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December 31, 2005


Taylor was accepted today, by telephone, to her second choice for college, MassArt, so hooray for her! Her first choice is RISD, from whom she will not hear until the middle of January.

At any rate, she'll be a New Englander soon!

December 30, 2005

Steel Alloys: Part 2

Katy and I returned to Pittsburgh yesterday, and we expect to remain here for a while. I think I will be in Manhattan and/or rural Maine for a few days in March, but other than that, the next travel dates will likely be in May or June.

I'm a little closer to understanding enough about steel alloys to be able to solve the problem I found with my Wüsthof Classic knives.

Codes and Standards Training Inc. (CASTI) publishes the CASTI Metals Black Book in European and North American variants. As Wüsthof is based in Solingen, Germany, I looked at the "lite" version of the European variant (available here), and I found the key for the particular subset of steel alloys in question.

The number after the X is the percentage of carbon in the steel, multiplied by 100. So, X50 means 0.50% carbon. Each chemical symbol after that stands for a component of the steel, in decreasing order of significance. Then, numbers at the end of the designation, separated by hyphens, correspond to the percentage of those elements.

X50 Cr Mo 15, then, should mean the steel contains 0.50% carbon, 15% chromium, and less than 15% molybdenum.

I still don't know how the different compositions affect the quality of the blade or the longevity of the knife, but I'm working on that.

Also, now that I'm back home, I looked at my other Wüsthof Classic knives, and it turns out they, too, vary in composition, though only two of the steak knives' alloys are represented: X50 Cr Mo 15 and X50 Cr Mo WV15. Hmm.

December 27, 2005

Steel Alloys

Because of a lack of coordination between Katy's parents and my parents, I now own ten of the Wüsthof Classic steak knives I mentioned in my previous post. Which is a wonderful thing, as they're excellent knives, and I think I'm going to keep all ten of them, but I have a concern: they're not all the same.

They're quite the same in terms of packaging, naming, appearance, and all that jazz, but when it comes down to the composition of the steel in the blades, there are three alloys represented in the ten knives.

X50 Cr Mo 15
X50 Cr Mo WV15
X50 Cr Mo V15

I can parse some of these alloy designations. Some of the letters are the symbols of chemical elements: Cr means Chromium, Mo means Molybdenum, W means Tungsten, and V means Vanadium. Beyond that, I'm not really sure. What does the X mean? What about the numbers 50 and 15? Do the compositions have any impact on the longevity of the alloys? What do tungsten and vanadium add to the alloy that chromium and molybdenum don't have?

If you happen to know anyone with a background in metallurgy, I'd greatly appreciate your asking that person. Everything I can find on the Internet is either too technical for me or doesn't really explain anything. Help!

Back to Mensa Sudoku for me.

December 26, 2005

Winter Travels

Katy and I had an absolutely fantastic time in Massachusetts and Maine last week. It was wonderful to visit with my aunt and uncle there, and skiing, relaxing, eating, drinking, listening to books on tape, watching movies, playing in the snow, and solving big jigsaw puzzles were a perfect way to end a stressful few months of school. Every member of my family that has met Katy is completely in love with her, and while I can't blame them and it is certainly deserved, I wasn't really expecting such total adoration. It's a beautiful thing. :)

We're in the suburbs of Houston now, where there is no snow and the temperatures have been in the 70s. Gross. But, our parents and siblings are here, so here we also are, doing the Christmas thing with family.

Christmas went well all around, and I received probably more gifts than ever before (with more on the way), which was quite ridiculous but also pretty neat. Some highlights so far are an automatic meat grinder with which I will make a wide variety of pleasing ground meats and sausages, four Wüsthof Classic steak knives to complement my Wüsthof Classic cutlery, a powerful and portable vacuum cleaner with the assumed specific intent of easily extracting Dorian hair from my rugs, an item of undisclosed description from Tiffany & Co., and a number of sweaters from J. Crew. Also, my uncle John and I received, from my parents, several books and software packages for learning the Japanese language, which will be useful for preparing for our trip to Japan. Like I said, quite ridiculous.

I'll be spending tomorrow (today, rather, after I wake up again) afternoon in Kingwood with Katy and her family. I hope they're as receptive to my existence as my family is to hers. Katy says I was pretty mean to everyone nine or ten years ago, and I hope they don't hold some sort of collective grudge against me. So, I'm nervous, and I'm probably not going to want to spend lots of time there because I'm going to be stressed out. Sigh. I'll get over it eventually.

I can't wait to be back in a place where snow covers the ground, but I'm glad I'm spending time with some of my most important people this week.

December 14, 2005

On Holiday

School is finally over for the year, and I'm getting the hell out of here. Maine, here I come to trample your mountains with my skis.

