Category: aboutwriting

An Open Letter to the Human Resources Department of the Superfriends

(Another old humour piece of mine – this one you can find at McSweeney’s)


Dear Mr. Superman, Mr. Batman, Ms. Wonder Woman, and other esteemed do-gooders,

Although I have been waiting patiently for a few years in the hope that an advertisement would appear, I feel for the sake of my career that now is a good time to approach you. In essence, I am wondering whether you are, or will be, accepting any new members into your fine organization. More specifically, I am inquiring as to whether you need the services of a geneticist, since that is my particular field of expertise.

Part of the reason I am contacting you now is that I suspect you are possibly hurt by the unwarranted waning in public interest associated with your group, a symptom that likely correlates to the soaring popularity of some of your competitors—the X-Men and Spider-Man, to name two.

Anyway, this is why I think I can help—as a geneticist, I can bring a lot to the table. To me, it’s no coincidence that the X-Men, Spider-Man, and the like are mostly a consequence of fortuitous genetic modification.

More specifically, my knowledge in genetics can directly tackle your weaknesses. For instance, current genetic technologies could be utilized to offset Mr. Superman’s annoying kryptonite problem. Whether it’s the result of something specific in his genetic makeup or the result of the rest of society having some sort of innate immunity, the issue at stake is a difference in biological makeup. This, of course, makes it a perfect candidate for targeted gene therapy.

Mr. Batman could also benefit greatly from a genetic analysis. I would not be surprised if his manic-depressive tendencies are hard to manage and counterproductive to the group as a whole. Here we can perform a few diagnostic genetic tests, which can then go to great lengths to effectively pinpoint and manage these potentially bothersome tendencies.

Even Ms. Wonder Woman could stand to gain from my genetic expertise. Clearly, engaging in intensive hand-to-hand combat with her sizable chest is problematic. But how exactly would you perform breast-reduction surgery—or any surgery, for that matter—when an individual’s magic bracelets are constantly maneuvering to defend against an incoming scalpel? My point is that you don’t have to—I may be able to do something about this by using current genetic-manipulation methodologies.

And just imagine what could be done with cloning. The mind reels, does it not?

Now, with respect to fighting crime, I think that, overall, it wouldn’t take much effort to transform me into a fully functional Superfriend. I already have a well-equipped laboratory facility, which, with your help, could easily be relocated to the appropriate underground cave, glacier, secret island, or space station.

As for a costume, I own several lab coats, which, when worn with a good pair of spandex pants, will, I’m sure, sufficiently instill some semblance of fear into those who choose to do battle with me. I would offer to wear some retro-looking goggles as well, but, unfortunately, I need my prescription glasses, and, well, contacts tend to make my eyes itch.

Although I can’t fly, and I don’t own anything close to resembling a Batmobile or an invisible jet, I do drive around in one of those stylish yet practical Mazda MPVs. If you recall, this is Mazda’s very popular minivan model (you know—zoom zoom!), which would probably look quite superheroish were I to paint some lightning bolts or DNA strands on its sides.

Also, if it helps, I know quite a few physicists who may be able to lend a hand with Ms. Wonder Woman’s embarrassing “the jet is invisible but I’m clearly not” situation.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. David Ng
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC, Canada

It’s official: I’m blogging again.

So what’s going on? The short version is that this is a “hello Popperfont and goodbye to Scienceblogs” post. The long version goes a little like this:

1. For a while now, I’ve been using twitter, primarily as a place to highlight interesting things. It has more or less replaced my blogging output. These tweets are often science-y, visual in nature, and with (of course) the occasional dose of Chewbacca. However, it soon became obvious to me that I should start blogging again so that such things could be compiled: more so because I’m a big fan of using these odd snippets to segue into scientific discussions in class. With twitter (as lovely as it is), it was just too easy to lose these interesting links. With blogging, I figured there would be more features to archive things more effectively. Plus, this was an easy way to make sure there was a consistent stream of content (kind of like using twitter to blog).

2. I really wanted to start writing again. What I mean here, is that I’m quite out of practice. You consistently hear from other folks that writing is a little like a muscle. It needs more than the occasional flex, but rather a full-on regime of exercise. Things at work have been busy (aren’t they always?), but writing is definitely something that I’ve missed doing, and something that I feel I need to practice all over again. I can also add that the last post I did for boingboing.net was a major proverbial kick in my ass. Clearly my editorial spider sense is off, and so (as they say) practice, practice, practice…

3. Here is the heart of the matter. My really wanting to do something, and actually doing it are two very different things. Indeed this whole desire to start writing again was initiated by an act of irony. That is, I’ve just sent in a friendly “thanks for the memories” email to Scienceblogs, who were asking to renew contracts etc. Here, I declined because I really wasn’t doing much at the World’s Fair (again with the busy excuse). For whatever reason, I wasn’t necessarily inspired by having an outlet at Scienceblogs. Because of this, it was only fair to ask to be taken off Scienceblogs – hence the reason why you are reading this hello post (there is the almost identically worded goodbye post at Scienceblogs).

