Thursday, August 28, 2008

Two internet newbies

My old Congregational church had a Sunday morning class called Paradoxes which I attended off and on from age 16. There were dozens of members, and we'd study science and the Bible and how they relate, under the direction of a really cool astronomer named Hugh Ross. I daresay we thought we were the intelligent set.

But on one particular Sunday about ten years ago, Hugh Ross stood down for a while and we began the class with another man giving a short talk on that newfangled invention, "The Internet". This man clearly was proficient in the use of The Internet, but less so in explaining its nature to those who had never used it. With some effort he got across the concept of a web page.

I was in college at the time and proud that I knew all about it. But many of the adults in the class were getting their first crash course, and they began having real difficulty when the man started explaining links. Then my own mom raised her hand.

"But what if you just linked to all your enemies' web pages?"

Pause. "Um, why would you do that?" asked our Internet expert.

Mom: "To destroy them!"

Around the same time, my future friend Eanah was watching her mom make use of the house's new Internet access. It was curious-- before leaving any page, she would first scroll up to the top of it. Eanah asked her mom why she was doing that.

"So it'll be at the top for the next person who goes to the page," her mom informed her.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Narcissistic saint meme!

Athanasius has tagged me for this important question: If I should make it to sainthood, what picture would I want on my holy card, and of what causes would I want to be patron?

I totally want to pick the green-skinned picture on this blog's title bar! Seems vaguely inappropriate, though. This baby picture I posted a few months back might do it.

Or I might appear to be a medieval saint if I use this picture from a Halloween party a few years ago. Unless the hair and black cat familiar suggest a medieval witch instead...

A few years ago I wore that dress to a Reformation Day performance put on by a Christian elementary school, in which the students celebrated Protestantism in poetry and skit. Even as a Protestant I was a bit nonplussed by the ten-year-old narrator's vehemence as he explained in the introduction how Luther and friends led Northern Europe from DARKNESS! and HERESY! into the marvelous light, but otherwise I thought it a fine play for kids to do (mea maxima culpa). But about the costume, it wasn't so strange to be wearing it because Reformation Day is October 31 and many people were going with the medieval theme. In fact that was the problem-- another girl at the performance was wearing my same medieval princess dress, and it is so embarrassing when that happens. :)

What cause to be patron of? I think... people who have a hard time figuring out God's will.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Like riding a bicycle...

...I guess you never forget how to inject sea urchins.

When I went back to my job a few weeks ago after a six month break, I'd forgotten where certain equipment and chemicals are stored, and phone numbers and the proper steps of certain procedures and even a name or two. I asked everyone why there was no light in the cold room and had to be reminded that its light switch is on the outside-- stuff like that. (Aren't they glad they rehired me?)

But what's as fresh as ever are the techniques. Anything that was hard to do at first, anything that took months of practice to really learn, is as intuitive now as if I'd never been away. It was very tricky, when I first learned, to stick a microscopic needle into a tiny sea urchin egg, inject some volume of BAC, yank the needle out, move the plate up, and stick the needle in the next egg, but eventually on a well-rowed plate I was doing about two eggs per second. Then the first plate I injected after coming back was done start-to-finish in eleven minutes, which is exactly as long as I used to take.

So it seems that information can leak away but acquired skills stick.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Caltech story

This story was published in a book so it must be true. :) I can easily imagine it happening, too!

A bunch of young Caltech undergrads showed up for Day One of their required Chemistry lab class, and they were all given a checklist of the equipment they'd need-- beakers, Erlenmeyer flasks, pipettes, etc. One know-it-all student (they're pretty common) showed up late, picked up his list and began assembling his stuff, making loud demands for help from patient TAs who'd explained everything before his arrival.

"Did you get your Fallopian tubes?" a female TA finally asked him.

"My what tubes?" asked the student, scanning his list for them.

"Oh, they're not on the list. Late addition. I'm afraid we've run out of them here; since you're the last arrival you'll have to go downstairs to the stockroom to get some."

So the clueless know-it-all arrived at the chemistry stockroom demanding Fallopian tubes. The best part of this story is that the woman working the stockroom had the situation sized up immediately and played along! "Hmmm, Fallopian tubes? They're hard to get. A highly personalized item; I have a pair myself but I'm afraid I can't lend them to you. You may need to put in a special order."

The student went back to lab fuming. "I can't find any Fallopian tubes! How am I supposed to do this class?"

