« March 2006 | Main | May 2006 »

April 30, 2006

Drugs and Kidneys

I visited the doctor on Friday, and after his office took an hour and a half to verify that my PPO would pay for the visit, I spent a few minutes talking to him, and he gave me some prescriptions for drugs that will help with my back pain. Though I've had back pain for many years, I've largely given up on doctors being able to help; their response is invariably some temporary solution designed, presumably, to make me go away.

The new guy seems genuinely concerned, however, and I'm looking forward to his ideas on prognosis and treatment in the future. For now, I'm taking two Naprosyn (super-strength Naproxen/Aleve) and one Flexeril (muscle relaxer, Cyclobenzaprin) a day.
The human kidney. Image courtesy NIDA
They're working nicely, except I'd rather the Flexeril would last longer. My back and shoulders are tense again, and I took my last one about 12 hours ago.

In medical news not directly related to my health and physiology, I have spent the past hour or so studying the kidneys of humans and other animals. I'm trying to figure out a good location for ingress and egress of nanobots for my artificial white blood cell research.

So far, it looks like the exterior part of the kidney (the renal capsule and renal cortex) is a pretty thick (dense, I should say) media and is, therefore, an unfavorable passage for nanobots. That leaves me with all those tubes and stuff that come out of the inside. In the image to the right, you can see the renal artery and the renal vein highlighted in red and blue, respectively. That is probably the best place for nanobots to use as a door to the kidney, since they are likely to already be in the blood stream, anyway. Failing that, the only other real option is the ureter, the beige-colored tube hanging down in the image. As far as I know, that's a one-way passage, though, so swimming up it would be difficult for a tiny nanobot.

Now, I need to figure out what goes on with the artery and vein. Back to the books!

April 26, 2006

Head Full of Nanotech

I have learned so much about nanotechnology in the past couple weeks that my head is about to explode. I know where the current research stands, and I know the open problems and what people are doing to try to solve them. It's kind of an amazing feeling, really.

I also subscribed to the sci.nanotech newsgroup (but not through Google Groups, ugh!), after a Usenet hiatus of about four years. The frequent posters in sci.nanotech seem to enjoy debating meta-nanotechnological issues like ethics and policy, along with the more hard science stuff.
Carbon nanotube: artist's rendering.
There is also the nominal amount of trolls and idiots, but that's fine. It's a good read, and now that I'm up to date on the discussions there, I think I'll stick around.

Now that I have been reading a lot about nanotech, I realize why my nanostructures class has proceeded in the way that it has. The professor, Elias Towe, is an electrical engineer (Ph.D. MIT, 1987), so he likes things that work with circuits and things that can build other electronic things. This, then, is why we have studied photonic crystals and carbon nanotubes: they are both technologies (materials, really) that could end up being integral to the future development of electronics.

This realization has also brought to light something about my own interests. I don't care nearly as much about these "building block" materials as I do about actual nanoscale machines. My interests are in molecular nanotechnology, which deals with actual devices that are built atom by atom and perform tasks with sub-nanometer precision.

Microbivore: artist's rendering. Click to enlarge.
So, right now, I'm researching the microbivore, which is Robert A. Freitas Jr.'s idea (PDF) of an artificial white blood cell. Specifically, I have contacted Freitas and asked him what bits of the design still need some work. I'm currently trying to decide whether to research weaknesses in the ultrastructure of the human kidney as possible ingress/egress points for microbivores or to research pathogenic antigens for unique combinations thereof required to determine the kind of organism the microbivore is touching. The magic 8-ball is pointing toward the kidney ultrastructure right now, and I have a four-volume book set on the kidney on the floor next to me.

As an aside, I'd just like to note it was incredibly easy to request that the kidney books be transferred from the library at the Mellon Institute, which is elsewhere in Pittsburgh (admittedly, not that far of a walk, but I was busy!), to the Engineering & Science Library at CMU. The set arrived within about 24 hours, and I received an email suggesting I might go pick them up soon. Wonderful!

Anyway, I'm excited about nanotech (rather, molecular nanotechnology) and the stuff I'll get to do with it in the future.

April 24, 2006

Bloggery Blogging Bloggers

I am pleased to announce the evolution of several peoples' blogs into new formats on new platforms at new web sites.

Katy has moved from LiveJournal to MetaKathryn, a blog that has a very appropriate name for that of a philosopher.

Tamara and Andrew have stopped sharing a blog and have moved to two independent blogs. Bubbles from a Seattle Trout is Tamara's new blog, and arcblog is Andrew's new blog.

