Saturday, December 13, 2003

Free music, eh? 

The United States of America pale in comparison to Canada in reference to most things, especially cultural progressivism. Now I'm convinced that the music scene cultivated by yonder Canucks is seriously whipping the ass of whatever the hell you want to call the current trends in American radio at large.

The website for New Music Canada was the straw that broke the camel's back: follow the link, choose your poison, relax.

I rarely get to hear uninterrupted stretches of (viciously) high quality streaming music, and NMC has archived, umm, I think everything for your free listening pleasure. The electronic/dance section is amazing, and aside from simply having the option to listen to selected tracks from selected artists, one also can press a very convenient "play all"/instant-DJ button under the subheading of each specific genre . Until last night I'd never heard of Joe Silva, nor Wintary, nor Fidgital, nor Spylabtek, etc., and now I've latched on to each of them.

What would it take to get something like this started up here? Not just in the states--I mean locally, a clearinghouse of demonstrative contemporary music in Arkansas?


Thursday, December 11, 2003

Ode to elastic 

Girl power.


Wednesday, December 10, 2003

The molecular biology episode 

I started reading the newest issue of Traffic today (a journal dedicated to the processes of intracellular transport) and, son of a bitch, somebody duplicated and published what had been my final project when I finished up my bachelor's in 2002. Well, they did a lot more than I had done (a whole lot), but it's the thought that counts. I'm concurrently pissed (that I didn't publish the material as an adjunct to a big paper done by my former lab) and elated (that as an undergraduate I got to participate in some cutting edge, albeit dull, research), but let me get one thing straight: I miss research, I do not miss the lab.

Let me explain.

For an absurd amount of time I poured all of my energy into learning everything I could about one single class of proteins. The specificity of research in molecular biology is so focused that I still freak out when I think about how narrowly-focused my specialization was. The proteins I worked with are called Rab11a-FIPs, short for "functional interacting proteins," and are (were?) so named because, although people recently had found out that these proteins exist, no one knew exactly what role they played in the cell. That first part of the class name, Rab11a, is a description of the protein with which these FIPs interact. In cellular trafficking there are literally thousands of separate classes of transport proteins, of which Rabs are a major chunk. Of all the Rabs, I focused on a sub-type of the Rab11 protein (I told you, narrow focus) Rab11a. These proteins are generally involved in the creation/degradation of the membranous structures that allow a cell to regulate the amount of water that is eliminated from the cell. It may not sound like much, but this is a fiercely hot area of research right now as there are a lot of diseases that result from malfunctions in this canon of proteins, Alzheimers for example. Almost all Rabs are conserved to an incredible degree, meaning that the slime mold cellular model I used in experimentation is only about a tenth of a percent dissimilar to human cells in respect to the proteins in question (this genetic conservation is, by the way, some of the most intriguing evidence supporting the concept of evolution through natural selection).

My job was to take these proteins, Rab11a-FIP1 through -FIP4, of undefined function and define them in their relation to the normal functioning of Rab11a. Am I losing you? Here's where the fun shit starts. In order to do this I got to participate in some truly beautiful genetic manipulations. A fundamental aspect of molecular biology is that proteins, the active and readily mobile working components of cells, can be restructured in essentially any desirable format. Proteins from different organisms, for example, can be (and I'm shortening this significantly) combined and expressed as a transgenic whole. One very elegant process attaches GFP (green fluorescent protein, the sequence of which was obtained from bioluminescent jellyfish) to a protein in question. Said protein is expressed in the cell as normal (generally), but with GFP dangling off the end of it. Under UV light GFP fluoresces in the visible spectrum, meaning that one can visualize your protein in question zipping around a living cell. If you want to see some cool videos of intracellular trafficking visualized by GFP fusions and similar processes, go here and see the face of our incredible evolutionary history. Here's another good one, done in black and white but with much more fluid animation.

This is the shit I live for.

Then I got into the lab.