The female TA was sympathetic. "It'll be difficult, but don't worry. Some people have actually managed to become good scientists without ever having any!"

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A co-worker's advice

When I returned to work last week, I found the lab full of summer students, one of which had my old bench. So I appropriated a bench in a different room, a room that's also occupied by two research fellows with the awesome names of Enhu and Qiang, and a professor from another university who's here on sabbatical. The professor is at the desk next to mine, and his mere presence makes me feel slightly more important in my job. :) Normally he works with mice, but his experiments weren't behaving, so he's come to our lab to try the same thing in sea urchins, which are simpler and better understood than mammals.

I learned this from someone else; the professor himself says very little, at least on first acquaintance, so by the end of my second day back we'd still hardly exchanged two words. I was surveying my new territory. Terribly dusty. It's strange to me that some folks will carefully wipe down their benches with RNAse AWAY and fire up the Bunsen burner and employ sterile technique, but they'll leave all the shelves in the proximity so dirty that they're just asking for dust particles contaminated with who-knows-what to fall into their tubes. Like putting a deadbolt on your door and then sleeping with the downstairs windows open.

Anyway, I also enjoy neatness for its own sake and not just the experiements'. So I collected ethanol and paper towels and climbed up on my bench to wipe down the high shelves above it. I had to clean off every bottle and box and piece of equipment resting on the shelves too. Dirtied a lot of towels; it was satisfying. As I worked I happily listened to my iPod (a Fundamental Morals lecture given by Fr. Brian Mullady to seminary students-- found it in my roommate's collection). But then I knocked something down and it crashed on the benchtop. For the first time my labmates glanced up and noticed what I was doing. "You need help?" asked Qiang, concerned. "I'm fine, thanks though!" I brightly answered from my high perch. Then I saw the professor staring at me.

"Don't get dead," he said.

Thank you for your concern. :)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

This is the guardian angel I want on Judgment Day

I saw Memling's Last Judgment triptych on the awesome Web Gallery of Art a while ago. This is just a tiny part of it, featuring a tug-o'-war over some recently-resurrected soul on the "saved" side of the painting. I love the angel's expression, fierce and determined but completely unperturbed.

The women in this painting are oddly proportioned, as if Memling didn't work from nude models but guessed at female anatomy based on the medieval fashions he saw. But anyway, I highly approve the fact that most of the saved female souls have red hair.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Rose Unpetalled

I ordered an album of "Sacred Songs of Ireland" the other day, mostly for the preview I heard on iTunes of its rendition of "Jesus my Lord, my God, my All". (Sometimes our church does that one during Communion; so beautiful.) It arrived and I enjoyed that song, but many of the others were lost on me because the lyrics were hard to follow. Today I began browsing the liner notes and read this song:

Jesus, to aid Thy feeble powers,
I see Thy mother’s arms outspread,
As thou on this sad earth of ours
Dost set Thy first, Thy faltering tread;
See, in thy path I cast away
A rose in all its beauty dressed,
That on its petals’ disarray
Thy feet, so light, may softly rest.

Dear Infant Christ, this fallen rose
An image of that heart should be
Which makes, as every instant flows,
Its whole burnt-sacrifice to Thee.
Upon thy altars, Lord, there gleams
Full many a flower whose grand display
Charms Thee; but I have other dreams--
Bloomless, to cast myself away.

For love of Loveliness supreme,
Dying, to cast myself away
Were bright fulfillment of my dream;
I’d prove my love no easier way;
Life, here below, forgotten still,
A rose before Thy path outspread
At Nazareth, or Calvary’s hill
Relieve Thy last, Thy labouring tread.

The last line really, really gets to me. The name of the song is "A Rose Unpetalled", and when I looked more closely at the credits I saw that the lyrics are a poem by St. Therese of Lisieux! It does sound like her. Then I looked again and saw that the translator was none other than Msgr. Ronald Knox. The sentiments of St. Therese in the poetry of Ronald Knox-- no wonder I loved it so much. (There are their pictures below. Two fan points for whoever can guess which is which.) Has anyone else heard this song? Am I the last to be aware of it?

St. Faustina, in moments of highest spiritual ecstasy, often wrote of casting herself before the Lord "like a tiny, unknown flower"-- I bet she read St. Therese.

Something I love about Catholic spirituality, which was almost completely lacking in the evangelical Protestantism I came from, is the focus on Jesus' sufferings and the desire to accompany Him in meditation. Now I love that we can pray the Sorrowful Mysteries, and have a crucifix above the altar, and do the Stations of the Cross, and watch with our Lord on Holy Thursday night like his disciples didn't-- but all this is a whole 'nother post.

