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Nanotechnology and Oil-powered Cars

My daughter goes to a school that requires seniors to present a thesis before an audience. She isn't a senior yet, but has friends who are, so we went last night in support of her friends. It was interesting.

Each student had to do a project related to their thesis. One had planted an orchard of 62 olive trees, which apparently is his forever, a generous donation from his parents. At the end, he passed around olives he had harvested and cured himself from his trees.

Another student had torn down and was rebuilding an old redwood barn, making it into an office, salvaging the redwood as he went. A third played the piano--an original composition of hers--while a mezzosoprano sang the words to the poems she (the student) had also written. Yet another student had gone behind the scenes of the grape-growing industry and had had her eyes opened about the problems of pesticides and migrant labor. Fortunately, more wineries are realizing how much healthier organically/biodynamically grown vines are, and how much tastier the resulting grapes and wine are.

A friend of my daughter's gave a report on nanotechnology--its history and promise, and also things to beware. Somewhat to my bemusement over the years, this was also the daughter of two people I knew in college, who were part of a rather supercilious and shallow group of people who liked to pretend they were something better and who looked down their nose at people like me.

I always privately thought that these two were nicer than the people they hung out with, but I was much shyer about speaking up back then, so I never told them. In fact, never have told them. I might offend them, anyway, because perhaps they still love those people. Don't get me wrong--I liked those others. It was just that, after a while, I realized that my feelings of admiration and respect were not returned. Later, someone revealed to me that they also privately laughed at me behind my back, which was somewhat humiliating. Heck, maybe there was something to laugh at. I was a geek before that term was popular, awkward and shy and very, very smart, completely myself, no pretensions, and no idea what to do with myself.

Though the person who told me about their contempt for me also said that he used to agree with them, and it was only later, when he really got to know me, that he realized (and these are his words, not mine) that my worth as a person and a friend was far above the tawdriness and flash that those others, who were his friends as well, offered. One can hope that they grew up eventually and deepened into better human beings. At least, I hope so and do think it possible.

Anyway, it has always seemed somewhat odd to me that those two and I should end up in the same city with our children going to the same school.

Another student had converted his diesel car engine over so that it now runs regular vegetable oil. When he approached the podium, there was laughter from the audience, because the back of his t-shirt read "drive vegetarian," and of course we all knew from the program what his topic was. Plus we had all just seen him demonstrating the car at break time. This student, who wore a strange knit wool cap with twin tassels hanging down on either side of his face, caught the attention of the Volvo-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, liberal left-wing former hippy audience. There were many questions, and I wouldn't be surprised if more than one family were to convert their car to oil.

At the demonstration, I had asked the student, "So you are saying this car burns oil?" At his assent, I said jokingly, "Some of us used to have our cars fixed for that problem." Unfortunately, the student, like many of the parents at the school, had a zero sense of humor and turned and left. Too bad. I thought it was pretty funny. When I asked his mentor, who was standing there, if the student had just heard the joke too many times before, the mentor said that no, no one else had ever made that joke, and he was sure the student appreciated the humor. I'd like to think so, but I think he was just being polite.

What is most interesting to me is that each of these students did a great job on their project, even if some were too nervous to make a great presentation. I wish that all schools required this kind of committed work.

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