I'm sure they would all welcome any feedback on their efforts that you would care to give.

Since I'm apparently in the business of giving away blogs, would anyone else like one? :)

April 23, 2006

Food Futures

Last Saturday, Andrew asked what my dream job is. That's a really interesting question for me, since I want to do everything and nothing all at once.

Assuming I don't win the lottery, buy a yacht, and sit back and read books for the rest of my life, there is a little bit of a plan in place that might be of interest to you.

First and foremost, I need my doctorate. The magic 8-ball says my dissertation will have something to do with medical nanorobotics, and hopefully, that will allow me to settle into a cozy house somewhere near MIT and start working for them as a professor of sorts.

That will continue for an unknown number of years, and presumably, the prospect of opening a restaurant will continue to nag me throughout them. I see two possible avenues for proceeding from this point.

First, I could stop doing nanotechnology altogether and use the money I've saved to start my restaurant. Or, I could take a sabbatical to start the restaurant and, when things are calming down on that front, go back to my tenured position on some sort of a nearly-full-time basis.

The Merovingian
Aside: Wouldn't it be cool if I could do a Merovingian-style trick with the food and use nanobots to make people have temporary extreme sensations of happiness, contentment, delight, pleasure, and so forth?

What is the reason? Soon the why and the reason are gone and all that matters is the feeling. This is the nature of the universe. We struggle against it, we fight to deny it; but it is of course a lie. Beneath our poised appearance we are completely out of control.
The Merovingian

Nanobots or not, however, the restaurant will be magnificent, and it will serve the finest food in the world to customers seated in very opulent surroundings. I can't wait.

Oh, another idea I have for the restaurant is interactive holographic menus that emerge from the middle of the table and can display 3D images of the items on the menu based on where the customer's eyes are focused. It seems doable, if incredibly expensive.

That's pretty much where the plans end. Professorship, nanobots, restaurant, ..., profit. I hope that answers your question, Andrew.

April 22, 2006

All Is Well at Katy's

Yesterday was moving day, and everything went without a hitch. The movers, Two Men and a Truck, were the most professional movers I have ever hired. They were courteous, friendly, and quick, and I recommend using them for your next short-distance move.

Now that all my stuff is here in Katy's house (it's difficult to say "our house," since she owns it, but I digress...), the place is incredibly cluttered, and the rooms are difficult to navigate. For instance, our bedroom contains two complete beds: Katy's queen standing up against various walls and my king (sultan, according to Aidan) set up properly. The cats, as you can imagine, are throughly enjoying the mazes of furniture that pervade the living areas. In fact, the queen mattress fell on me while I was sleeping last night after what was probably an ill-fated attempt at scaling it by a curious cat.

My server has found a comfortable home in the closet in the living room because I couldn't find a good way to route wires into and out of the basement. This summer, I'll try to look at installing a conduit so the whirr of the five (I think) fans are not a constant presence.

Meanwhile, and before the unpacking can really begin in earnest, I need to concentrate on some school work: a nanostructures exam Tuesday, a nasty linear systems homework due Wednesday, and a nanostructures presentation Thursday. Wish me luck and send me caffeine.

Oh, and I got the strange stains out of the blue shirt I mentioned in this entry. Hooray!

April 19, 2006

New Shirts

I seem to have a problem with shirts getting dirty in the washing machine and dryer. Once every, oh, six months or so, I pull a shirt out of the dryer, and it has some sort of brown-ish stain in various places.

New Armani shirts. Click to enlarge.
Invariably, the shirt is one of my nicer ones (the most recent victim was my lightweight blue Armani shirt, which I'm still trying to salvage). I have no idea why this happens, but it's getting aggravating.

Do any of you have any experience with really strange stains appearing on your nicer clothing while you're washing them? This has happened with at least two different washer/dryer setups in two states, so I don't think it's prudent to make that sort of a correlation.

Now, since my shirts keep falling victim to the cleaning process, what else is there to do but buy more? To the right, you'll find the three shirts I purchased on the web this past weekend. I also bought a new pair of jeans, which is always a dodgy prospect over the web, but I've never actually been let down by it.

I can rarely bring myself to leave the house for the express purpose of shopping for clothing, so actually deciding to buy new things to wear is a big deal for me. Since I moved to Pittsburgh, I've bought a leather jacket, some shoes, some boots, and some snow/ski wear. Not much.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to getting the new clothes. You are sure to see them at some point or another.

