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May 31, 2006

Back in Pittsburgh

Katy and I are back in Pittsburgh, having had a pretty good week in Houston and surrounding areas. Jay, the most normal tenant in the world, has pretty much filled the house with his crap in our absence. He's moving tomorrow (actually, later today), so we're very happy about that.

We met a guy named Mark on the plane, and he showed me a couple card tricks. The second one was quite amazing, and Katy and I spent the last half hour of the flight trying to debunk it. We figured out how it works, but it's still pretty amazing. Next time I see you, please ask me to show it to you.

The cats have been reunited, which is good, and the weather here is balmy and humid, which is bad. Even with fans activated and windows open, the temperature in the bedroom is nearly unbearable. I wonder if I'll sleep tonight? Two Tylenol PM and a few beers (Harp, if you're keeping track, because we ran the beer distributor out of Bass a couple weeks ago) later, I'm still uncomfortable and awake. We'll see what happens.

May 28, 2006

Blog Anniversary

A year ago today, I wrote my first blog entry here. The inaugural post was essentially a rant about Lawry's, a steak house with poor service on the Dallas North Tollway.

Katy and I joined Arin at Chamberlain's Steak and Chop House on Belt Line in Dallas earlier this week and were very impressed with the food and the service. The atmosphere was neither as grand nor as formal as Smith & Wollensky, but the quality of the prime rib was far above that of any other prime rib I've eaten. I look forward to returning to Chamberlain's, but next time, perhaps I'll not bother with the jacket.

We are staying with Katy's parents for the next couple days before we return to Pittsburgh... if I survive the combination of high thermostat settings and a new puppy, that is.

Also, through the PayPal dispute resolution process, I got the jerk eBay seller to refund the money he swindled away from me. Now, I just need a new Klipsch ProMedia Ultra 5.1 subwoofer. Anyone? :)

May 24, 2006

Server Down

I've left Pittsburgh, so, clearly, my server at home has gone down. Or, something equally unpleasant has happened to it.

At the moment, that means I can't get my email, and if you use that server for email (webmail), too, then you can't get your email, either. You get what you pay for. :) If you would like me to temporarily forward your email somewhere else, call me and let me know.

It's really hot in Texas. Bah.

May 22, 2006

To Houston

Katy and I are flying to Houston tonight, driving to Dallas tomorrow, driving to Houston Thursday, and flying back here next Tuesday.

We have a pretty busy schedule, so I may not be able to update this thing often. Have a great week and weekend!

May 20, 2006

Algebraic Recipe: Raita

I never directly use recipes because they often disallow the introduction of creativity into a meal. Tonight, I found four recipes for raita on the web, and I didn't like any of them, but after reading them, I had an idea of what to do. So, I present to you a fifth raita recipe.

N cups yogurt
N cucumbers, chopped (shredded, if you like) into really tiny bits
N/2 tsp. salt
N/2 tsp. sugar
N tsp. cumin
N tsp. chili powder

1. Mix everything together in a bowl of appropriate dimensions.

2. Let cool in refrigerator for 3 * [ln(N) + 1] hours.

That should do it. :)

Also, I think I like red wine so much because the histamines induce some sort of feel-good allergic reaction. Tonight's selection: McWilliam's Hanwood Estate Shiraz 2004. It's my fail-safe Shiraz because you can order it by the glass and drink it while you wait at the bar for someone to show up at Sambuca in Dallas. It's not the best, and it's a bit dry. It's Australian. It pairs well with a glass of water and good conversation.

May 18, 2006


I've been swindled by an eBay seller called swapsellandbuy.

I won an auction for the Klipsch ProMedia Ultra 5.1 speakers on May 9. Early this week, they arrived via DHL. When I pulled the subwoofer out of the box, I noticed masking tape with "subwoofer board problem" written on it stuck to the top of the enclosure. I figured maybe they just forgot to take it off, since the auction said this system is refurbished.

