pumpkin.jpg I just learned from the latest issue of Parabola magazine (Chaos and Order, Fall 2003) that the word for monster has the same root as admonish, taking its meaning from the Latin monere, to warn. Monsters, like the dragons that inhabit the vague and unpeopled borders of old maps, do not exist for the purpose of rending and terrifying. They are there to warn us about the unnameable corrosive chaos just over the horizon; their purpose is to turn us back. Monsters are the last conceivable form before the unknowable black froth beyond. They are thrown up from the darkness of our minds and projected onto the fringes of the void. They are the lip of the tiny cup that contains us and everything we know. More explicitly: if you are afraid of the dark, what are you afraid of? Not monsters. Monsters are your friends, projections and personifications of who you are and what you know. But just beyond them is the thing worth fearing. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. You’ll find out one day.

Many years ago I had the good fortune to travel in Japan with my friend Mike. He took us north to Nikko, where the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate is buried in a vast temple complex. We snuck onto the temple grounds one night after a late dinner, and this is what happened: Filling the Void. Happy Halloween!

Green machines

When I was in junior high, I saw a documentary about plants that utterly amazed me. The show was an episode of Nova on PBS called The Green Machine, and it used a lot of time-lapse photography to illustrate how “alive” plants are. They move like animals do, only much more slowly. They can coordinate their motion with nearby plants, and they are constantly nodding and dancing in response to environmental cues. If you could only look at them with your slow eyes, alfalfa sprouts would give you the major creeps. My interest in botany stayed with me through high school, and when I was in biology senior year, I did research at a local university on thigmomorphogenesis, or how plants respond to touch (people always challenge me whenever I play that word in Scrabble, and boy are they sorry). I was even a co-author on a paper on the topic… Computer-Assisted Image Analysis of Plant Growth, Thigmomorphogenesis and Gravitropism. Plant Physiology 77(3): 722-730. No kidding! Rush down to your local botanical lending library and check it out.

So I was very excited to see the new site called Plants In Motion out of Indiana University. It does justice to the wild sentient gyrations of our green friends. Make sure you look at the movies for morning glories twining, and corn seedling phototropism. Next time you stroll through a garden, keep in mind that those plants are watching you too.

This is Jay

It’s been extremely gratifying to hear from so many people about my Red Sox essay. Thanks to everyone who has left a comment or mailed in a kind word. I’m off for a vacation for the next few days (20th high school reunion), but I thought before I left I would post links to two other pieces that I wrote about Jay. That’s him on the left…

The first is an account of his birth: Meeting the Little Man. The second was written soon after his diagnosis: Something Happened.

The Red Sox and me

All across New York City, baseball fans are pinching themselves and wondering: Is this the year? Is this the magical season when it all comes together and maybe, just maybe, the Yankees finally win that coveted twenty-seventh world championship, their first in over two and a half years?

As a Red Sox fan, I have a hard time getting excited for them. In fact, after the agonizing conclusion of the recent American League Championship Series, I had to write down some thoughts before I could go to sleep. Here is the result.

Maybe you don’t cheer for the Red Sox, but indulge me. Pretend like you do and read what I have to say…
Continue reading “The Red Sox and me”

Incest in the boardroom

SIGNALS Magazine is a good biotech trade “online magazine,” although it publishes new content relatively infrequently. But what do you expect for that paltry online revenue model? The articles I have worked through have been interesting (I particularly enjoyed the systems biology piece), but more than that, I was impressed with a little Flash application they did call “Power Brokers.” With it, you can see how insanely incestuous the biotech world is by looking at who is serving on which board. It’s a nice little data visualization app even without the interesting data. I don’t know how up-to-date their database is, but try this. Start with Paradigm Genetics. They’ve got heavy-hitter Leroy Hood on their board, but also the well-connected Terrance McGuire who sits on nine boards. If you open up two of these, deCODE Genetics and Inspire Pharmaceuticals, you’ll see that Andre Lamotte is common to both of those.

There’s even a nifty tool in this power viz app that lets you test out the six-degrees-of-separation concept. Choose two companies and see what the shortest path is to join them up by board members. It’s a small world, and some of these power brokers are very well-connected. For instance, if you’re raising money for a biotech venture, consider talking to Jean Deleage. He sits on what must be a record of 18 different boards.

Comment spam

I should have seen this coming: comment spam. A bot posts a meaningless comment to your blog and leaves behind a link that points to their porn or e-business site. I got hit by it a few times, though at least (so far) the comments themselves have been dumb but innocuous. In a larger sense, it’s interesting to watch the blog community immune system kick in. The reaction has been vigorous, ranging from informed discussions about various corrective actions to outing the alleged perpetrator (see the continuation here). All the discussion, and the speed with which it matures, makes me confident that we’ll have some good solutions in short order.

I’m always a little concerned about violent reactions because once you’ve made it clear you have a knee-jerk response to something, someone will come along and hack your reflex to bring about their own desires. For instance: people really hate spammers, so all I have to do is convince the world you’re an unrepentent repeat-offending mass spammer and other people will take you down for me. Or as they said during the French Revolution, j’accuse!

(Thanks, Snowboard Girl, for getting me started with a good link on this)

Glass be gone

Last week there was a piece of glass in my foot. It hurt. I could actually see it sticking out of the arch of my left foot an eighth of an inch or so. In fact, it had been lodged in my foot for almost thirty years and only in the last month or so had it finally worked its way back up to the surface. It was a weird sight, because the sharp end was poking out, so that you could have cut yourself by rubbing too closely against the arch of my foot.

I can’t remember exactly when it joined me, but I was something like ten or eleven years old. The weather was warm. I was standing barefoot in a creek late in the afternoon, when I saw my dad walking across the park. I made a happy noise, ran for him, and then WHAMMO! The glass shard went into my foot and decided to unpack its bags and stay for a while. Only just this week did it manage to work up high enough for me to start poking at it with tweezers and needles, and a few days later it emerged, a little slippery, but none the worse for the wear. I felt like breaking out the photo albums to show it all the interesting places we had gone together. I’m relieved my foot is finally glass-free, but I still can’t quite bring myself to just throw the little guy in the trash.