On a completely unrelated note, I'm officially moving into Katy's house this Friday. The movers are turning up at 8 AM (whimper), and they're going to put my boxes in the basement and my furniture... well, somewhere... hopefully not in the basement. Accordingly, Katy and I are going to finish packing my condo tomorrow. It's mostly packed now, but there are still some things in the kitchen and the office, and I still have a bunch of clothing in the bedroom.

Also, the tentative (but nearly final) plans are such that I will be in Argentina with my family the second(-ish) week of June. Now, that's exciting! I can't wait!

Stapler without Staples: Part 2

Tamara seems to be under the impression (third comment) that I've never had a stapler before this crazy Boston StandUp thing. The truth is quite different. In fact, my previous stapler broke when I was trying to staple my incredibly thick solution set for my third Linear Systems homework several weeks ago. I've submitted every assignment since that with a paper clip, and it's getting kind of old. :)

April 18, 2006

Stapler without Staples

Boston StandUp Stapler
The woman at the university book store assured me my Boston StandUp Stapler came with staples, but as I found out less than five minutes ago, it did not. My nanotech homework must be bound by a paper clip. Sad.

In other news, my nanotech homework that was due last Friday is now finished, and I'll turn it in tomorrow. Only two people actually turned it in last Friday, according to the TA for the class, who told me it was fine if I submitted it this week.

Now what? Hmm, maybe I'll hack on my distributed systems project a bit before I go to sleep.

grumble — freakin' stapler — grumble

April 17, 2006

CMU Carnival

Carnival is an event that is hosted annually by Carnegie Mellon University that involves rides, food, buggy races, and so forth. This year, its three days of existence happen this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
CMU Tower of Copy Paper Boxes
Accordingly, all classes falling on those three days are cancelled (except for the Tepper Business School shiny shoes types). The City of Pittsburgh closes major streets, parking is a mess, and it's a huge deal.

But, I'm writing right now because while I was on my way to class today, I saw a three- or four-storey stack of Office Depot copy paper boxes sitting on The Cut, one of the expanses of lawn on campus. Maybe it's an art project, and maybe it has something to do with Carnival, but it's pretty cool, nonetheless. It was also very windy today, and the tower wasn't even swaying, so there must be something pretty rigid providing an axial support. To the right is a picture I took of the top portion with my cell phone camera. (Speaking of cell phone pictures, I ordered a new Motorola RAZR last week because the screen on my current phone is deathly ill. That'll be neat.)

So, have I ever mentioned how cool it is to be at Carnegie Mellon? I really enjoy it, and having random things like towers of Office Depot copy paper boxes spring up out of nowhere is just one of the many humorous perks.

In other news, I bought a couple new pens and a new stapler at the university store today. Does it make me nerdy to be excited about that?

Now that I think about it, maybe the copy paper tower is just CMU's way of telling the University of Pittsburgh, next door, that their prized Cathedral of Learning isn't really a big deal.

April 15, 2006

First Dinner at Katy's House

I cooked dinner at Katy's house for the first time last night. We had been at the grocery store earlier in the day, and she requested I cook something spicy. So, on the condition that she clean the stove top when we got back home, I was easily convinced to come up with dinner and cook it. I just had to come up with a plan.

Some organic broccoli, jalapeños, heavy cream, lemon butter and dill marinated tilapia filets, and shaved parmesan cheese later, a plan was formed.

Garlic and jalapeño
One chopped large broccoli spear, one thinly sliced jalapeno, and three finely chopped cloves of garlic went into a pan with some olive oil. After they had a chance to get nice and warm, some heavy cream and a small amount of butter were added, and that was followed by a generous helping of the parmesan cheese. Black pepper and basil were also added near the end. This became the sauce for the pasta, which was cooking simultaneously.

The tilapia, for its part, came from the store with the marinade included. All it took was a bit of baking at 400° for, oh, 12 or 13 minutes or something like that.

Anyway, it turned out very well, and it was enjoyed all around. Dorian even got a bite (or two!) of the fish.

April 12, 2006

Citibank Morons

If you don't feel like reading this whole thing, at least scroll down to the last two parts.

This is the conversation I had with the kind, generous, friendly morons at Citibank this evening.

Why a finance charge? 04/12/06 06:04:55 PM 5 of 5

You wrote:

I paid my card off completely last month, but the bill I received today has a finance charge on it. I'm struggling to figure out why. Also, there is a foreign transaction charge on this bill. To my knowledge, I made no foreign transactions. Please help.

RE: Why a finance charge? 04/12/06 06:06:00 PM 5 of 5

You wrote:

Sorry, I have found the foreign transaction. I am still confused about the finance charge.