I hooked everything up and realized the control module, which is required to even turn the system on, was missing.
The note left on the exterior of the enclosure. Click to enlarge
So, I sent an email to the seller, and they sent one to me by overnight mail. In waiting for their reply to my email, though, I ordered an extra one from the Klipsch web site. I'll have two of these things when everything is said and done. Maybe I can just return the one I purchased separately.

Anyway, I got the control module today, and I plugged it in. No change. Still can't turn the speakers on. Emailed the seller again.

Having not received a response from the seller all day, I unscrewed the panel on the subwoofer about an hour ago, to see if anything was actually wrong in there. I immediately noticed two things.

The first thing was that there is a yellow solenoid-looking component on one of the control boards.
The note left on the control board inside the enclosure. Click to enlarge
Another piece of masking tape is stuck to it, and this one reads "bad." The other is that the two subwoofer speaker units inside the enclosure aren't even connected to the control board!

They clearly knew they were swindling me when they sent the system, which makes me wonder if they're even going to do anything about it. eBay's policy is to reimburse only up to $175 in the event of something like this. So, even if that happens, I'll still be out about $40 or $50.

The satellite speakers sound great with my old subwoofer, anyway.

One of the points of tension Katy and I have is that I have little respect for the general public, and she wants me to put some faith in them. She also doesn't like when I say, "I hate people." But, it's circumstances like this (and like the woman at the post office earlier this week and the stupid kid at the grocery store yesterday and...) that provoke this attitude. Sigh.

May 15, 2006

Oh, Snap!

Did the phrase "oh, snap!" exist in the common vernacular before the movie Zoolander brought it to my attention? Would somebody please care to answer this most absurd of questions? I would appreciate that. Thank you.

Also, I turned in half of my term paper at noon today. The other half is postponed until I organize my data on the kidney, as I ran into a slight problem with the research on Saturday. Katy was a dear and joined me in the Engineering & Science Library at Carnegie Mellon to help me research the glomerular filtration membrane today. We are now experts.

May 14, 2006

Paper Writing Days

I've been writing these two papers forever now, but the work is worth the effort. By the way, I originally thought the papers were due last Friday, but when I checked the guidelines again, I found out they are due this coming Monday.

As with just about everything else I've done since I've been at Carnegie Mellon, I feel like I'm completely immersed in the subject.
My desk, in full kidney paper force. Click to enlarge
It's really amazing to become so familiar with a topic in such a small amount of time. Two weeks ago, I knew practically nothing about the kidney, and now, I can tell my glomerulus from my calyx and my Duct of Bellini from my Loop of Henle. And, I know a nanorobot isn't going to be able to enter the urinary tract from the kidney unless it cuts its way into it.

For my "term paper" for Elias's class, I plan to turn in two individual works: a paper describing nanorobot navigation in the kidney and a paper giving an analysis of the Microbivore, the artificial white blood cell with which I have been working. Both will be submitted in good form, but the kidney paper won't be quite finished. Specifically, I'm bothered by a particular problem I encountered when figuring out how a nanorobot might navigate the glomerular filtration membrane, and I want to go sit at a library for a couple hours next week and try to figure it out. I would also like to flesh out some of the other details in the paper with some data from more sources.

I'll post the paper here when I'm ready for the world to read it, but if you want a sneak preview, feel free to inquire through the usual channels, and I'll send you a PDF.

May 13, 2006


The Chronicle of Higher Education is running a meta-article (the real one is from the Wall Street Journal, which requires registration) about the country's only bagpiping major, Mr. Nick Hudson, a freshman who is getting a $7,000-per-year scholarship to play. If you guessed he attends Carnegie Mellon, you would be correct. The best part of this gig seems to be that the university subsidizes his kilt purchases. Cool!

May 12, 2006

TV Tuner Card

I bought a cheap-o television tuner card on eBay this week, and I received it today. It's an AverMedia AverTV PVR-150, which I thought would be at least somewhat compatible with the Hauppauge! PVR-150. Hauppauge! seems to make the gold standards for these sorts of things, and their cards work in the 64-bit version of Windows XP, which my desktop computer runs.