Ironically, this course of action is what is getting me to blog again. By ending things at Scienceblogs, it feels like an opportunity to start fresh: and fresh starts can be incredibly exciting and invigorating. In many ways, the idea of having a new online home is making me want to write more – does that make sense? Plus, this is also a chance to have full aesthetic control over how a blog might look, which is something I’ve always kind of wished I could do. I’ve never been a fan of websites that were overly busy looking, so getting to do my minimalist thing was definitively an advantage.

In any event, this is to say that overall, Scienceblogs was a great experience, and was a wonderful way to connect with similar folks around the globe. Sharing that platform with Ben and Vince (and indeed the rest of the community, bloggers and managers alike) over the years has been an absolute privilege. For that I am grateful, but now it is time to move on.

4. And where will I move on to? As mentioned above, I’m keen to try this independently for while. I’ve been collecting my tweets for the last few weeks here at Popperfont, so this seems as good a place as any to “have a go.”


And what will I blog about? Mostly, the content that my twitter account points to, but hopefully there will be some meaty stuff here and there as well.

Specifically, I’m keen to produce a weekly (this might be optimistic but I will do my best) series, which I’m going to call “sciencegeek fundamentals.” In essence, the aim of these pieces is to discuss and go over some key scientific concepts, but in a manner that is hopefully engaging to readers and possibly unconventional. We’ll start next week, but to give you a sense of the sort of writing I gravitate to, you can take a gander at some of my clips, as well as consider the working title of my first “sciencegeek fundamentals” piece (The scientific method by way of Chewbacca).

As well, I’m already working on a book for children where the scientific method is central to the plot (It’s called Lizzie Popperfont and the Collider Whale Tale). No expectations here… just enjoying myself as I put ideas down and work out the narrative. Who knows – maybe one of these days, we’ll try to find an agent and and publisher for this endeavor.

5. Finally… what’s with the name “Popperfont?” Nothing too deep… just kind of rolls nicely on the tongue, and with my inherent interest in creative arts and science, I thought the mix of Karl Popper and Typology sort of works.



My first piece

O.K. it looks like I’m going to use this site as a repository of my various science writings. In truth, I still consider myself a bit of a neophyte in this matter, but nevertheless, I’ve been lucky enough to publish the odd thing here and there.

In this vein, below is a copy of my first successful query letter written to that wonder of a wonderful magazine, Maisonneuve (sent on Jan 29th, 2004).

Dear Editors

It’s like this…

Science geeks like myself can also be of the adventurous fold. And from this unwieldy mix, we can produce some pretty interesting dialogue on any number of science influenced topics. From this train of thought, I’d like to showcase a possible feature article that fits with the eclectic philosophy behind your magazine. If we were to assume that the literary world secretly prefers to not be verbose, and would much rather follow a Sesame Street type pitch, then I can simply say that my article is sponsored by the words “DNA” and “Nigeria.”

DNA, of course, will be (and arguably has been) done to death, and this is especially so in the subsequent months with the anniversary of the double helix, and the simultaneous announcement of the fully completed sequence of the human genome project. Its relationship to Nigeria, on the other hand, is what makes this particular piece interesting, and not necessarily due to its oil deposits or its near hosting of the Miss World pageant.

Rather, in the summer of 2002, I was fortunate enough to travel to Lagos, Nigeria to partake in the teaching of a scientific workshop that covered the theoretical and practical aspects of Molecular Genetics. Attended by senior graduate students, this particular workshop was unique in that it provided an interesting look into the scientific culture of a developing country. Furthermore, I think the essay would be enjoyable to your readers given that the narrative covers several diverse themes – from the challenge of facilitating a high technology workshop in an otherwise struggling country, to the cultural disparity between our own way of life and that of a nation clearly in the need. At times, I felt that the workshop would have fitted right at home in any episode of The Amazing Race, MacGyver, or even Survivor (if only UNESCO had given us $1500 and 48 hours to renovate the laboratory facilities, then we could have also included Trading Spaces).

Anyway, let me know if you want more and thanks for listening.

dave ng

You know, it’s oddly embarrassing to re-read this letter, and I’m definitely of the opinion that the acceptance was largely due to good timing (Maisonneuve was preparing for a “travel” issue). Anyway, the piece was eventually published in the May 2004 issue of the magazine.

READ the unedited version of DNA and Nigeria.

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