The Dark Balloon

A weblog by Hao Lian.
A terrible secret guarded by golems.
A note that thanks you for being born, all those years ago.

People come and some children leave.

The boy at last came upon a wizened man sitting on the oak stump, head resting against his fists in contemplation.

“Who are you, strange traveler?” the man asked.

“Bartholomew of the Glenwood Village,” he replied. “And who are you?”

“Why, I,” said the man as he flourished his hat and bowed deeply, “am the great Professor of Science in these woods.”

The boy stood at a loss for words with his eyes wide in shock.

The professor?” he asked.

“Yes, m’boy, I’m afraid my scholarly reputation precedes before me.”

The boy nodded. “Every boy my age knows how you helped Badger build his house—”

“—a trifle,” the professor said.

“Or how you helped Beaver sharpen his teeth—”

“—a mere dentist’s appointment.”

“Or how you taught Bee to fight Bear—”

“—a self-esteem issue more than anything,” the professor said. “Look, Bartholomew, science is my job. Don’t let those lurid tales cloud your opinion of me; there is nothing noble in simply doing your job, whereas there is something truly noble in building a house, dental hygiene, and learning self-defense for the first time.”

Bartholomew nodded fervently, hardly hearing anything over the thumpity-thump of his heartbeat.

“Now,” the man said kindly, “what did you seek in these dangerous woods?”

“The hand of a fair maiden, sir,” the boy said. “I am off to slay the dragon of Ragnathorne, to save the the fiefdom, win the gold, and ride back victorious.”

“Does this fair maiden have a name?” the man said, after a long pause.

“Her name is Belle of Glenwood Village.”

“Does Belle know your true feelings?” the man asked, gently.

“N—no,” the boy whispered to his feet.

“Young lad, science possesses not the answers to questions of the heart.” The professor rose from the stump, walked over, squatted, and placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“If you love someone, you chase that person down. Nothing’s worth the regret you could have years later. Rejection, a bad relationship, a divorce — those are things you can live down, turn to friends for, commiserate in, and regrow from. There’s nothing for the fermenting weight of regret aging in the casket of your soul.”

The boy nodded and turned to run back home, dinky sword and shield in hand. The boy paused and looked back at the professor, who was already halfway to the stump to sit down once again to listen to the woes of Buck. The boy turned back and ran.

After patiently explaining to Buck that hooves needed just as much maintenance as antlers, even if it doesn’t feel as manly, the professor looked around the opening — his opening — in the forest.

“Slow office hours,” he chuckled.

He reached into his lunch pail, retrieved a sandwich he made — he made enough sandwiches for the work week every Sunday night —, and munched on it. Every now and then, some crumbs would land on his professorship of science diploma, which leaned against the stump and while weathered and worn showed glimpses of a once-beautiful frame.

[(2011 August 1) .]

Like Christmas lights.

She must feel sometimes that she is being stretched in all directions at once. That she is made of auburn tassels and auburn clay, and each person who passes by grabs a tassel and keeps walking. She might wonder then who it will be who will grab but stand by her. Will it be the person who stood there before but left—-not quickly, but fading. Will it be the new person who stands there and whispers what fake incantations he can imagine to soothe the red welts where tassels have been yanked away, standing in a spot well-traveled—-not quickly, but fading.

But she brushes his whispers away, explaining that she is self-contained, sound that comes out her mouth and pinpricks into his heart. It does not hurt at first, but there are many of them and they bore deeper the more he thinks about them, quills from a dark hedgehog he cannot catch. The words “you deserve more” shape themselves into a hairy palm that holds itself over his chest and presses deep until his T-shirt’s back is filled with tiny red holes.

A spray of red mist lands on the clipboard on which I collect data—I am a scientist, it is written into my arm by an unloving god. The blood itself is data, turning a record of data into data itself. I cannot bear to stand it, and I helplessly tear at the clipboard, at first standing and then kneeling. How do you build conduits between two people? How do you undo language?

Some things are gone from us. Some things have been learned. But most are peering out behind our lab chairs and lab coats and lab computers and lab tops, waiting for us to be alone and separated, as we were born, as we will die, and it is terrifying and good.

[(2011 January 2) .]
[(2009 April 16) .]

The Morton salt girl responds to an overt attempt at flirting.

Recently, I was tagged by some creepy low-life to list seven personal things about me.

  1. Salt.

  2. Calcium cation.

  3. Silicate anion.

  4. Dextrose.

  5. Potassium cation.

  6. Iodine anion.

  7. I have a thing for the Brawny man.

I tag Prashanth and Ethan, who are my only non-molecular friends. They must begin their responses with “Dear Penthouse Forum: Recently, I was tagged by the Morton salt girl.”