December 11, 2005

Programming Marathon

The past three days have been one long programming marathon for me. Remember that project I mentioned earlier in the week? I'm working on that. I've so far written nearly 2200 lines of Perl code, and it doesn't even really output anything useful yet. Once I get to the useful part, though, it should be smooth sailing, since I will have already implemented the infrastructure.

Twenty percent of the grade for this project consists of "coolness" points. The idea is, you guessed it, to make the program do something cool. I was going to do a 3D graphical representation of these systems that are normally in 2D, but I don't think I'll have the time in the next two days to figure out how to do that in a way that doesn't suck. I'll have to come up with another cool thing to make it do. Hmm.

At any rate, I want to have this finished by Monday night or, at the latest, early Tuesday afternoon. I have to demo the program for my professor, and that has to happen before Wednesday because I'll be flying out of here Wednesday.

I've been programming for about 14 hours straight (not quite straight — there have been a couple breaks to walk to the convenience store two blocks away and get one of those horrible cappuccinos they have), so it's about time to see Katy for a bit. Hooray. :)

Also, I figured out my ICQ password the other day, after not having logged into ICQ for probably two years or so. Net_Fish, also known as Nick, who lives in Tasmania, found me. A selection from our conversation:

(02:48:30) cww: It goes well. Doing a masters degree in computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.
(02:48:47) Net_Fish: blimey, talk about getting up in the world

December 10, 2005

In My Head

For those of you interested in what's been on my mind the past couple days, here's a screenshot of my workspace. Beware the bandwidth demons: the image is over 800kB.

Click to enlarge.

December 09, 2005

Isn't It Pretty?

Click to enlarge.

December 08, 2005

Hello, Snow

Feast your eyes upon the wonder of the weather radar and the spiffy snow it brings to Pittsburgh. We're expecting over four inches of wintry goodness by tomorrow morning, and then it should continue into tomorrow night, as well.

Click to enlarge.


It's winter all around! Texas must be grinding to a halt. :)

Katy and I will be staying in Strong, Maine, next week and the week after next, as we're going skiing at Sugarloaf Mountain, which is a short drive away. Brr!

In other news, my exams are finished, and I only have one thing left to do for the semester. It's a cell placer for VLSI circuits that implements the process ("Eisenmann forces") described in the paper Generic Global Placement and Floorplanning which was presented by Hans Eisenmann and Frank M. Johannes at the 35th Design Automation Conference in San Francisco in 1998. And, it doesn't look easy, so that's what I'll be doing tonight... and tomorrow... and Saturday... and...

I'll probably be on AIM most of the time, so if you're privy to my contact information there, this serves as notice that I will actually be connected for more than three seconds for once.

December 06, 2005

Silly Chemistry

Ever heard of the molecules fucol, erotic acid, megaphone, bastardane, or arsole? Now you have.

Back from Washington: Part 2

I received a number of responses to my most recent entry in the comments section of the entry and on my Mensa introverts mailing list. Most of the responses said, essentially, that I was obviously at fault because I did not show up to the gate early enough. A Mensan even pointed out the really tiny print on the United web site about boarding closing ten minutes before the departure time. Never mind that I didn't get a copy of that with my ticket purchase, presumably because I did not buy them through United. Really, I looked through all the crap I got with my ticket, and that was nowhere to be found.

So, when did the airlines get so cocky? Was management getting pissed because they weren't meeting their on-time quotas?

I remember distinctly one time I was flying from Boston to Dallas on Delta, and I was eating pizza at Logan Airport, when I heard my name called out over the P.A. system in conjunction with something about needing to hurry over to the gate. I had simply lost track of time in my hunger, and so I ran to the gate, all was well, and we still probably left on time. We definitely arrived on time. The gate people probably weren't even done with their pre-flight paperwork by the time I took my seat on board.

Times have changed, I guess, and we consumers are getting the shaft much more than we did in the past. I'll just add "fear of not being able to get on a flight I've paid to take, despite doing everything I can do to get to the gate on time" to my "culture of fear" awareness list.

December 05, 2005

Back from Washington

I'm back from Washington, but the return trip came at considerable expense to my sanity.

My flight was supposed to leave from Dulles's terminal G, at which one arrives by taking a crappy little bus, at 5:25. I waited for the bus... and waited and waited. And, finally, the bus came, and I sat in it... and sat and sat. And, finally, the bus left the main terminal, and it drove to terminal G... and drove and drove.

Because waiting for the bus, waiting on the non-moving bus, and riding on the bus took so much time, I was a little worried about making my flight when we eventually arrived at the terminal. So, I ran from the bus to the gate and arrived at the gate around 5:17, a full eight minutes before the flight's scheduled departure.

