Thursday, December 09, 2004

Quotable quotes, insane fandom, science news and the Zen wisdom of reality TV

Whew. Just had my last class of the semester, handed in a take-home final [whose main goal seemed to be to make sure that some people in the class can justifiably be given Bs, by making the last question worth half the score and stupidly difficult =)] and submitted my NSF Graduate Fellowship application. Now all that stands between me and 6 blissful weeks of not stepping into a classroom is a final next Wednesday. Of course, since that final is for a class whose notes I haven't looked at since the beginning of the semester because I've been too busy doing homework [paradoxical, isn't it ?], I can't just totallly slack off, but, nonetheless, no more homework for a while. Very exciting.

I'm going to write a summary of all the stuff I've figured out about myself, MIT and this whole computational biology business sometime in the next couple of weeks, but until then, here are a few more random items for your entertainment:

- Another funny line from van Oudenaarden, of "It's not hard, you just have to know how to do it" fame, while he was trying to explain something about the biology of fruitfly development: "Ok, is it clear now why this is confusing ?"

- The truth about why mice are used in so many research studies: scientists just don't like them.

- Laird Desmarais, the son of my friend Ron, is this week's Raiders Fan of the Week. While I may not take it to quite such extremes, I suspect that our kids will sport a certain amount of Valentino Rossi, Troy Bayliss, Ducati and MotoGP paraphernalia, at least until they're old enough to protest.

- It had to happen sometime: the genetically-enhanced cocaine plant, which produces eight times more cocaine and is more resistant to herbicides than the original. I guess if I can't find a job anywhere else once I graduate, I can always consider selling my services to the Medellin Cartel. I've always wanted to learn Spanish anyway.

- Christina and I got sucked into watching an episode of the reality-TV show "Trading Spouses". The set up is pretty simple: husband or wife from family A goes to spend a week with family B and husband or wife from family B in return spends a week with family A. Both families end up getting $50K at the end of it. Obviously, to make for good TV, the families tend to be radically different from each other, so as to produce the maximum amount of drama. This week, family A are the super-crunchy, Taoist, no-shoe-wearing, no-furniture-having, all-in-the-same-room-sleeping Abbotts from Santa Cruz. Family B is a black family from Tennessee that's rather, uhm, unrestrained -- loud, boisterous and crude.

It turns out that family A doesn't have to work because the husband's father left them a boatload of real-estate, so they're "free to pursue their desired lifestyle". Right off the bat, that kind of strikes me as cheating -- it's easy to be hippy-dippy, let's-just-all-chill-out-and-commune-with-nature when you don't have to worry about paying bills etc. The second bit I don't get is -- why would a family that pursues Taoism, with its tenets of detachment from material excess etc, participate in something as crass as reality-TV ?

Anyhoo. The wives from the two families exchange places and the predictable mismatches happen. Vickie from the Lowe family is not really down with getting up to do Yoga at 5:30am, not having any furniture, doing Tai-chi on the beach and speaking only Chinese at Chinese restaurants. However, she makes a game effort to just go along with the natural rhythms of the Abbotts. Leslie from the Abbott family, however, tries to impose her lifestyle on the Lowes, trying to get them to do Yoga, sing bluegrass etc., and then gets upset when they're not super-enthusiastic about it.

What struck me most about this was that Leslie, the person ostensibly living a lifestyle devoted to the Taoist "Wu-wei" principle of adaptability, was unable to do so once she was removed from her usual environment, where she didn't have to adapt to anything, and exposed to a different one that actually required adaptation [which ties in with my gut reaction to the fact that they didn't have to work and so lived in a hot-house, fairy tale environment]. Vickie, on the other hand, seems to have found the answer to the question "What Would Lao-Tse Do ?", quite possibly without ever having heard of him.

Moral of the story: Grasshopper, you must learn when to stay on The Way and when to leave it. Only then will you truly have the strength required to flow like water and bend like grass yet stay true to yourself.

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