Uncovered this gem of a story just now while learning all about telegraphs for Chapter 2 of my thesis…

Jean-Antoine Nollet, the Abbot of the Grand Convent of the Carthusians in Paris decided to test his theory that electricity traveled far and fast. He did the natural thing on a fine spring day in 1746, sending 200 of his monks out in a line 1 mile long. Between each pair of monks was a 25-foot iron wire. Once the reverend fathers were properly aligned, Nollet hooked up a battery to the end of the line and noted with satisfaction that all the monks started swearing, contorting, or otherwise reacting simultaneously to the shock. A successful experiment: an electrical signal can travel a mile and it does so quickly. Of course, this is the kind of experiment you can only run once as your monks may prove less-than-cooperative the second time around. So, in another demonstration he discharged a Leyden jar in front of King Louis XV at Versailles by sending current through a chain of 180 Royal Guards. The King was both impressed and amused as the soldiers all jumped simultaneously when the circuit was completed.” (from this biography)

On a scale of 1 to 10, how totally unkosher is that by modern-day scientific standards??! Still, I have so much admiration for people who come up with ideas and just go for it. I suppose these people are called scientists and engineers, and I suppose that is why I like studying them so much.

A good thing to remember, 46 days before my thesis is due.

Lets Gooooo!

Let's Gooooo!

One of the worst things about being a Harvard student is that when non-Harvard people discover this about you, they sometimes feel the need to challenge you to an intellectual duel. A similar thing happens with being a humanities major and non-humanities people. So, as a History of Science major from Harvard, I get this all the time:
“So when WAS the internet invented? Did Al Gore really invent it? I bet you don’t know about ___, ____, and ____!!”

I usually smile and nod and do an okay job giving the Teal Deer, but I mean, guys, the history of the internet is kind of complicated. So I’m really glad this video exists, especially since it’s really pretty. You should watch it so that you know–I plan on pulling it up the next time the glove gets thrown down.

History of the Internet from PICOL on Vimeo.

This is what my brain is like, guys

This is what my brain is like, guys

I had a weird insight today while reading my favorite food blog. I’m not sure I can articulate it, but here’s a try…

When someone who grows up in one culture (with one language) encounters a New Word (like, say, the unfamiliar name of vegetable), a different thing happens than when someone who is bilingual encounters this New Word. Why? Because a New Word in one language is just a new word, but a new word in one of two (or more) languages could be the translation of an old word in a new language.

The difference is kind of like writing totally fresh code vs. jamming a module into a pre-existing framework, I guess.

When I see the name of a cheese I don’t know, my brain-framework goes “ooh, a new name for some type of cheese. I will map this word to the category cheese and define it as whatever contextual clues exist.” When I read a recipe for broccoli rabe pizza, however, I find myself thinking: do I know what that is? I mean, I know I don’t know what “broccoli rabe” is, but is it one of the dozens of Chinese vegetables I eat all the time but don’t know the English names of?

Dictionaries are great for some instances of this, but–usually–kind of terrible for food because of regional idiosyncrasies and other issues. I’ve found that the most reliable translation method is to look something up on Wikipedia and then see if there’s a corresponding page in Chinese; this is an act of translation more akin to what I am trying to do in my own head. Alas, broccoli rabe has no such corresponding page, so I am left to wonder.

This also points to what I presume must be a growing need–some resource 1.5 and 2nd generation immigrants can turn to so that we can finally figure out how to say * in English. It’s like we’re permatourists who need picture books to get around in our own homes…

Flickr tells me I uploaded 1676 this year–and I’ve definitely gotten pickier about what to upload. So, picking the following 10 photos was hard. They aren’t the best 10 pictures, but I think they capture the year pretty well…

Rios and OE in the elevator, February 2008

Alternative Spring Break, March 2008

8 AM prep for ROFLCon Registration, April 2008

Davone playing in the pool, June 2008

Hammock during the summertime, June 2008

On the road in West Virginia

On the road in West Virginia, July 2008

Telecommuting from Colorado

Telecommuting from Colorado, September 2008

Fred at the National Free Culture Conference, October 2008

Friends celebrating on election night, November 2008

Dad stirring the hot pot, November 2008

I’m a little afraid of 2009, not just because it’s the number next to the “Expired in:” section of my Harvard ID card, but because I’m pretty sure that it’ll be less awesome than 2008.

This has been a year in which I worked incredibly hard but was also really rewarded by it. I met lots of super cool people. I helped organize a crazy conference and got mad internet cred for it. I got into Asian-American identity politics. I learned how to look at the cultures and subcultures I am immersed in critically. I got addicted to Twitter. I listened to a lot of Blue Scholars (and I mean a lot). I learned the exhilarating feeling of loving my schoolwork and, perhaps more remarkably, my job. I got lost a lot but also discovered that in a pinch, I can actually navigate if I need to.

Sometime in the middle of all of this, I felt my brain turn on for the first time in a while, and I suddenly became capable of creativity and thinking and ideas again. All in all, I think this was a year in which I really grew up and came into my own, which feels like a huge relief. Thanks, 2008!

So, this here is a list of all the firsts that 2008 has brought me. It’s quite a long list! In the days to follow, I’m planning to post favorite pics, favorite tracks, etc…but don’t hold your breath. You all know how good at updating I am.

(As a side note, compiling the following lists makes me really grateful for my external brain–Google Calendar, Twitter, this blog,, and perhaps most helpfully, Flickr. I know I’m supposed to be worried about privacy and who owns the data and all that, but at the end of the day I’m so extremely glad to be able to look back and relive 2008 in a pretty complete way. Hooray for personal (and not-so-personal) archiving!)

2008 Firsts:


(I’m pretty fascinated by large writing projects and how they grow, so I’m keeping track of my thesis’ project in a couple of ways. I’m saving one draft a week, I’m taking screenshots every hour I work on it, and so on. Maybe at the end, I’ll have a thesis and a cool animation!)