The gate attendant was finishing yelling at someone over her walkie-talkie, so I let her do that, and then I told her I wanted to board the Pittsburgh flight. She said, "it's gone." I said, "what?" She said, "the plane left." I looked up at the board behind her, where the plane was clearly said to depart at 5:25, and I said, "that says 5:25." She said, "boarding closes ten minutes before departure." I said, "what?!" She said, "you'll have to go talk with customer service," and she motioned me to a conveniently located customer service desk, not more than 40 feet away, with a conveniently lengthy line extending from it.

I sort of stomped over to the end of the line and called Katy, who was planning to pick me up in Pittsburgh, to tell her I had just missed a flight because I was eight minutes early for it. After I spoke with her, the guy in front of me in line asked me if I'd just missed the Pittsburgh flight. I said yes, we chatted for a few minutes about how Dulles sucks peoples' souls (in a bad way), etc., and then we stood like good Englishmen. Except I guess neither of us are really good Englishmen, but wow, Englishmen really know how to queue. Anyway...

I got to the customer service desk shortly after the other guy did, and we were both nearly simultaneously finding out that the only other flight to Pittsburgh last night was already full and that we could either be put on standby for that flight or move our flights to the following morning (but not both!). At which point, I asked the customer service idiot, "how long does it take to drive to Pittsburgh?" The guy standing next to me said, "about four hours." Thus began the long trip home.

We had a happy meeting there at the customer service desk and were excited about the prospect of sharing the cost of a rental car and driving away from that airport as quickly as possible. Standby tickets in hand in case something went awry with the car rental, Kurt and I stomped off to stand in line for the bus back to the main terminal.

The plans were in place by the time we got to the main terminal (yet another long bus ride), and there, we searched for somewhere to access rental car companies. There was a line of phones, each connected to a rental car company, near the end of the baggage claim area. Kurt started on one end, and I started on the other.

"Hello?" "I'm interested in renting a car at Washington Dulles and driving it to Pittsburgh tonight. Can you tell me how much that's going to cost in your cheapest car?" "I have a line of 25 people standing on front of me and..." "Just tell me how much it's going to cost." "We don't do one-way rentals." Click.

And so it went.

Of the many car rental companies at Dulles, only Avis and Hertz would rent cars for one-way drives. Hertz said $87, and I believe Avis said $94 (Kurt found Avis.). Off we went to stand in the cold and wait for a Hertz bus.

We were the first people off the Hertz bus, so we had our pick of rental agents oozing faux-innocence when we walked into the office. A guy helped us rent a Corolla for $140 or so (nope, not $87 -- but we could have rented one of those new Mustangs for $180, don't ya know), and soon, we were leaving the airport, maps in hand and caution to the wind.

The four-hour drive was reduced to just over three hours, even with a stop at Boston Market somewhere in Maryland, by pushing 80 m.p.h. the entire way. Hell, it's a rental, and it only snowed for most of the drive.

We drove from Dulles International Airport to Pittsburgh International Airport (I don't think driving is how people normally do that.), replenished the half a tank of gas we used, and returned the car, no more than four hours after renting it.

Kurt had parked in extended parking, so we had to take a bus to get out there from the terminal, and on the way to the bus, we passed the baggage claim where the flight on which we were standby passengers had landed only half an hour or so prior. We were amused.

Having scraped the ice and snow off his car, we [put gas in it at the same place and] drove to Shadyside, where Kurt also happens to live.

So, that was last night. Now, I want to get United to answer these questions for me and, after providing me with satisfactory responses, reimburse me for all my costs last night:

  • Planes do not really leave ten minutes before their departure times. Why did your gate agent lie to me?
  • You knew I was in the airport with a boarding pass. Why did you not wait for me?
  • Did you leave me behind because you had already filled my seat as a result of overbooking the flight?
  • Why would any airline ever instate a policy of closing boarding ten minutes before departure? And, when did you start doing this?
  • Does it bother you, given the current climate of airline bankruptcy and low-fare cost cutting, that I'm never going to fly United again and that I'm going to strongly encourage everyone I know to do the same?

As it turns out, Kurt's a really cool guy doing a post-doc at Pitt, and if I ever have free time in Pittsburgh again, we'll probably do drinks or coffee or dinner or something. And, as it turns out, we may have met each other anyway, because our seats for the flight were 4C and 4D.

United Airlines, I hate you, and you'll be hearing from me soon.

December 01, 2005


I'm in Washington. Dulles is a horrible airport, and the subway was a bit cruddy, but now that I'm downtown, life is good. Except my arm hurts from carrying my bag from the Foggy Bottom Metro station to my hotel. I do, however, have a turkey club sandwich on the way, and that will probably help things.