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Exit the matrix

Friday, July 26, 2013, by Vasco A. Carinhas
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There is life outside the Matrix. We, as computer scientists, sometimes tend to forget that. However, Harvard Forest makes sure we are reminded on a daily basis. Besides our trampling through the fascinating virtual world that is created through coding, we are thrust into the world that already surrounds us as part of our summer internship experience.

One of our duties includes exploring the field in order to collect the saved data from the six hydrological stations distributed along the brooks and swamps in the vicinities of Prospect Hill. So, weekly, armed with a palm-pilot, a data sheet, and a pencil we venture into the wilderness to gather the electronic and physical measurements provided by each of the stations' sensors and rulers, respectively. The raison d'être of the routine lies in verifying how much the sensors' measurements have drifted from the physical ones delivered by the rulers. In such, the electronic data collection can be estimated towards the real values by contrasting them with the manual assembly.

It was in one of these expeditions that we were able to observe Mother Nature's wild and merciless face in all its glory. On our way back from collecting the data in Nelson Brook Big Weir, which happens to be a bit off the main road into the forest, we came upon a slender snake swerving amongst the undergrowth. Although the reptile froze upon our approach, we could notice its attention was focused on a single spot between the dried leaves that covered the ground. We got in closer, and the snake paid us the smallest of acknowledgments.

Disconcerted, yet fascinated at its bravery, we did what any virtual generation member would do at such a sight: look for our smart phones and take a picture. As we got close to capture the photograph, the object of the snake's enthrallment made itself known. Camouflaged between the brown leaves, a small frog jumped out of its static stance in an apparent escape from imminent danger. Tragically, its leap didn't take it far enough from the calculating predator. In a swift stride the frog's hind leg was caught between the snake's jaws, bringing to a close his cameo in the impromptu photo shoot.

The opportunity to see the food chain cycle in its natural environment is one most computer scientists only get out of YouTube. The chance to witness the circle of life (Elton John just sang in your head, didn't he?) face to face, surpasses the thrill of a working on any code. And I didn't have to take the red pill for it.

Vasco A. Carinhas

Quirky Q&A with Vasco

1. If you could be a superhero which special power would you choose to have? Telepathy, definitely.

2. If you have to choose a movie title for your life story, what would that be? Just V Cause

3. Why isn't 11 pronounced "onety-one"? Because then "one-teen" would have had a fit.

4. If you could marry a cartoon character who would it be? Why? Jessica Rabbit, because I'm drawn to her. 

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