Ugh, I don't even know how to convey my sense of disappointment. Researchers are so fiercely competitive that they actually resort to misinformation as a goofy kind of sabotage to keep others from publishing material first. Not all of them, but definitely more than you would expect... more than I had expected, anyway. All the idealism of the theory and execution of pure research science is absolutely destroyed by human behavior. I remember that the doctor under whom I worked at UALR wouldn't give me a key for after-hours access to his lab. In spite of the fact that I'd gotten a research grant to pay his lab for my time, it took him until the April before my graduation to finally cave in and get me a set of lab keys. Thanks. I used to sleep in the hall during tense times in the lab so I wouldn't get locked out during a time-sensitive procedure. Since the Human Genome Project was such a success, the venture capital philosophy has also started bleeding into the research world. Now if you want the highest quality materials or incredible purity of already-expensive solutions, the big name suppliers will fucking rape your wallet (or grant). When I started college in 1998 a reliable miniprep kit could be bought for about $70; I dare you to find one today for under $150. This one goes for over $400. So many unhappy people work in lab sciences. The lab was always quiet and gloomy, and people never socialized. I tried to have a conversation about Riverfest with one of the guys who shared my lab, but he informed me that he "doesn't listen to secular music," and then turned away to quietly stare at whirring machinery. I just silently did my work in a windowless room, tracking glowing proteins, sequencing mutants, amplifying DNA, and so on. When I finished my degrees, I happily abandoned my grant (which actually hadn't yet paid me a dime) and that irritating lab. I just sort of handed the evil doctor my results and told him that I was unhappy in his lab. I was so frayed by that point that I didn't even hesitate to ditch him in spite of the boss-employee tension, but as soon as I handed over my lab book I felt this gigantic trembling sigh involuntarily shake itself out of my body. I had never felt such an instantaneous and overpowering sense of relief (and release), and I hope that I never have to experience something that dramatic again.

I miss it, but I don't miss it. I need to find a fun lab to truly thrive, maybe a field lab setup or something. I can't cope with fluorescent lighting, dead conversation and no windows for 8-12 hours per day. More power to those researchers who picked up where I left off with those Rab11a-FIPs--somebody had to get around to it eventually. I'm leaving my future a bit more to consequence these days, and I'm trying to enjoy the directionlessness while it lasts.

Schlechte tage? 

I wish that certain moods would function in the same manner as zeitgeist: in defining it, one necessarily destroys what has been defined. Maybe I just haven't defined it well enough. I suppose nothing comes easy, though. Everything builds character. Irasque leonum, vincla recusanteum, right?

Well, whatever the hell it is (maybe this is part of the cause, link goes to a brief video) it seems to have struck in the middle of one of the happiest periods of my life. Nothing buffers bizarrely, confusingly hard times like the good life with kind folk. You know the kind: the ones who tell you your new sloppy beard is hot when you know it's anything but.


Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Bad Santa 

Pagans on Bobsleds XII is a riot. The cast of Red Octopus Theater deserve (another) pat on the back. Highlights of the evening:

A gaggle of English academics, together for the holidays, smoke a joint and play charades. In deciding who will start the game: "I go first, I have tenure." CHARLATAN!

Two elves, one with a very social form of mental retardation, get into the business of making rubenesque sex dolls in Santa's workshop. Said special needs elf often spouts out unique phrases when put under stress. These phrases begin at a pretty goofy level (usually involving defecation, e.g. "shit a pigeon") but quickly escalate to some rather poetic (if a bit abstruse) flourishes. The best of all: "Your wife's gonna be shittin' spackle when she finds out you're making fat titty dolls, but as she cries her river of tears will show us all that spackle is water soluble." I don't get it, but it sounds sweet. This skit even has a touching, socially-conscious finale.

Mr. Santa arrives, but something is different... I can't quite put my finger on it, but he's definitely done something new. No, it's not the absence of a beard. Did he lose weight? Maybe he got a nose job. Oh, no, it's that massive strap-on peeking out from beneath his jacket.

Man and wife chatter over a breakfast of eggs and toast. Wife is barren. Talk of runny eggs leads conversation back to infertility. Wife angrily suggests that husband marry toast if her eggs aren't good enough. Husband agrees. Fag priest (whose costume is simply a black shirt with a square of white toilet paper tucked in at the neck) arrives, cigarette clasped sassily 'twixt two fingers with a bent elbow, binds the man-bread pair in matrimony, and then pronounces, "Whatever. I'm off to suck some dicks." Classic.

The easy target of post-1950 German theater is adapted into a Christmas story...well, sort of. With a visecracking faux-deutsch version of "'Twas the night before Christmas" playing in the background, the cast (black-clad, of course) stare blankly, strike angular poses, and wistfully deliver their esoteric observations. We learn about infertitlity (again), the denial of sexual candy, and whores. [I love Google: for kicks, check out these photos of a core-level university course in German theater. They're very whorenun-ish, if you know what I mean, and I'm almost certain that this is why I love them. Check out the photo of a young Mia Farrow playing a scene with a baby-faced Paul Newman near the bottom on the left... I never knew they did anything together!]

A young girl dreams a quick vignette starring Batman and Robin in a predictably homoerotic scenario. After a fair bit of prancing about, Robin is stricken by the sudden pains of labor. Doctors rush in and surround the shrieking Robin (who is howling at Batman, "You did this to me!"), but soon the crowd parts, reavealing a pretty blue egg to the ensuing sighs and applause from the audience.

