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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Throwing stuff out the window

Listening to a speech by a high-level company exec. Talking about decision-making, trust, and communication within the company. Told the following story about AIDS prevention as an example of how smart people can make dumb decisions.
“For reasons I don’t understand, at one point the whole world was into microbicides. They were throwing millions of dollars into microbicides. And when I was at the Gates Foundation I said it wouldn’t work. Why?
“When you go into the field, you see these villages with 25 huts. In front of each hut is a huge pile of garbage, because they don’t have garbage disposal in these villages. You use something, you throw it out the window onto the pile.
“Imagine you want to have sex. The microbicide comes in a package, so you unwrap the package and throw the wrapper out the window. There’s a plastic applicator tube with the gel inside, so you apply it and throw it out the window.
“Now everybody knows you had sex last night and you think your husband has HIV.”

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The Unseen

Construction workers being treated terribly…being indebted for a year for exorbitant “recruitment fees” as soon as they land…squalid dorms…employers confiscating passports…accident victims receiving tardy and insufficient medical care. This sounds familiar. I think the most powerful allegory for early 21st century globalisation that most people haven’t read is “The Book of D’ni” based on the Myst computer games. (SPOILERS FOLLOW)

Atrus and his proteges trying to rebuild D’ni stumbled on a lost civilisation called Terahnee. They found that the D’ni had cut off relationships because Terahnee was a slave society. They had beautiful homes and monuments and amazing technology, but behind it all were slaves from hundreds of planets called “relyimah”, “the unseen”. A slave could be beaten for being seen and killed for touching a Terahnee master. I read the Myst trilogy shortly after moving to Singapore in 2009. The concept of “unseen” labourers struck me forcibly when I realised a featureless white building at a construction site in Singapore that I walked past every day had people living in it.

I have worked as a foreigner in other countries for many years. If an employer demanded I hand over my passport to prevent me from running away I would certainly tell them to go sodomise themself. Obviously white-collar “expats” have power and privileges that blue-collar “migrant workers” don’t. But these people are having their basic human rights and rights under the laws of host countries violated while the governments turn a blind eye and/or side with the bosses. It’s so damn unfair.

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Bebas, aku naik bas

Met some interesting people on the FLEX bus and waiting for the L bus…a mother taking her half-Arapahoe little boys to the reservation for the first time to see their father – the smaller boy kept handing me his Lightning McQueen car to play with but wouldn’t say anything; two ex-prisoners chatting about parole, rehab, and Thanksgiving dinner at “the Mission” – the middle aged guy passed around some mints and the little boy eventually threw his on the floor; a trio of Omani freshmen going to Denver hoping to buy a TV and PS4 on Black Friday (good luck, guys!); a widow?divorcee? who recently moved back to Colorado from California and invited me to her house next week. Happy Thanksgiving you all!

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Exodus: How Migration is Changing Our World (first impression)

Paul Collier, Exodus (advance reading copy)

Paul Collier, Exodus (advance reading copy)

I’ve been pretty much hiding indoors sulking for a month since arriving in the USA (terrible, I know; there are so many people who want to be in my position). But I accepted the job, and now it’s dawning on me that I have two weeks left to Get Stuff Done before plunging back into a full-time position.

One nice thing about being back in the USA is that I can start ordering stuff as an Amazon Vine reviewer again. I got five books and a vacuum cleaner. Yes. An ENTIRE FREAKING VACUUM CLEANER. For writing a lot of opinionated book reviews when I was an undergraduate, free stuff every month for as long as Amazon sees fit.

One of the books is by Paul Collier, on migration. Naturally this is a subject of great relevance to me. According to the back-cover blurb, he thinks it needs to be limited for everybody’s good. He admits that persons like his family are in a sense “parasitic” which makes me rather uneasy because I have to admit that even though I hardly consider myself a jet-setter, me and mine are internationally mobile people.

I argue for a lot of counterintuitive things. I don’t think that necessarily makes me a hypocrite. I argue that Chinese Malaysians should hang on to southern Chinese languages (deprecated as “dialects” in Singapore and Malaysia even though they’re not) even though I’m a total banana, because I think that our history is precious. I argue that science and maths shouldn’t be taught in English, because they need to be taught in the most easily understood medium. It will be interesting to see this man who has a family scattered all over argue that people shouldn’t migrate so much.

Collier has a couple of other popular books that sound like stuff I should read: The Bottom Billion and The Plundered PlanetExodus is supposed to be a sequel of sorts to the former.

Some of the Vine books are the first edition whereas others are uncorrected preprints. If I’d known The Hunger Games was going to get so popular I totally would have hung on to mine. Basket. The one of A Most Wanted Man had a handwritten note from John le Carre as the cover, which was pretty cool. This one is just plain orange with block lettering.

Anyway I’m still in the intro chapters where he’s laying out the problem. One line that jumped out at me was “One indication that democratic institutions matter is that a change of leader only makes a significant difference to economic performance if these institutions are weak.”

That means…BN’s claim that Malaysia will descend into chaos if Pakatan takes over is an admission that the government they’ve been running for fifty-plus years SUCKS.

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The first time I got a student visa, terrorists brought down the World Trade Center five days before I started university.
I immigrated on an IR1 (spouse of a US citizen) visa on Monday and the federal government promptly shut down.
…the way it’s going, if I took up citizenship, probably an asteroid would hit North America or the Yellowstone supervolcano would erupt.

I’m just sitting at home in the middle of a living room floor strewn with unpacked and unkempt personal belongings, empty of furniture, because booting up a house takes longer than booting up a 2000 PC running Windows Vista. I am, uncharacteristically, afraid.

Continue reading

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