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.

And now some lines from recent random readings. First, Joy Williams, in the short story Dimmer:

“He touched her hair and it was soft and so yellow that he thought the color of it would come off on his fingers just as though he’d been rubbing up against a flower. She fed him for a thousand miles.”
“She had never even asked his name.  He decided that if she did, he would say it was Monza.”
Yes, yes, and soon I may tell people that my name is Monza. Just for fun.
“You are still young enough to think that torment of the spirit is a splendid thing, a sign of a superior nature. But you are no longer a young man; you are a youngish middle-aged man, and it is time you found out that these spiritual athletics do not lead to wisdom.” – Robertson Davies, Fifth Business

And finally, Hemingway, on the joy of writing letters, at the tail end of a funny note to F. Scott Fitzgerald:

“’s such a swell way to keep from working and yet feel like you’ve done something.”

Hmmm...sort of like writing a blog post. 

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