Friday, May 30, 2014

Han Shot First...From a Certain Point of View

Vader with his allies
Star Wars has struck my house. I'm to blame, of course, but I never thought it would become this intense. We've been playing with the action figures for a while now and I'm particularly fond of Han Solo because of his versatility. If you're short a villain, for example, you could always have your existing team of bad guys, like the Joker and Storm Shadow, approach Han with an offer. Because I think we all know that Han would switch sides for the right price. He's a smuggler. Despite what George Lucas wants us all to believe, Han blasted Greedo in that Mos Eisley bar before the alien got the jump on him. Han shot first, and no amount of CGI editing will convince me otherwise.

After the toys came the movies. Episode IV first, then the prequels, because that's good parenting. Those first three are pretty funny as an adult. My favorite scene now is when Obi-Wan tries to worm his way out of his past lies to Luke. The young Skywalker confronts him in Return of the Jedi, pointing out that Obi-Wan said his father was dead. The old Jedi kind of sighs and goes into this rambling discourse, admitting that he was lying without actually owning up to it, and finishing with, "So what I told you was true...from a certain point of view."

Mind tricks aside, that scene kind of got me thinking that Jedis would make good lawyers. Imagine Obi-Wan going up against Colonel Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men? He would have smoked him.

The one big disappointment of this whole Star Wars obsession is the books. Much of the stuff that's out there for early readers right now is TERRIBLE. The early DK Readers are really abysmal. I can't believe that Lucasfilm let them produce those things. They don't read as though they were written for first graders. They read as though they were written by first graders. And the real tragedy is that these books are popular. Immensely popular. You see them everywhere, and it would have been so easy for Lucasfilm to collaborate with real writers capable of turning out out good books.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Swell Way to Keep From Working

This past Tuesday, on my way to a microbiology conference, I spotted a man on the train wearing a t-shirt with the word “mentor” printed in large letters across the back. His pants had fallen down below his waist. The view was unpleasant, and I felt sad for his mentee.

Some takeaways from the conference: harmful bacteria can hang around on airplane tray tables, arm rests, and window shades for days; despite early evidence to the contrary, the microscopic bugs that can cause Legionnaire’s disease survive in windshield wiper fluid; we all need to open our windows more; there’s no difference in the fungal population of men’s vs. women’s public restrooms; never schedule phone interviews about quantum computing during microbiology meetings.

These past few weeks I’ve been interviewing experts on wearable medical technology, smart cars, snakes, and urban sensors, and mostly writing fiction. Here are a few recent articles:

An interview with Brett Doar, who builds Rube Goldberg machines for a living.

A story about a group of young engineers who built a more practical robotic arm.

This is an older one, about a Dalek builder, that I never got around to posting. My favorite anecdote, which did not fit in the final article: At meetings, Dalek builders sometimes sit inside their creations, drive around, and mingle with each other as alien robots. They even speak in Dalek screech.  

And a father and his giant Transformer costume.  

In between the writing and the talking, I helped my kids put together a pretty sick ninja turtle zip line in the backyard. Then we got to show it off to a friend of mine who was visiting Boston for the night on business. He was impressed, I think. My mental or intellectual relationship with this individual is kind of strange. When I lift my car keys to a subway turnstile or try to swipe a card to enter my house, I think of him. And when I write to him about one of these incidents, and the fact that he popped into my head after it happened, he agrees that he was the right person to tell.