Hipy Papy Bthuthday Thuthda Bthuthdy

18 January 2014 § 2 Comments

18 January 2014

Happy birthday to . . .

A solemn man

A A Milne

. . . who created a marvellous world.  Milne wrote many things (including a birthday story that is even better if you have the picture book version), but Winnie the Pooh is the most fun for a Saturday.  He likes parties.

Winnie the Pooh party

Sometimes Winnie the Pooh has a restless night:

But Pooh couldn’t sleep.  The more he tried to sleep the more he couldn’t. He tried counting Sheep, which is sometimes a good way of getting to sleep, and, as that was no good, he tried counting Heffalumps.  And that was worse.

We learn a lesson here: do not count heffalumps.  They are frightful anyhow, even just one of them.  And do not even entertain the minutest thought of counting woozles—creatures too terrifying to post here.

They will steal all of your imaginary honey

They will cause nightmares and steal all of your imaginary honey.

Here is “Teddy Bear” (first published in Punch in 1924 and later that year in When We Were Very Young—my copy of which is very worn and cherished):

A bear, however hard he tries,
Grows tubby without exercise.                                        

Our Teddy Bear is short and fat,                                      
Which is not to be wondered at;                                      
He gets what exercise he can                                          
By falling off the ottoman,
But generally seems to lack
The energy to clamber back.

Now tubbiness is just the thing
Which gets a fellow wondering;
And Teddy worried lots about
The fact that he was rather stout.
He thought: “If only I were thin!
But how does anyone begin?”
He thought: “It really isn’t fair
To grudge one exercise and air.”

For many weeks he pressed in vain
His nose against the window-pane,
And envied those who walked about
Reducing their unwanted stout.
None of the people he could see
“Is quite” (he said) “as fat as me!”
Then, with a still more moving sigh,
“I mean” (he said) “as fat as I!”

Now Teddy, as was only right,
Slept in the ottoman at night,
And with him crowded in as well
More animals than I can tell;
Not only these, but books and things,
Such as a kind relation brings—
Old tales of “Once upon a time,”
And history retold in rhyme.

One night it happened that he took
A peep at an old picture-book,
Wherein he came across by chance
The picture of a King of France
(A stoutish man) and, down below,
These words: “King Louis So and So,
Nicknamed ‘The Handsome!'” There he sat,

And (think of it!) the man was fat!

Our bear rejoiced like anything
To read about this famous King,
Nicknamed “The Handsome.” There he sat,
And certainly the man was fat.
Nicknamed “The Handsome.” Not a doubt
The man was definitely stout.
Why then, a bear (for all his tub )
Might yet be named “The Handsome Cub!”

“Might yet be named.” Or did he mean
That years ago he “might have been”?
For now he felt a slight misgiving:
“Is Louis So and So still living?
Fashions in beauty have a way
Of altering from day to day.
Is ‘Handsome Louis’ with us yet?
Unfortunately I forget.”

Next morning (nose to window-pane)
The doubt occurred to him again.
One question hammered in his head:
“Is he alive or is he dead?”
Thus, nose to pane, he pondered; but
The lattice window, loosely shut,
Swung open. With one startled “Oh!”
Our Teddy disappeared below.

There happened to be passing by
A plump man with a twinkling eye,
Who, seeing Teddy in the street,
Raised him politely to his feet,
And murmured kindly in his ear
Soft words of comfort and of cheer:
“Well, well!” “Allow me!” “Not at all.”
“Tut-tut! A very nasty fall.”

Our Teddy answered not a word;
It’s doubtful if he even heard.
Our bear could only look and look:
The stout man in the picture-book!
That ‘handsome’ King – could this be he,
This man of adiposity?
“Impossible,” he thought. “But still,
No harm in asking. Yes I will!”

“Are you,” he said,”by any chance
His Majesty the King of France?”

The other answered, “I am that,”
Bowed stiffly, and removed his hat;

Then said, “Excuse me,” with an air,
“But is it Mr Edward Bear?”
And Teddy, bending very low,
Replied politely, “Even so!”

They stood beneath the window there,
The King and Mr Edward Bear,
And, handsome, if a trifle fat,
Talked carelessly of this and that . . . 
Then said His Majesty, “Well, well,
I must get on,” and rang the bell.

“Your bear, I think,” he smiled. “Good-day!”
And turned, and went upon his way.

A bear, however hard he tries,
Grows tubby without exercise.
Our Teddy Bear is short and fat,
Which is not to be wondered at.

But do you think it worries him
To know that he is far from slim?
No, just the other way about—
He’s proud of being short and stout.

Winnie the Pooh dance

Happily, I have my own Winnie the Pooh (and about a dozen miniature jars of honey), so he will help throw an excellent party tonight.

Now for a quick jaunt into the body-soul dichotomy . . . and unity.  The sixth comment is also a good thought.

Classes have begun again.  A gem has already popped out of my cellular biology book:

Trying to appreciate cellular biology without a knowledge of chemistry would be like trying to appreciate a translation of Chekhov without a knowledge of Russian.  Most of the meaning would probably get through, but much of the beauty and depth of appreciation would be lost in the translation.

Yesterday, a professor used the word “goop”.  From now on, that will be considered an appropriate word to use in describing cytosol, agarose, and anything else vaguely blobish or honeylike in texture.

Happy 100th post.  It makes me think of a beloved hymn.  The fiftieth anniversary of the coronation was probably the best use ever for the old 100th.


