Forgetful Jones

New method of reminding myself not to leave the office before taking care of certain lab tasks.


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This dream started at the big supermarket on the west side of the main road through town and moved to a house on a hill on the opposite side of the road but I don’t really remember how the supermarket was involved. Somehow I ended up holding a gallon Ziploc bag that had a clay-coloured chunk of mineral inside. It was actually radioactive waste, so the bag felt warm. Somebody had told me it was only giving off alpha radiation so it was safe as long as it stayed inside the bag. But after a while, the gray surface began to crumble and flake off, revealing inner layers with the texture of obsidian: first green, then purple, then glowing black at the heart. I had a bag full of radioactive crystalline fragments and didn’t know what to do with it.

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Malaysian books I have read

I heard this great interview on BFM’s Night School with Raja Ahmad Aminullah, a poet and essayist and now I really really want to get a hold of his “Minda Tertawan“. Thinking about it, I actually haven’t read that many books by local authors. Here’s a list in rough chronological order of local books I remember reading, not counting picture books for small children and Lat comics, although I think Mat Som is a great graphic novel and I have both the original and English translation. Given that I’ve probably read hundreds of books in my life the list of Malaysian works is a bit the short: Continue reading

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This is what happens when you play games in beta

Sunless Sea Midnight Whales

Midnight Whales

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Steaming through the devouring night

I’ve been playing the popular text fiction game Fallen London for quite some time now and am at a point where I have several interesting storylines going, but am temporarily tired of it because my primary goal (build a ship) is in an extremely grindy phase. I don’t often pay for computer games but (this is not to say I pirate them, I just play the few I have already or abandonware/old DOS games) FL however is good enough that I’ve been more than willing to pay the approximately $2.50 per month to double my action pool.

I started playing around third quarter last year (you can tell I’ve worked in industry for a while since I now divide years into quarters instead of semesters) and around that time, Failbetter Games put up a Kickstarter for their new game Sunless Sea, set in the Unterzee, the ocean of the vast underground cavern into which London, Karakorum, and three other cities whose identity is heavily debated on player forums, fell. (Some say the cavern is the skull of a dead god…) I didn’t get in on the Kickstarter but I did like the idea enough that I paid for SS as soon as the incomplete early access version became available. They’ll be releasing content updates through the end of this year so it will be interesting to see the map and storylines become populated.

While FL is a choose-your-own-adventure text-only game, SS is like an old-fashioned RPG where you move around the map and have turn-based combat. Interactions with NPCs and actions while docked in various ports are multiple choice like in FL. One major, major difference in how you handle characters, however, is that unlike FL where death merely results in a trip on a slow boat passing a dark beach on a silent river, SS has permadeath. You have to create a new character and start from scratch with the exception that you can choose to keep a skill, an officer, or your chart (map). There are apparently mythos reasons why dying at sea is permanent – I’m not sure of the arguments but I think it’s got something to do with the Stolen River, f.k.a. the Thames, wafting you back to the city if you die in FL. Or something to do with the darkness at zee. It gets very frustrating if you’re the kind of gamer who gets emotionally attached to your characters. I keep picking the same character background, cameo, and name for mine. In the default mode, it only autosaves when you dock somewhere. If you die in the middle of a battle or mutiny, it wipes that out – a workaround for Windows users is to Alt+F4 when that happens. You CAN switch to manual save mode, but you lose a medal called the Invictus token.

Even though it has simple 2D graphics and you have a top-down view of the map area around your ship, the darkness is really atmospheric. Reinforcing the sense of IWANTTTOGTFONOW is that there is a game stat called Terror that increments over time when you’re in unlit areas far away from shores, buoys, or lighthouses. Hunger is also a thing, and when your Hunger or Terror get high, the game pops up story cards with increasingly desperate options. One player reported that their young child thought that eating his crew was a fun option.

I’ve only recently been able to get far enough away from FL to see some really fun things, like an island being fought over by colonies of talking rats and guinea pigs. Some of the things that players who’ve been on since beta are talking about on the forums are driving me crazy because it feels like it’ll be too long before I can get to them. Also, since it’s in the FL universe…nearly every time the word NORTH appears in FL it’s in all caps, and there are indications that being “Northridden” or “Northbound” is a form of obsession. So of course you want to find out what’s there. So far I found a strange gate that drove my crew mad, and on another run I found a creature that was a living iceberg that one-shotted me.