Well, that is not how that works. I've tried every driver under the sun in order to get this thing to work, and it just won't. The 64-bit operating system is the problem.

So, it's not really a huge deal, since I'll probably just toss it in a different computer and install the 32-bit version of Windows there, but I'm really tired of having hardware not work simply because it's not compatible with (rather, the manufacturer didn't bother to write drivers compatible with...) modern technology.

Make & Model: AverMedia AverTV PVR-150
Vendor: 4444
Device: 0016
Subsystem: C0351461
Rev: 01
Chipset: Internext Compression, Inc., (Conexant) CX23416 iTVC16


Linear Systems Final Grade

I got a B in Linear Systems! This is amazing. This is so amazing, in fact, that I have never been happier about earning a B. I thought I would look at my grade and see a D or something — that's how poorly I thought I did on my final exam. I mean, I still did pretty poorly on it (cough 31.4% cough), but not so poorly that my final grade was lower than a B!

Now, I can relax and live with the idea of never having to do control theory again without properly studying it (from an undergraduate's perspective, for example) first.

I don't know when I get the rest of my grades, but I suspect this will be the only grade that's not an A. Hooray. :)

May 09, 2006

No More Exams

Exams are over! I only have to finish my (two) nanotech paper(s) by Friday, and I can declare this semester officially finished.

The Distributed Systems exam I took at 8:30 yesterday morning was a walk in the park. A breeze. A piece of cake. A joke, even. I was the first one done, and it took less than an hour (out of the allocated three).

The Linear Systems exam at 5:30 yesterday evening... not so much. Three hours into the exam, everyone was still seated and furiously scrawling control theory, system design, matrix calculus, and state-space circuit analysis into the two blue books provided for solving the exam's four problems.
State-space equations for a linear time-invariant control system
The teaching assistant, who was proctoring the exam, extended our suffering by 30 minutes when the full time had elapsed and he noticed nobody had submitted anything.

Some time around 9:00, I submitted my exam and walked to Mad Mex to meet Katy for margaritas (and dinner... but mostly margaritas). That helped quell the Linear Systems anxiety, but I'll still be happy if my grade is curved above 70%. Apparently, the average score on last year's final exam was somewhere in the 30-40% range, so perhaps I didn't do as poorly as I thought.

In the fall, my courses will all be of the applied physics variety (photonics in communication, nanoscale fabrication, and magnetics of some sort, I think), so I consider my intimate relationship with control systems over. That feels fantastic.

The only time "real" electrical engineering should resurface before I get my Ph.D. is when I have to take the Qual, short for qualifying examination, which is a series of brutal torture and ritual bleedings oral and written examinations that have some sort of new research requirements. I believe the Qual can only be taken once, and it must be passed. So, at some point, I really am going to have to learn some serious electrical engineering; I just hope it doesn't have to include control theory.

Anyway, I could ramble about engineering forever... or, I could go work on my paper(s) a bit more. How about the latter? Oh, good.

May 06, 2006

Barber Shop

My hair cut at Dan Cercone Hairstyling this afternoon provides the impetus for this bit of blogging bloggery.

The shop was warm and musty, and it smelled like old men, shaving cream, Barbicide, and aged cigar smoke. I walked through the door and, not wanting to look like a newcomer, sat in a chair near the door. The chair was long past its prime, and I hoped to not fall through the old slits in the decaying, brown vinyl, into a polyester filling nightmare. Looking up, I noticed Katy was right: the place was right out of the '50s. Even the cash register was one of those ancient machines with the big, lever-style keys.
The barber shop was only slightly more modern than this
I picked up one of several copies of the local paper sitting on the chair next to me and started to read the headline story, something about the Sago Mine affair in nearby West Virginia a couple months ago. Affirming the date on the paper was, in fact, today's, I read on.