By the book

15 January 2014 § 3 Comments

15 January

One thing we did not learn in genetics class was that Erich von Tschermak’s maternal grandfather, Eduard Fenzl, taught botany to Mendel.  (Von Tschermak, Hugo de Vries, and Carl Correns independently and simultaneously rediscovered and published Mendel’s work in 1900.)  An entire book was filled with all the things we did not learn in the course; luckily, it was the textbook that I had, so I had the good fortune of finding many exhilarating bits of information, including this:

If the DNA molecule in chromosome 1 (the longest chromosome) were a cooked spaghetti noodle 1 mm in diameter, it would stretch for 25 miles; in chromosome condensation, the noodle is gathered together, coil upon coil, until at metaphase it is a canoe-sized tangle of spaghetti 16 feet long and 2 feet wide.  After cell division, the noodle is unwound again.

I never quite figured out why the spaghetti noodle was cooked, or why the spaghetti noodle was there in the first place, or how the canoe appeared as an appropriate unit of measurement.  There is nonetheless a certain strange wonder in contemplating canoes full of spaghetti, which is exactly what would result if Strega Nona and Big Anthony went on a camping trip.

No living human is as dense as Big Anthony.

No living human is as dense as Big Anthony.

The author of my analytical chemistry book was more exuberant, claiming of an experiment with phenolphthalein and carbonic acid, “This one is just plain fun,” and providing the following commentary for an example problem:

[K value] <- A big number
[Another K value] <- Another big number
[A third K value] <- Ridiculously big!

In one chapter on polyprotic systems, he labelled the following paragraph with a sidenote of “The missing insight!”:

In our moment of despair, a chemist gallops down from the mountain mists on her snow-white unicorn to provide the missing insight: ‘The major species will be HL, because it is both a weak acid and a weak base.’

That excerpt is otherwise entitled “How chemistry wishes it were fantasy literature.”  Later, the author claims, “We must be ever vigilant.”  Inspired by Alastor Moody, this aphorism applies to everything in chemistry, especially if math and/or glassware and/or carcinogens are involved. 

I can't just quite my Ph.D. now.

In chemistry land, she lives a half-life.

My organic chemistry book is funny only because the author is not funny at all.  With complete seriousness, statements such as “These rules will empower us” are printed for the edification of the student.  Incidentally, I never feel that mirific sense of empowerment during exams.  My professor for that class was a bit crazy and began the semester with this exclamation, underscored by an expression of slightly manic enthusiasm:

Most organic textbooks will tell you all about the parts of the bicycle. This book will teach you how to ride the bicycle!

The bicycle analogy seemed almost as arbitrary as the canoe analogy.  She was also fond of projecting human attributes—namely, feelings—onto things with no feelings at all.  At least, I have never met a bliss-filled diene or a gloomy molecule of rhodopsin.  One curious case of this chemicomorphism:

The nucleophile is the bully and the electrophile is the victim.

Occasionally, she provided valuable life lessons, such as “The leaving group must be happy to leave”: this clearly applies to groups of people leaving a party.  With her assertion that insecticides abound “so we can keep people eating,” I was forced to reexamine my conclusions about the alleged purposes of insecticides.  She also enjoyed telling stories, and assured us of the value of witnessing an argument at academic conferences: “It’s good to see a good nerd throwdown now and again.”  This conjured images of bespectacled elbow-patched men dancing at a hoedown, which is where my brain rerouted after it found nothing for “throwdown” (is it just a melee?).  This professor also talked to the textbook often and sometimes replied with “good question!” after reading a problem in it.

Perhaps "nucleophilic attack" does justify some anthropomorphism. (Credit.)

Perhaps “nucleophilic attack” does justify some anthropomorphism. (Credit.)

The problems in my physics book made me laugh every time I did homework, but this bit especially grabbed my attention:

Boxers in the nineteenth century used their bare fists.  [Translation: there are no real men in the present day.]

Observations from my physics professor, an old man who favours sweeping statements about the state of modern society and seems excited only by how things fly through the air, also made me laugh.  This was often inappropriate, because no one else was laughing, and it wasn’t exactly in response to a joke.  The professor ignored it after a while, though he did seem confused by my face and observed four or five times during the semester, “You are looking at me strangely.  Do you understand?”  I still don’t know what my expression was.  He also provided assurance to us a few weeks into class by announcing “I assume you can all read” (I’m actually not sure if that was entirely the case) and averring, “I’m not that smart.”  It may have been a tactic to reduce the intimidation that many students felt, demonstrated by this exchange:

[professor] “We’re going to do something called dimensional analysis.”
[student behind me] “Oh man . . . “

That poor student ended up dropping the class.

A young Dorothy Parker has not yet met the GRE monster.

A young Dorothy Parker who has not yet met the literary monsters.

And for a flashback to last year: studying for the Literature in English GRE, I found a book to help me, and it informed me of a secret truth of the exam:

The GRE Literature in English Subject Test is like a horrible cocktail party full of insufferable poseurs intent on name-dropping while grilling you on trivial gibberish (“I was over at Billy’s little soiree the other night at the Globe, private screening of his latest, Hamlink or something, anyway it’s just faboo, very artistic . . . and who’s sitting next to me?  Dicky Burbage, that’s who . . . “).  You don’t need to know very much about literature in any scholarly sense, but you do need to know the cocktail-party details.

That is why it does not mean much as a measure of knowledge and understanding of literature.  It does give one a good reading list, though.

This deserves its own post but may never receive it.

The real way to study literature.


15 January 2014 § 2 Comments

14 January 2014

A month ago, during the end of semester rush:

Me:  Come home before the nargles eat all of the candy canes!
Father:  We have CCs at the hospital.


1) Everyone may now call candy canes CCs.
2) Working at the hospital will be really fun.

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