Anyway, the reason I’m blogging about this, since I’m not a gamer, is that around the same time that I downloaded SS, a few days ago, I also started reading a random “staff pick” from my local library, Dan Simmons’ historical novel based on the lost Franklin Expedition to find the Northwest Passage. The title is The Terror. Which was the actual name of one of the two ships. They were large ships with reinforced hulls, steam engines, and hundreds of tons of supplies. The facts of the matter – not the novel – are that the members of the expedition ended their lives in the Arctic dark, in madness and cannibalism.

I suddenly realised I’m reading a book and playing a game about the same thing.

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The Antimatter War

(Inspired by an NPR program talking about how subatomic particles were detected)

The amount of matter at the birth of the universe was only slightly more than antimatter, on the order of one particle in a billion excess. Both formed galaxies, stars, planets, and eventually life. The civilizations discovered each other with some terrible accidents in the beginning but formed a truce, communicating via radio or laser. Eventually the cosmologists calculated that the matter universe could take over on sheer mass alone; thus began the war to annhilate the threat for good. The antimatter worlds, fighting for survival, carried out devastating kamikaze raids on major worlds and star clusters of the matter universe. This went on for millenia. The attacks reached the proportions of cosmic disasters on both sides before finally the matter universe was pressed to accept that while matter might be left at the end of the war’s natural conclusion, no matter-based spacefaring life would survive. Finally peace came again.

- romantic subplot: two radio operators on opposite sides fall in love. Aside from being completely unable to ever touch, they are of radically different physical forms.

(if anybody wants to turn this into an actual novel I am perfectly happy for them to do so if they give me credit for the idea)

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Finally got around to watching Twelve Years a Slave, which I had on my to-do list but didn’t actually want to watch for a long time because I knew it would be difficult to watch the scenes of torture and abuse. We went to hang out with my first sister-in-law and brother-in-law and they had the DVD from Netflix. The original plan was to watch Team America: World Police but we couldn’t find a good streaming site.

The movie was indeed very difficult to watch but it was very well done. I was struck by a sense of deja vu because of Octavia Butler’s Kindred. Butler was a science fiction writer and to me a paragon in a field still dominated by white guys. I don’t know what her science background is (I’m the kind of fan who doesn’t care about the creator, only the creation) but as a biologist I loved the Xenogenesis trilogy, including little touches like calling the human-ooloi hybrids “constructs” like what we called our recombinant viruses in the lab where I did my Master’s. Continue reading

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The Arena

I had a dream where I was trapped in an arena with a maze in it with a last man standing kind of setup, and armed with a spear shaped like a giant craft knife (X-Acto). I managed to kill everybody with the spear, most of them were young adults like me but the last one was some fat old uncle and I had to grab him from behind and cut his throat. I could feel the blade sticking on people’s ribs and sternums and stuff and twisting it to get it between the ribs and thinking, Well, good thing Xacto knives are sharp. O_o

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TCID50 don’t believe you read everything on the internet

Reed-Muench 1938 title screenshotI’ve had an entertaining last week trying to set up a TCID50 calculation template for some assay development work I’m doing. The long and short of it is that I found out that a Yale professor and the WHO (not to be confused with The Who) are not immune to making mistakes…

My company has a very nice Excel workbook for a different assay that runs using macros and spits out a neat summary sheet for multiple samples, but the problem is that it’s locked down to an initial dilution of 1:10 and serial dilutions of 1:10 and the person who wrote it left years ago before we were bought by the Shogunate and even before I started working at TinyVaccineStartup, which makes it useless for assay development work. Continue reading

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Laser caterpillar

I like taking long afternoon naps on the weekends and usually end up having vivid dreams…

I was keeping some live caterpillars in my pencil case like a little kid, to see what they would turn into.  The pencil case tipped over and half-spilled its contents. There was a strange sizzling noise and a bluish glow. It took me several minutes to figure out what was going on. One of the caterpillars, which had grown big on all the leaves I put in there, was crawling along my purple laser pointer* and had activated the button. Its long antennae were hanging down into the beam, and burning.

* I wish I had a purple laser pointer in real life, but they’re rather expensive.

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