Werblin's Laws

Frank Werblin is a professor at UC Berkeley and was my thesis advisor. His research involves retinal physiology.

Shortly after I started working in his lab he asked me to make sure our technician Lennel would finish sectioning some retinal tissue he wanted to look at. I asked Lennel the next time I was in the lab how it was going, with the tissue sectioning. She said she was busy and hadn't started that project yet. A few days later Frank saw me in the hall and asked if the slides were ready. I said no, Lennel hadn't started it yet. Frank paused, then said, "If you don't do something right away, it'll never get done." After another pause he did a 180 and walked away, letting his words hang in the air.

A few months later I was more ingratiated into his lab, and had my own setup in my own darkroom/cubicle. One day Frank came by (a rare event) and asked me how I was doing. I explained to him how I had decided that there should be two electrodes pointed at the retina, and I would have a 3-D micromanipulator holding one of the electrodes, and I would have previously touched the two electrodes tips together for reference coordinates, then during the experiment I would make X-Y translations of the second electrode and when I was in the correct plane, I would make a final Z axis adjustment, then begin recording. Frank looked at me, paused, then said, "If an experiment involves a precise adjustment of a critical parameter, it'll never work.". Again he paused, did another 180, and again his words hung in the air.

Because Frank said so little to his graduate students we had time to ponder what wisdom was dispensed. Me, I pondered those two encounters, and as the years passed, turned them in my head into Werblin's Laws:
If you want somebody to do something, use the First Law:
If you don't do something right away, it'll never get done.
If you want somebody to stop doing something, use the Second Law:
If an experiment involves a precise adjustment of a critical parameter, it'll never work.

Wife: Honey, if you don't take a shower right now, you'll never take one all day.
Husband: But Dear, the hot water knob in this hotel requires too much adjusting, so it'll never work.


I make ice cream: one of my few "hobbies." I have a 300 watt Bialetti ice cream machine that I bought at Nieman Marcus in 1987. Ice cream is one of various cream-and-egg creations, such as souffle, mousse, key lime pie, egg nog... a dense concentration of cholesterol from egg yolks and cream. My current ice cream I call Complex Vanilla. At any rate, over the years I have discovered two things:
If you can't make vanilla, don't try to make chocolate.
If you can make a good vanilla, you don't need to make chocolate.


Zen saying: To the beginner there are many possibilities, to the expert there are few.
another version: The fox knows many little things, the hedgehog knows one big thing.

From Zen Mind, Beginner Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki, publ. by John Wheatherhill Inc, Tokyo (1970) p.56:
Bread is made from flour. How flour becomes bread when put in the oven was for Buddha the most important thing. How we become enlightened was his main interest. The enlightened person is some perfect, desirable character, for himself and for others. Buddha wanted to find out how human beings develop this ideal character--how various sages in the past became sages. In order to find out how dough became perfect bread, he made it over and over again, until he became quite successful. That was his practice.
But we may find it not so interesting to cook the same thing over and over again every day. It is rather tedious, you may say. If you lose the spirit of repetition it will become quite difficult, but it will not be difficult if you are full of strength and vitality. Anyway, we cannot keep still; we have to do something. So if you do something, you should be very observant, and careful and alert. Our way is to put the dough in the oven and watch it carefully. Once you know how the dough becomes bread, you will understand enlightenment.