Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Alpha Chi Sigma

This boingboing post brings back memories. My dad gave me my first chemistry set as a Christmas present when I was in Primary 5. There were 6 chemicals in it, stored in opaque plastic bottles that had child-proof anti-tampering caps, along with two test tubes, a test-tube holder, a pair of tongs for handling the test-tubes and an alcohol lamp. (The alcohol was not provided, and I had no idea how to get it - the addresses of the vendors listed were all in the USA, and this was the pre-internet age). In the end, I resorted to sneaking into the kitchen late at night to use the gas stove to heat up my chemicals, and got an earful from my mum when I was found out.

Of the 6 chemicals, I remember cobalt(II) chloride, copper(II) sulfate, sodium carbonate and potassium ferricyanide. I wonder if that particular set was from the same company as that referred to by Thompson, even though this was already the late 80s. The upper primary Science syllabus given in school was very basic, and much of it devoted to botany. (Remember the Angsana tree?) It was very boring; then these chemicals fascinated me. They listed the chemical formulae, and the 11-year-old I was then couldn't fathom the combination of letters and numbers in one word. K3[Fe(CN)6]. It looked so alien, and algebra was only taught from secondary school (still into the future) onwards. But it got me hooked, and started me on my still-not-so-long association with the Central Science.

ACS recruitment letter

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Of different subconscious attitudes towards representations of our sexual organs

A friend and I were discussing about the similar attitudes (across cultures) towards humankind representation of our sexual organs.

In particular, I find this paragraph illuminating:

...We project our archetypal terrors onto the widow. It is black; it avoids the light; it is a voracious carnivore. Its red markings suggest blood. Its name, its sleek, rounded form invite a strangely sexual discomfort: the widow becomes an emblem for a man's fear of extending himself into the blood and darkness of a woman, something like the vampire of Inuit legend that takes the form of a fanged vagina.

-Taken from The Red Hourglass. Lives of the Predators by Gordon Price (pp 41 - 42).

In Chinese, the vagina is known as 阴道, or 'dark alley'.

There are other obvious ones - caves; where as children we read many stories of them being the home of malevolent creatures who would have no qualms about eating us alive should we ever be so foolish in trespassing their territory.

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

And then we built phallic symbols to honor our heroes and gods. Even for my university - the most prominent landmark on campus is a penis-like structure that juts into the sky and a favorite of many official school photographs. A running (sexist) joke was that a female student could get an orgasm simply by impaling herself on it, if she could climb to the top.

Towards the end of our discussion, the friend simply summarized it as "Penis Envy". In coarser terms - the difference between 'getting fucked' and 'fucking others'. The former implies submission, subordination and weakness, while the latter simply means power and control of others. Do you want to be the ruled? Or the ruler?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Central me

God made solids, but surfaces were the work of the devil! -Wolfgang Pauli

This quote reflects the immense difficulties faced by experimentalists (ahem...) when characterizing surfaces (Rohl and Gale 2006). And the 2007 Chemistry Nobel went to a surface chemist.

So, think positively. It is a wonderful place to be in---getting paid to play with a diverse range of materials and really, there is no better company than a bunch of nerdy scientists and engineers. It's not blue-sky research, and it's comforting to know that the work will have a positive impact on increasing our quality of life.

Surfaces are the playground of Solid State Physics.
-E. W. Plummer

Or what my mentor likes to quote:

What starts here changes the world.
- (which happens to be a new theme for UT-Austin)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Internet vigilantism over the Tibetan protests

A mainland Chinese student at Duke found herself the target of her compatriots' anger after appearing to be on the side of a pro-Tibet independence protest. If you think the Wee Shumin incident was bad, this is worse. Her name, phone number, Chinese identity number and even her parents' home address and occupations were posted on the web.

Wang Qianyuan comes out at 5:16, and she's clearly standing opposite the vast majority of the Chinese students.

There's one spot in the video that's quite clear

At 7:05, a few classmates surround her, asking why she's calling for Tibetan independence, and not waving the red five-star flag

At 7:27 she retorts by saying that Hong Kong has a flag too.

Some of my cynical classmates claimed this was just her show to get a green card on the basis of political asylum.

The opening scene above reminds me of this movie (at the 8:38). Heh.

More on boingboing.