Re: Why a finance charge? 04/12/06 06:33:53 PM 5 of 5

Customer Service Wrote:

Our records indicate that we received your final payment on 03/27/2006. Your statement which printed on 04/10/2006 has finance charges assessed from the previous statement date (03/09/2006) till the date (03/27/2006) your payment was credited in full to your account.

Finance charges for purchases, balance transfers and cash advances will begin to accrue from the date the transaction is added to your balance. They will continue to accrue until payment in full is credited to your account.

This means that when you make your final payment on these balances, you will pay interest for the time between the date your last statement prints and the date your payment is credited to your account.

Our records indicate that a charge of $29.13 from Gandi.net has been posted to your account on 04/01/2006. This is a foreign transaction. If you make a transaction in a foreign currency, other than a cash advance made at a branch or ATM of one of our affiliates, MasterCard or Visa, depending on which card is used, will convert the amount into U.S. dollars. MasterCard and Visa will comply with their operating regulations or foreign currency conversion procedures then in effect.

If a cash advance is made in a foreign currency at a branch or ATM of one of our affiliates, the amount is converted into U.S. dollars by our affiliate in accordance with its foreign currency conversion procedures then in effect.

The foreign currency conversion rate in effect on the applicable processing date for a transaction may differ from the rate in effect on the Sale or Post date on your billing statement for that transaction.

For each purchase made in a foreign currency, we add an additional Finance Charge of 3% of the purchase amount after its conversion into U.S. dollars.

Thank you for using our website.

RE: Why a finance charge? 04/12/06 07:07:06 PM 5 of 5

You wrote:

You wrote: "Finance charges for purchases, balance transfers and cash advances will begin to accrue from the date the transaction is added to your balance. They will continue to accrue until payment in full is credited to your account." Has it always been this way? I don't seem to remember getting finance charges like these before.

RE: Why a finance charge? 04/12/06 07:36:24 PM 5 of 5

Customer Service Wrote:

Our records do not indicate that there has been a change in the finance charge policy as mentioned in your card agreement.

Paying your balance in full by the payment due date saves you money because it allows you to take advantage of your 20-25 day grace period on purchases. If you wish to take advantage of this period, simply make sure that we receive your full payment by the payment due date.

However, if we do not receive your full payment by the payment due date every month, the finance charges for purchases will begin to accrue from the date the transaction is added to your balance. They will continue to accrue until payment in full is credited to your account. This means that when you make your final payment on these balances, you will pay interest for the time between the date your last statement prints and the date your payment is credited to your account.

Once you have paid your account in full by the payment due date for two consecutive months, you may again be able to take advantage of the 20-25 day grace period.

Thank you for using our website.

RE: Why a finance charge? 04/12/06 08:08:31 PM 5 of 5

You wrote:

But this is precisely my complaint. My full payment was made within the grace period in March, but I still accrued a finance charge on today's bill.

RE: Why a finance charge? 04/12/06 08:45:47 PM 5 of 5

Customer Service Wrote:

A credit of $17.61 will appear on your next statement.

Thank you for using our website.


April 11, 2006

Top 50 Restaurants

The Sydney Morning Herald is running an article today about a list (second page) of the top 50 restaurants in the world. It's clearly time to start checking some of those off.

Also, it reached 80 degrees here today. Blech, yuck, gross.

April 09, 2006

Hospitalized Dorian: Part 3

Dorian is home again now, having been unblocked for most of the time he spent at the hospital today. He and Oliver are quite happy to be playing with each other.

Alien Oliver? Click to enlarge.
In other news, Oliver decided last night to show us how to make a cat look incredibly disturbing using only a plastic drop cloth.

The drop cloth, incidentally, is a byproduct of Katy buying a bunch of lumber at Lowe's yesterday and needing to haul it home in my car. I had just had it cleaned, inside and out. She bought the lumber to construct a few hot houses that will contain peppers and a variety of other things in the garden. Over the next several months, you can probably expect to read, at least a few times, about how wonderful the organic vegetables I just got out of the garden taste in the dinner I made. Yum, I can't wait.

Also, Katy and I will be in Houston and Dallas at the end of May. Aside from the usual antics, are any of you interested in meeting for anything specific? I think the only mandatory things so far are Taylor's high school graduation and dinner with Arin at Smith & Wollensky.

Hospitalized Dorian: Part 2

Dorian was readmitted to the kitty hospital around 5:00 this morning, after experiencing abdominal pain and trouble urinating on several occasions. He's probably going to end up needing surgery to prevent urine from passing through the narrowest part of the urethra, where the crystals typically form.

