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2005-12-01 10:08 p.m.

guardian angels that left me stranded



I saw WTF last weekend. We met up in Fukuoka to go see sumo. It was lovely.

While I was there, I did something that perhaps I shouldnít have doneÖ I bought a Playstation 2. Iíve been resisting this move pretty much since I came to Japan. I mean, you know how I get. I had kind of made the decision that I would sacrifice video gaming and use the time I used to sink into that on writing. WhichÖ didnít exactly happen, but anyway. As time went on and I kept reading about all the cool new games coming out, the lure just became too strong. I had a big crisis of conscience right before I took it to the register, but ultimately I couldnít resist. (WTF said, ďI think I just witnessed a huge battle between your Shoulder Angel and your Shoulder Devil, but Iím not sure which one won.Ē) I see now that it was unavoidable destiny. I bought Final Fantasy X:2 (I never finished this before I came to Japan, and itís been galling me ever since), Shadow of the Colossus, Radiata Stories, and [cough]Princess[cough]Maker.

One way to justify it is by saying itís for my Japanese study. Which isnít total bullshit. One of the reasons I never actually bought one till now was that I didnít think my Japanese was up to the task of playing a full-on RPG in that language. But I think Iím ready now. I feel like I should buy as many games that were only released Japan as I can. Itíll be okay.

And actually, I havenít played the thing for more than 10 minutes so far, so at this point, at least, it has not taken possession of my very soul.

(Tangent! Itís strange, in Japan, how I feel guilty for not watching enough TV.)

As noted, WTF was with me when I bought the thing. She seemed to be dismayed to find out that I am, in fact, a geek. I mean, I had told her that I was, but I donít think she believed me. She warned me that I was starting to ďgo Akihabara.Ē She was appalled that I play with the lights turned off, as apparently thatís a sign that things have gotten out of hand. Liking anything with characters whose eyes take up half their face is apparently a bad sign, as well.

Sorry to disappoint you, dear. For her part (or my part, or someoneís part), Iím realizing now that I romanticized the hell out of her at the beginning of all this. I suppose that was obvious to the Hypothetical Reader. Ö Sometimes sheís infuriatingly passive, and other times sheís astoundingly obstinateÖ I also recently realized that sheís a freeter. (Though if I had been born and raised Japanese I might very well be one myself.) Whatever. Weíre happy. We fit.

She talks to herself incessantly whenever Iím not in the room with her. I donít know why, but I love that about her.

There is a sense in which I am definitely not a geek, at least not in the ďhikikomoriĒ (see the Akihabara article) sense. I donít immerse myself in fantasy worlds because I want escape, because I think those worlds are somehow better than this one. I do it for a change of pace, I suppose, but I think the real world is, ultimately, far more interesting than fantasy worlds. It has a depth, a complexity, and an unpredictability that is completely unmatched by any imaginary world. This makes Reality much more fun to play and read about. Sometimes it gets a little too familiar and therefore boring, but I realize that if I actually lived in one of these fantasy worlds I visit from time to time, it would seem no more spectacular than the world I live in now (and in fact might very well be a lot worse), and that if I did live in such a world, THIS world would seem like a strange and wonderful place to me. Fantasy does not cut me off from the world so much as it allows me to return to the world with a fresh perspective. Fantasy reminds me that there are adventures to be had, no matter where you are. You just have to go out and find them. (I do go through shut-in periods, but I tend to think of those as recharging. I'm an introvert, man! Being around people is great, but it wears me out.)

(About five years ago, I worked through similar issues here. )

Oh, did I tell you I want to be a synthetic biologist? The more I learn about this stuff the more convinced I am that that's what I want to do. When I was a teenager and college student I read all kinds of nanotech science fiction (in particular, a collection of short stories edited by Elton Elliot called Nanodreams and The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson), and I really wanted to be one of the people who brought that into being. However, as a biochemistry student, I started thinking that modifying biology would be a relatively easy way to achieve the aims of Drexler-style nanotechnology, and as Drexler's approach has started to seem less and less feasible, that feeling has only increased. We don't need to reinvent the wheel here. The machinery to do that kind of stuff is already in place; it just needs to be reverse engineered. This is what led to my interest in protein engineering and design, but a year ago I realized that people (synthetic biologists) were actually starting to engineer completely new genomes. I have to get in on that action.

And as it turns out, protein engineering and design, my older interest, is very much married to synthetic biology. The ones I did all that research on, zinc finger proteins, are especially central, since they can be designed to bind and activate or deactivate any gene, no matter what its sequence. This is fundamental to the kinds of things synthetic biologists will want to do. As for my dreams further on down the line, once (if) I become a full professor I'd been thinking I'd like to research both protein engineering and synthetic biology, and as I learn more about this it's looking like that might be very possible.

One of the possible applications I've read about for synthetic biology is energy production. Theoretically, you could engineer photosynthetic bacteria to produce elemental hydrogen with only water, sunlight, and basic biomass as input. This is what Craig Venter, the head of one of the teams that sequenced the human genome, is currently working on. As you know, energy has recently become a big concern to me, and if I could work on synthetic biology AND protein engineering AND fossil fuel alternatives all at the same time, well... I can't imagine anything better. (Though my knowledge of this is still limited, it seems like protein engineering would be necessary for such a thing, since as of now I don't think there is an enzyme that catalyzes a reaction that results in elemental hydrogen.)

And of course, there should be plenty of opportunities to live and work abroad in a field like this. Synthetic biology really seems like the kind of thing the Japanese would excel at...

Anyway, I listened to Shatnerís album Has Been last night, and I really liked it. I mean, itís hard to go wrong when Ben Folds is your producer, but thereís a lot more going on there than Ben Folds.

And... after writing about her here last time for the first time in a long while, I woke up this morning to find an email and an actual apology from Little Wing waiting for me. Wow. Iíd like to say that I knew sheíd come around eventually, butÖ I didnít. Not at all. I was quite surprised. Now, how should I respond? And how should I begin? Shall I say, ďI have gone at dusk through narrow streets and watched the smoke that rises from the pipes of lonely men in shirtsleeves leaning out of windows?Ē HmmÖ Yeah, thatíll work.

judy, you know iím not mad anymore
at least most of the time
but that could take a while

Things arenít the same always, are they? Little Wing stops talking to me, I move to Japan, my sister gets married, New Orleans gets wiped off the map, Little Wing starts talking to me again, and now itís looking like my family is headed for some more big bumps in the road. EVERYTHING IS CHANGING. (Except the layout of this diary.)

I should try to update more often with shorter entries, instead of every couple of weeks with an epistle, donít you think? Oh well. I was gonna do a News Nook, too, butÖ No, I should wrap this up.

Iím going to see the Pixies Saturday night. Sunday Iím taking the highest level of the Japanese Proficiency Test. Thatíll be fun.

Oh, I will indeed be entering a Zen monastery this Sunday evening, as well. Iíll let you know how that works out.

that girl has no faith in medicine,