Domestic abuse is funny. A strained family during the holidays serves as the backdrop for an acidic advertisement for a topical pain relief spray designed especially for those husbands who can't swing a fist like they used to. After the wife applies the muscle-soothing spray to her husband's slapping arm, everyone is eager to see if it brings dad some relief. The husband asks his wife to provide a few lines that would normally provoke his rage: the wife dryly offers, "Honey, did you ask your boss about that promotion yet?" The husband, obviously elevated to a supreme state of agitation, rears his arm back rapidly to prepare for a solid blow--to eveyone's surprise, his arm is pain free! The husband even gets the kids to provoke him so everyone can see how easily he can beat again. In parody of the smiling response to abuse that many families display, the husband gathers up his smiling wife and children with a hug filled with joy, simply stating that this heavenly product "gave me back my family."

There was much more to see, much more to laugh at, but as usual I can't remember enough detail. We all had a good time, and M. got to show off her litho roller stigmata/blisters (which are developing nicely). I appreciate the atmosphere that R.O.T. cultivates at Vino's. All to often I think that this cultural hideout / musical mainstay can come across to average patrons as a bit exclusive, even snobbish. When R.O.T. presents a show I see all types there... hell, even I feel more comfortable there simply because everyone present comes to laugh, audience and performers alike. When an audio cue is missed, one of the actors will address the problem, fall down, and then everyone laughs--problem solved. Bravo, R.O.T., for the warmest ambiance I've ever experienced at the brew pub.


Monday, December 08, 2003

Last-minute alert! 

No longer working across the street from Vino's has me out of the loop. I just found out that tonight is cheap night ($5 well spent!) for Red Octopus' Pagans on Bobsleds. Ohpleaseohpleaseohplease let Drunk Santa be in a foul mood!

In the office restroom lies one of those "on demand" water heaters. Sometimes, like just now, I go back there just to turn on the hot water, put my hands under the spigot, and zone out for a few seconds (wasteful, but pleasant). I snapped to just a moment ago back there and hurridly turned off the tap not knowing how long I'd been out. The paper towel basket was empty, but I thought, "toilet paper is absorbent, it'll work." I pulled a length off of the roll and started rolling it between my hands, only to have the entire handful disintegrate into a million sticky bits of 1-ply madness.

Still flicking bits of paper pulp from my hands and forearms as I sat back down in the office, I looked out the window to see a tiny girl (4 years old? 5 maybe?), completely unsupervised, walking across the plaza with her stewardess-style pull-behind Barbie tote.


I know you have an eye for modernity, you just don't want to admit it. It's okay, you don't have to. Regardless, thanks for letting me scan some of your pictures from our Trans-Europe Express 2001.

Weekend detritus 

White Wave brand tofu, firm style, plus some sort of mushroom vinaigrette marinade: hell yeah.

Michel Houellebecq is one scary motherfucker. Don't believe me? Read "Les particules élémentaires," confront your own lame-ass, violent existence. Promptly start four-pack-a-day smoking habit, swilling booze at work.

Stereo up, windows down, jacket and cap on--2 happy hours on the dark dark road.

I never suspected that Clarksville would be pretty.

It comes to you in slow attacks..., so sings somebody-or-other.

I used to think that my potato leek soup was the ghostface killah of from-scratch stocks, but, Kelly Sue, I made your walnut and smoked almond soup last Friday. You know what? It totally kicks my soup's ass. No, your soup sneaks up on my soup at the ATM and just starts screaming, causing my soup to fall down and beg, red-faced and tear-covered, for its life. Then your soup takes my soup's money and walks away, but just before your soup turns the corner (as my soup is starting to stand up, wiping off its face but still crying a little) your soup turns on a dime and comes rushing, silently but making fierce eye-contact, back at my soup, just for the pleaseure of hearing my soup's shrill pansy scream as it runs as fast as it can in the opposite direction. Before my soup is out of earshot, your soup shouts, "Run home to your fat kids, you pussy!" while counting the money. That soup is good.

My former boss from the art store is a student at UALR, and he just came into my office as a subordinate! How cool is that turnaround?

When I was driving home last night the air was cold and crisp. The stars were out, but the full moon caught the atmosphere enough to give everything a fuzzy glow. Frost-covered fields gave a smooth, silvered impression and the lakes lining the freeway were still and deeply black. The sky was slit by a single unbroken contrail stretching from horizon to horizon, and for some reason it made me think about you.


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