August 30th, 2007

Elayna 2006

Part Two of that perfect day

My Daughter

My daughter is fidgety when we return to the Marine Resource Center, and I worry. My aunt’s friend told her that he was busy, but he’d try to find a few minutes for us. I don’t want him to regret it – I don’t want a busy man’s valuable time squandered on a child who refuses to engage. (For all that she’s outgoing with her friends, my daughter is shy with strangers.)

This part of the trip is all for her. My daughter loves the ocean and everything that lives in it. This few-minute backstage tour is an incredible opportunity.

My aunt’s friend bustles out of the tank room, eager and excited, and his excitement is infectious. He’s clearly done tours before. He welcomes my daughter, and points out a sign hanging above the doors to the tank room:

Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen
and thinking what nobody has thought.

He explains to her, explains his whole theory of scientific discovery. He encourages her to ask questions – insists that she ask questions! – because that’s where the discovery lies. In seeing something no one else has noticed.

She agrees.

We enter the tank room.

The Marine Resource Center serves the entirety of the Marine Biological Laboratories – one of the biggest marine research facilities in the world. The tank room is where all of the animals used in said research come from.

It is enormous.

I have seen it before. I watch my daughter.

She is speechless – not shy almost-teen speechless, but oh-holy-wow speechless. She stands there, taking it all in – massive steel tanks as far back as she can see, the bustle of interns bringing new fish in, pipes everywhere, the sounds of circulating water. Then she notices the tidepool tank, and she is utterly absorbed.

My aunt’s friend grins.

He launches into a description of all of the organisms – sea urchins, squid, crabs, scallops. He shows her. He provokes a scallop into shooting backward; he shows her its many tiny scattered eyes, pinpoints of blue of pale flesh. He puts sea urchins in her hands. He demonstrates the squid’s method of communication. He shows her how to determine a lobster’s gender. She is absolutely riveted.

She turns back to the tank when my aunt’s friend is interrupted on genuine business. I watch her study it, her long blonde hair pulled back into a low ponytail to keep it away from the lobsters, her slim body bent over the tank to the point of almost being in it, sea stars brushing her fingers.

When my aunt’s friend turns back to her, she asks, What are those? Those tiny specks?

My aunt’s friend is delighted and offers her a job on the spot. She laughs skeptically. He’s not entirely joking. Those are larval squid, he says. Most people need a microscope to see those. He needs people with sharp eyes to go out and collect things like that, the tiny things like larval squid and egg casings, the things that she has been noticing in this tank that other people just don’t notice.

Really? she asks.


He launches into a short list of what he wants her to do, eyes flicking to me to make sure I’m taking notes. Scuba certification. Small-boat certification. He can’t hire her til she’s eighteen, but she should go to the Woods Hole School for Science for the next few summers if she can swing it; it will give her a good background.

And as he’s listing, there is a light in her eyes, and I see everything click for my daughter.

I see her realize that this is actually something people get to do for a living.

I see her realize that she could be one of them. And that she wants to.

She follows him eagerly to the next tank, and the next. They feed minnows to squid; my daughter flings the minnows out and watches the squid dart forward, wrapping the still-squirming food in their tentacles. They feed a squid to sharks, first squeezing its blood into the water to provoke a mild frenzy – the sharks bob out of the water eagerly, startling my daughter back from the tank, laughing.

And all the while my aunt’s friend is talking. About my late uncle’s research on shark retinas, and why it was important. Anecdotes from years of heading up the resource center, interspersed with fun facts about every animal we’re observing. A lament that students these days don’t get a sufficient grounding in the basics, that they fast-track. He tells my daughter this – that she needs to get her basics down, and then let her interests lead her. He tells her that students used to apprentice, and don’t anymore, and should – he tells her how much richer her education will be if she comes here and works side by side with another generation of scientists.

That this place has so much to teach her, and it’s hers for the taking.

She nods eagerly, she asks complex questions, she reveals knowledge that makes him laugh with pure excitement.

Our few minutes spread out to about two hours.

At the door, I attempt to thank him profusely for his time, but he interrupts, thanking me profusely for bringing her. She has been a joy to speak with. He turns to her, reminds her – scuba certification, small-boat certification, School of Science. He reminds her - discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought. He reminds her – ask questions. Look at things differently.

He says he’ll see her next summer, and goes back inside.

My daughter turns to me and says, Mommy, I think I know what I want to do with my life.

Thor's Day

Happy birthday to corrguineacht!

Legs and feet are pretty bad, but that's to be expected with all the walking around I did yesterday. feste_sylvain found interesting areas of my back, neck, and shoulders: "Well, that's not supposed to be there." I have a massage appointment. Tuesday.

The main character's exposition, a voiceover over the image of the ship and the sun: "Our sun is dying. Mankind faces extinction. Seven years ago, the Icarus project sent a mission to restart the sun... but that mission was lost before it reached the star. Sixteen months ago, I - Robert Capa - and a crew of seven left earth frozen in a solar winter. Our payload: a stellar bomb with a mass equivalent to Manhattan Island. Our purpose: to create a star within a star. Eight astronauts strapped to the back of a bomb. My bomb. Welcome to the Icarus Two."

I cannot really tell you anything more about the plot without spoiling it for you. But - dude.

This movie is like reading a Peter Watts novel.

Things go Wrong. Characters have to make insanely difficult decisions, with no room for error. "This is not a democracy. We are astronauts and scientists. We'll analyze and make the right choice." And they do, again and again, as the choices get harder and harder, as they get closer and closer to the sun...

This movie is tight. It's extremely well-written, all of the actors are perfect in their roles - even the science is good. Please go see this movie so Hollywood will make more like it!

Link Soup
* Electronic spin the bottle? Did the world really demand this?
* "Custom-built sensors hidden inside coconuts are hung from trees at several public locations to monitor noise produced by overflying aircraft. Detection of excessive aircraft noise triggers automated telephone calls to the airport's complaint line on behalf of the city's residents and wildlife. Documentation of noise incidents is archived for later analysis."
* The World Without Us.

Daily Science
It sounds like a simple task: Count the number of photons or particles of light in a light beam without destroying them in the process. But in fact, it took 17 years to accomplish the feat, researchers report this week in Nature.

A team at the École Normale Superiéure in Paris fired specially primed atoms through a pair of the most reflective mirrors ever built [see image], gradually revealing the number of photons bouncing between their reflective surfaces. Their method provides a high-resolution glimpse of the eerie "collapse" of a quantum system and may be useful in developing future quantum-based technologies.

Daily Scent-stuff
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* Yoga
* Tidying up the house
* Meeting mllelaurel for lunch, and dragging her back here to see my etchings smell my BPAL
* Finishing the perfect-day-in-Woods-Hole thing, if I've time and my wrists are no longer screaming at me.
Everyone here is a crazy person.

Life with 'song and Elayna and Coyote-chan

Coyote-chan: I am so gangsta. At least, I'm the most gangsta person in the room.
'song: Hey! I'm gangsta!
Elayna: *chokes on noodles*
'song: What? I am totally gangsta.
Elayna: Mommy! I'm eating!

Oh holy crap, now Coyote-chan's making mllelaurel taste Infusions of Grandeur vodkae.
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