Thoughts with Richard Bleil
Legos are seriously cool. Normally I don’t glow about name brand products, but Lego’s has a tolerance level of a millionth of an inch for all of their bricks and products, which is why they always fit together so perfectly. The modern incarnation of the plastic Lego bricks was introduced in 1964, when I was just one year old. Lincoln Logs were the major competitors to Legos, introduced in 1916. For those who don’t know, they were small wooden pieces (of varying lengths) with small pieces cut out of them so they could be fit together like logs for building houses. And that’s pretty much all you could do with Lincoln Logs, build small wood cabins, fences, things like that.
Legos were the big thing by the time I was old enough to actually play with them. I really wanted Legos, but I suspect that they were too expensive as they were still the newest craze, so my parents bought me Lincoln Logs. As my friends were on the next big thing, building planes and skyscrapers and cars and anything else they could imagine, I was building tiny little log cabins.
It turned out to be a metaphor for my life. It seems as if I’ve always been a little bit out of touch with the popular items all of the cool kids play with. When people were playing with home gaming systems, I was programming on computers for my research. With people interested in sports, I’m trying to learn more about science. While everyone was pairing up and having families, well, you know.
I’m just a Lincoln Log guy in Legoland. This may come as a shock to you, but Lincoln Logs really don’t fit in with Legos. Well, unless you’re building some kind of Lego city around a log cabin that’s unusually large.
It’s not necessarily bad being different. The reality is that strength comes from diversity. My friend was just in a body-building competition, which I went to see just to support her. It’s not the kind of thing that I enjoy, but I’m prod of her and the other contestants for their dedication and hard work. It’s really not something I would be able to do myself as I enjoy sitting on my couch too much. I prefer exercising my brain. In fact, if you read my post on heme, I’m running a heme calculation even as I write this. This is the kind of thing most people would never want to set up and run (even if they had the software which, frankly, is spendy and increasingly difficult to find). People who do like computers are far more likely to be playing games on it, which I’ll do, but rarely since it’s not a great interest to me.
But there is another odd caveat to being different. It kind of separates me from most of society. When talking about sports, my usual response is, “that’s the one where you have nine innings to make ten yards to put the puck through the hoop while wearing spandex, right?” I’m not that much of a sports idiot, but it does get the point across that I really don’t know much about it and usually makes the person I’m talking with at least smile.
A recent conversation with another friend of mine found its way around to famous people. He was talking about the famous people he’s met through his classic car ownership and clubs, wrestlers and some actors. The famous people I’ve met, I told him, were people I doubt he’s ever heard of. I’ve met (and worked with) Nobel Laureates in chemistry and physics and met a Russian General in charge of defending the entire (then) Soviet Union. He raised the point that it says a lot of our society as to whom we actually know and covet, and those we don’t.
I’m not a man to be coveted. Not only am I wildly not famous, but my interests would be called by a statistician as “outliers”, far away from the norm. Today, people interested in science are not so interested in general sciences (chemistry, physics), but very specific applied “technical degree” niches (forensics, environmental science). It’s not that we don’t need those technical degrees, but although it usually requires far less education and work, it also “pigeonholes” graduates into very specific career paths. A generalist, like I was, can apply their knowledge to any of these technical fields (for example, an analytical chemist could work as a forensic chemist, an environmental chemist, a pharmaceutical chemist, a quality control chemist and so forth), but a forensic scientist probably will not be able to find, or be successful with, a career like analytical chemistry. Fortunately, there are other Lincoln Log students, like me, who buck the Lego trends.