Katy and kitties. Click to enlarge.
Before Dorian left for the hospital, however, he and Oliver had a chance to keep Katy warm while she was trying to read some papers on Gottlob Frege, the renowned philosophical logician. Logical kitties like warm philosophy on big chairs with cute girls. And sleeping.

In other news, I have linear systems homework to do, and I should probably get on that. Anyone feel like teaching me everything there is to know about Lyapunov stability? Didn't think so. I'm off to read about it, then. Or maybe play video games. We'll see.

April 08, 2006

Hospitalized Dorian

I came home Tuesday night after class to find Dorian very upset. He was in great pain, unwilling to move, and frightened of being picked up.

Dorian has a history of having struvite (magnesium ammonium phosphate) crystals in his urine due to abnormally high pH levels in his digestive tract, and the crystals have a potential to block his urethra.

Oh, kitty!
On seeing Dorian in such discomfort, I automatically assumed a blockage had occurred and called around to find an emergency veterinary hospital that could take him. I found AVETS, in the suburb of Monroeville, and took him there immediately.

My mom did some research and found that AVETS is well-renowned and highly regarded in the veterinary community, so we were glad to have him in good hands.

The doctors put Dorian on a urinary catheter and an intravenous feeding tube, and they cast some spells and unblocked him. He remained on the catheter until Wednesday night, and he was supposed to be discharged Thursday morning. However, the condition recurred, and we were back at square one. They repeated the process, and finally, last night, the doctors were satisfied enough with his progress that they suggested I take him home.

Dorian is shaved in strange spots but otherwise well.

Since he first showed signs of struvite crystals in his urine in January, he has been on a diet consisting of particularly acidic food. While the supplemental acid provides a lower pH and can break down the struvite crystals more readily, it also means there is a chance of a build-up of calcium oxalate crystals, which require a high pH (i.e. a more basic environment) to break down.

I'm going to call my regular veterinarian Monday and try to work out the food situation.

Also, Taylor is responsible for finding the highly appropriate picture above.

April 03, 2006

April Snow

Image courtesy The Weather Underground
Today is the third of April, and snow is in the forecast for the next two days. It is a welcome respite from the warm 70-degree weather I dislike so much, but it's still a bit strange to have snow in April. I'm hoping for a freak blizzard before the end of the month to make winter go out with a bang.

In other news, because of my neighbor's insolence and his actions' apparent impunity in the eyes of the law, I'm planning to move out in the next couple weeks and start taking up space in Katy's house. Until her tenants (roommates, whatever) leave this summer, most of my stuff is going to remain in boxes in the basement. No big deal. At least the walls don't vibrate over there.

I have six boxes packed already, and a seventh is well on the way. Anyone who feels like visiting Pittsburgh this weekend or next weekend is welcome to help me pack and all that fun stuff (and possibly experience my freak blizzard!). I'm going to hire movers, so I won't subject you to the horror of moving my densely packed boxes down a total of about four flights of stairs (three on my end, one on hers).

Also, I need to figure out how much installing air conditioning in Katy's house is going to cost. If that doesn't happen before the weather really starts heating up, I'll be quite a wreck.

April 02, 2006

Brokeback Kitties

Yesterday, after spending their first night together, Dorian and Oliver were seen grooming each other while curled up on my recliner. I think the Brokeback Kitties (a.k.a. Brokeback Mountain Lions) are going to make wonderful friends. Let's just hope one doesn't decide to move to Texas and get married.

April 01, 2006

Noise Complaint: Part 4

I woke up again this morning to the sound of my neighbor's bass, so, again, I called the police. Again, he was gone before the officer arrived.

The officer and I chatted for a while, and he's under the impression that I have a very clear case against my neighbor. He thinks the magistrate should have no problem finding him guilty. I noted his name, in case I need to have him back me up later.

Incidentally, I did a Google search for him to make sure I was spelling it correctly, and it turns out he was the subject of a very controversial legal spat last autumn. I watched a video where he was seen firing a taser into a girl's thigh during a protest in Oakland (the borough where University of Pittsburgh is located) over military recruitment. It looked to me like he was using necessary and appropriate force, and it appears the courts found the same, as he's still on duty.

He told me the next step is probably for the magistrate to send a summons to my neighbor. I suppose I'll get one, too.

I think it would really help my case if I could get an officer over here to listen to the noise and make a report out of it, so in the meantime, I'll keep trying.