Friday, April 28, 2000

Boy in the Bubble Update

CNN, among others, is running an article about the apparent cure of "severe combined immunodeficiency disease" by gene therapy. This totally knocks my socks off. Basically, these scientists found a bug in the DNA program of these kids -- and fixed it! (Unless they didn't really, in which case, never mind.) This is the same disease that the "Boy in the Bubble" had, so instead of living that sort of life, they're apparently as healthy and normal as you or I. Well, in reference to my previous "Boy in the Bubble" article, score one for the 20th century and progress.

The Kid with the Calculator

I never got picked on much in high school. This fact has always surprised me a bit, given that I seemed to fit the profile for bullying...bright, not very athletic, not a lot of friends...

I remember one kid in our high school who did get picked on a great deal. He was significantly more awkward than me, and he did a number of things that brought unfavorable attention on himself.
One of these was that he always walked around clutching a calculator. He was teased mercilessly over his calculator. Now, they say that people who are comfortable with who themselves turn out to be the most popular, so maybe it was a healthy behavior for him to be proud of his calculator. On the other hand, he never really seemed very comfortable. And I, who didn't wear my love of math on my sleeve (see, I even wince a little bit typing the phrase "love of math") certainly got hassled a lot less.

But the thing that really got to me was this: it just wasn't a very good calculator. I knew my calculators...the entire TI series, or if you were a real connoisseur, an HP (my coveted HP 28-C was soon obsoleted by the HP 28-S). It just seems to me as if he had proudly driven his new K-Car into the parking lot and spent half an hour polishing it. Dude, if you're going to be an obsessive, do it right. Study up on the subject. I would have felt so much more sorry for him if he actually had a decent calculator.

Tuesday, April 25, 2000

We're Not in College Anymore...

Slate has a diary entry from a 30-year old who teaches college. He looks at the students he teaches and realizes he's not one of them any more. I thought it was fairly poignant, and it did a good job of capturing the type of transformation some of us go through in our twenties. I can't relate to everything, but it was interesting reading.

Monday, April 24, 2000

More D&D!

I've updated my weblog for Ben's Campaign. This time, we fought a boar, and...uh, while the boar didn't win, neither did I.

The Cult of Harry Potter

While in Grand Rapids this weekend, Melissa lent me Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second book in the series. It's hard to say much that hasn't been said by others about this book (witness the 1304 customer reviews at Amazon). I decided I wasn't going to miss out on this cultural phenomenon just because I wasn't a kid and didn't have any. So I started reading the series, and I was very glad. Rowling takes many of the best elements of fantasy fiction and adapts them for a younger audience without dumbing them down. Very, very enjoyable.

One of the things that struck me about the 2nd book was the consistent disparagement of hero worship. Of course there was the insufferable Gilderoy Lockhart, who was derided and punished for the crime of being too full of himself and holding himself out for others' undeserving admiration. But there was also a lot of mention of Harry Potter dealing with his fame, as he acquired his first two groupies. And their groupie-ness didn't seem to bring them much luck, I think I can say without giving too much away. Someone once said that all good literature is subversive, and it's nice to see the Harry Potter books tweak the pop cultural worship of idols. It's nice to think that kids will be reading this and get the idea that just because someone is famous, they don't deserve blind devotion. At the same time, the books stress the earned respect Harry Potter has for Dumbledore and others, so it's not exactly anarchist. (I didn't see any of the World Bank protestors with these books under their arms.) Anyway, I liked it, but not quite as much as the first book. Looking forward to getting my hands on the 3rd. 4 stars.

Sunday, April 23, 2000

Keep The Faith

I just got back from spending the weekend in Grand Rapids. Last night, we went to see Keeping The Faith, the Edward Norton-Ben Stiller-Jenna Elfman love triangle movie. You know the joke, "A priest, a rabbi, and...uh, Jenna Elfman...walk into a bar." OK, so every reviewer makes a similar joke; they even make one in the movie.

Anyway, it was a cute romantic comedy that got serious towards the middle of the second half. It really buzzed along and never made me check my watch. It touched on issues of faith without getting too ponderous, and it portrayed the priest and the rabbi as real human beings while still taking organized religion seriously. Not what you always get out of Hollywood. Jenna Elfman shows she can play someone other than Dharma. Her husband, Bodhi, has a bit part as "Casanova." Did you know his father, along with uncle Danny Elfman, founded Oingo Boingo? Also making appearances are Anne Bancroft as Ben's mom, Man on the Moon director Milos Forman as a priest, and even Brian George -- Babu! -- as a bartender. As they say, a star-studded cast.