[(2009 January 18, 3!) .]

Naughty balance.

Ethane and Prashanth, in order of coolness, recently made a video about a distributed version control system.

  • Prashanth: Maybe you should get that checked.
  • Ethane: Maybe you should shut your face.
[(2008 December 15, 3!) .]

I review The Emperor of Scent.

The Emperor of Scent

The Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr is what scientific nonfiction should be: engaging, fun, funny, and thrilling. It provides just the right amount of biology and high-school organic chemistry to adequately portray the theory, but not enough to overwhelm Joe the Reader who whiled away the time spent in AP Chemistry by talking about the Ebonics robot in the movie Transformers (not me). It’s the story of an underdog where the antagonists aren’t evil bastards as much as scientific corruption is and where everybody’s surprising and where the way the story’s told is almost as smart as the people it’s about.

(Using emails between Stewart and Turin (who gave a TED talk in 2005. You might have been there, if you were insanely rich enough to pay the $6,000/year membership fee.) does get old after a while, though. Emails in the book overall prove that scientists as a rule like molesting English. Also, the Author’s Note would have worked just as well at the end of the book.)

[(2008 November 30) .]

When sad teenage girls formulate analogies.

Like a teenager helping her older sister prepare for prom night, a subordinate turkey may help his dominant brother put on an impressive team display that is only of direct benefit to the dominant member. [12]

“Kin selection,” Wikipedia
[(2008 October 26) .]

Let the WordPress port to DNA commence.

In 2003, U.S. scientists demonstrated that D. radiodurans could be
used as a means of information storage that might survive a nuclear
catastrophe. They translated the song It’s a Small World into a
series of DNA segments 150 base pairs long, inserted these into the
bacteria, and were able to retrieve them without errors 100
generations later.

“Deinococcus radiodurans”, Wikipedia

[(2008 May 31) .]

On her pees.

According to herpes commercials (herpescials), people believe they can’t spread this hilarious disease between outbreaks—abstinence-only education at work. I didn’t know the “I can’t see it, therefore it’s not there” mentality still exists. How do people even believe they have herpes in the first place? You know why atoms were so hard to adopt, why there was resistance to using soap to kill germs, why major scientific discoveries had to fight for acceptance? It was because of people like you. And now you have herpes. That’s how countless centuries of science get their revenge: Herpes. It’s ingenious, really. It’s not fatal (thanks to science—clearly intentional), but it is terribly humorous.

[(2008 May 30, 4!) .]

Fly trap.

Puzzle: Assume we’re talking about a complete dominance, non-pleiotrophic, non-epistatic, single gene. Let’s say you have two boxes of flies. One box has 100% red males. The other has 100% blue females. You mate the two boxes. They produce children. All the male children are 100% blue. All the female children are 100% red. You now mate all the children. Now the males are 50% blue and 50% red. The females are also 50% blue and 50% red. What the hell?

Solution: Red is a sex-linked dominant allele. (Remember that males are XY and females are XX.) In the original population, all the males were X(r)Y and all the females are X(b)X(b) where X(_) means _ is a linked to the X chromosome. When you cross X(r)Y and X(b)X(b), you get four equally possible choices: X(r)X(b) twice and X(b)Y twice. Hence, all the females are red because red is dominant and all the males are blue because it only takes one recessive allele on the X chromosome to express the recessive phenotype. That’s because the Y chromosome is completely neutral with regards to this whole fracas.

When you mate X(r)X(b) and X(b)Y, you get four equally possible choices: X(r)X(b), X(r)Y, X(b)X(b), and X(b)Y. Therefore, 50% red and 50% blue for males and females.

[(2008 May 11) .]

Royalty fees.

In the future, scientists—progressively nerdier—will aggressively use protists as emoticons. For example, “tl;dr” could be:

Picture of Giardia
Giardia, Ross Koning
[(2008 April 7) .]
[(2008 February 18) .]

And Now: Queer Quotes.

(People discussing alternatives to glasses.)

  • randomb0y: You could just squint. Or get Lasik.
  • akdas: Yes. Both of those are cheap, quick solutions with no risks.
[(2007 December 29) .]

For all you meteorologists out there

Your momma’s like a tropical storm: She doesn’t have any eyes.

[(2007 December 21, 2!) .]

The Salvation Army

The savory yard

Marie Curie is within the circle. Wikipedia has more to discourse.

[(2006 February 26) .]