One of the barbers was a Joe Pesci-looking fellow, certainly not out of place for the part of town: Bloomfield, Pittsburgh's Little Italy. Joe Pesci finished with the kid whose ears he was lowering, charged his mother ten bucks, and wondered, aloud, if anyone else was ready for a hair cut. I offered the opportunity to the other two men waiting in the vinyl chairs, but they declined, motioning toward their barbers of choice. Presumably, 40-year-old barber habits don't die easily.

I tossed the paper back into the chair from whence it came and approached Joe Pesci, greeting him and not quite inquiring after his wife, children, and the weather. We briefly discussed my hair, and he began the hair cut. It turns out Joe is actually Larry, and he's quite the comedian. He even has professional practice from ages ago. My hair cut experience was largely dominated by jokes referencing various ethnic and culture groups: Irish was first because he thought I looked Irish, and that was followed by a slew of Eastern European, Israeli, and gay jokes. While decidedly politically incorrect, most of his humor was, in fact, humorous.

My favorite joke was about members of the gay Mafia; the punchline is that when they're mad at you, they come to your house, and they don't break your legs — they break your coffee table's legs.

The comedy was occasionally punctuated by Larry's inquiries of my employment, projects, and so forth. I gave him the 15-second tour of the human circulatory system, highlighting the colors of the various types of blood cells and steering clear of complicated words like erythrocyte and leukocyte. After I described the artificial white blood cell project to him, he was enthralled and excited, and he uttered several expressions of amazement. It's a wonderful feeling to know the common man can so easily become agog over a project that is far beyond his intellectual grasp. Maybe there is hope for science, after all.

Larry's jokes continued until the end of the hair cut, which ended up leaving my hair a bit too long on the top, and we parted ways, each of us ten dollars richer.

I really enjoyed my experience at the barber shop today, and I look forward to the occasions in the future when I again have the opportunity to get a hair cut there. The ten dollars and half an hour I'll never get back have gone a long way toward helping me see the warm side of humanity, and that is especially important right now, during a time when my faith in my neighbors' abilities to think for themselves has been waning.

That's all I have for you today. I hope you enjoyed my story. I'm now going to read journal articles in preparation for my Distributed Systems exam on Monday.

May 05, 2006

Busy, busy!

Wow, am I busy!

I gave a presentation on a distributed authorization/authentication system this morning at 9:45, and I gave a talk on artificial white blood cells this afternoon at 2:00. I am close to finishing an incredibly long assignment that's due tomorrow afternoon at 4:30. I have two exams next Monday: one at 8:30 AM and one at 5:30 PM. I have a term paper for publication due next Friday at noon.

One week from now, I'll be trying to figure out exactly where the past five months have gone. They've been a whirlwind of homework, neighbor issues, homework, reading papers, homework, and lots of other things, and I'll be glad to finally have a couple days to do nothing. Of course, then, I'll be bored out of my mind, but at least I won't feel guilty for not doing school stuff.

The nanotech presentation today went very well. I think I spoke a bit quickly because I had a zillion slides and didn't want to take up more than my allotted time, but it seems like everything worked out. I fielded some difficult questions with some excellent answers, and I'm very happy about how the whole thing happened.

After class, I asked Elias if anyone at Carnegie Mellon does medical nanorobotics, and the closest he could figure was a guy by the name of Lee Weiss who does medical robotics. He's specifically interested in tissue engineering. Elias said I should talk to Lee (about doing my doctoral dissertation with him) and tell Lee that he sent me. The next time I get a chance to write a coherent, academic email, I'll see what I can do about Lee.

Since my brain is pretty much fried for the night, Katy and I are going to watch an episode of Farscape (we started at the first episode a few weeks ago, and she's loving it!), I'm going to drink a gin and tonic, and then it's bed time. I'll finish up that homework assignment in the morning.

From Picksberg, this is *mumble* *mumble*, signing off.