Working stiff again

Last week I started working at my old sea urchin job again. I'd left it in February with the idea of finding something closer to home, but during the break my priorities shifted from "make money for the future" to "spend lots of time praying about the future", and that made me wish I could find a part time job again. Then my old boss called me up, said there were lots of BACs in need of testing, and offered me my old job back-- beautiful timing!

They had wanted a full-timer in that position, and I couldn't stay at full time once I started going to Mass every day at a church an hour away. (Later I moved down there, making the trip to church easy but the commute to work long.) So they let me work part time for six months and I trained my replacement before I left. He had been the only decent applicant for the position and was an experienced scientist from the San Francisco area who introduced a number of improvements. But it turned out that his eyes just couldn't focus properly for the microscopy work, and that's a huge part of the projects he was taking over. So he eventually decided to resign. That was when I got the chance to replace my replacement. I hear he plans to take six months off. All the cool people do it! :)

I felt a bit guilty about the nice farewell party I was thrown only six months before returning. But I'm not giving back the gift card; it's spent. :) I brought in brownies on my first day back as a peace offering. I'm so grateful for all the time off; there were a lot of trips and retreats and outings with friends that I couldn't have done if I'd been working. Thanks be to God.

This beautiful working together of circumstances, which I neither worked for nor had a right to expect, puts me in mind of Bob the Dinosaur:

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ordinary time cake

The latest gathering of fanatical Catholic friends in my apartment involved the conscription of a former Farrell's employee to make dessert. She came up with this:

Mint chip ice cream layered between slices of chocolate cake and topped with dark chocolate mint sauce, caramel sauce, whipped cream and nuts. It was as good as it looks; you may envy me now.

My friends helpfully tried to tie this in to my blog. "The ice cream is green-- St. Patrick!" "It's not March." "Ordinary time!"

So there's our green Ordinary Time dessert. Naturally we ended with Vespers and Compline from our green Ordinary Time breviaries. :)

Monday, August 04, 2008

Dessert last night

A group of us got together for dinner and had this for dessert:

It was tasty Jello, especially the white part, and very firm (maybe that's the Mexican style?) The cross says "Dios es amor" (God is love). We gave the praying hands to the priest among us-- consecrated hands and all. :) This cross supposedly serves 25 people, but six of us nearly polished off the whole thing in one sitting.

It occurred to me as I was preparing to post this that I actually do a lot of photographing and then eating Catholic desserts. You wouldn't expect that would fill out its own category, but I think I have enough of them to make a blog tag! Heck, maybe that can be my blog theme, since I clearly don't have one. "Catholic Desserts." See how neatly it combines two great loves of mine? :)

Nah, I'll stick with Infused Knowledge. Story time! I got this from Reader's Digest, I think. A white family wrote in to say they were raising their kids in the San Diego area and teaching them the proper Spanish pronunciations of the various place names. La Jolla isn't "la JOLLa", it's "la HOYa", and so on. One day in a restaurant one of the younger kids was looking at a menu and asked, "Mom, what's hey-o?" Turned out that for the first time in his life, he was seeing the word Jello.

Turnabout is fair play: I heard of some Mexican-American kids who asked their parents what the English word for "ice cream" is. :)

The Pope and his brother

"Just for one week, Georg. No one will notice."

(From Fr. Longenecker.)

And for more fun see the very awesome Saint Song!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

When you're driving into the parking lot way late for Mass...

...there's no better sight than that of the Norbertine father who's supposed to be saying the Mass, rushing through the lot with his white habit flying.

I got parked and veiled faster than he could get vested, and was decorously seated by the time he solemnly entered. Beautiful. :)

Friday, August 01, 2008

Saint Picture Quiz 6

I must confess to lameness about my quizzes; it's been three months since I posted the last one and only now have I gotten around to adding the answers (in the comments section; Athanasius got one and the rest stumped everybody.)

Now I demonstrate my chutzpah by immediately starting a new quiz, and the twist on this one is that I myself don't know the answer. I ran across this picture online, of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and I'm really wondering who the cute Carmelite is, the one who manages to be tonsured without looking bald, and who seems so unconcerned about the sword sticking into him. My own guess is St. John of Cross, chiefly because he and St. Simon Stock are the only male Carmelites I can think of, but also because I wouldn't put it past him to have written some poem about his heart being pierced by love.