straight in the first chapter, but it has to have something there in order to make me think, “Hey, something cool might be going on, I’ll read further.” For this book, it really did not help that it was in first person and the main character was an emotional wuss. It didn’t even matter if interesting stuff was happening around her, being in this main character’s head was straight up Boringsville. I don’t have to like the character–I’ve read first person stories before where the main character was a total asshole and yet I couldn’t wait to turn the next page to see what the hell was going to happen next–but the character has to be compelling. This character was not compelling.

Anyways, I am pretty disappointed. I enjoyed all of Sharon Shinn’s Samaria novels and a number of her short stories and novellas, but I didn’t find this urban fantasy novel on that same level. My only consolation is that I got this book at a used book store so I won’t have any qualms about returning it. Maybe the next reader will find it more to their liking.

The next book on the pile is the first book in Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series, The Ruby in the Smoke. And since sometimes I’m more in the mood for non-fiction, I will also be reading Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep by David K. Randall at the same time. I started Dreamland about six months ago, but then things got busy and I kind of forgot about the book until now.