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June 30, 2006

Argentina v. Germany

Argentina lost to Germany in a penalty shoot-out today. Damn!

June 29, 2006

World News Editor

Now, there's a cool job: World News Editor for the BBC. Imagine all the stuff that person must get to read every day! A gentleman called Jon Williams currently has that job, and I stumbled upon one of his blog posts about the language used when reporting in Gaza. Clearly, much discretion must be used when reporting about events in sensitive regions, but his post is an interesting read, nonetheless. The comments on the post, however, seem somewhat juvenile.

Also, check out the giant freakin' tomatos growing in our garden.

Oh, and the next Big Love will air Wednesday, July 12. I wonder why HBO took a month off from the show and then moved it to a different day of the week?

June 27, 2006

New Ph.D. Advisor

I am pretty sure I'll have a new, fully working Ph.D. advisor that is medical nanotechnology-compatible in the next few weeks. It would probably happen sooner, but he's going on vacation on Thursday. I'm supposed to meet with one of his other graduate students later this week to get up to speed on one of the projects with which I may be involved.

The advent of a proper advisor in my life means I can officially switch from the M.S. program (-$43,000/yr.) to the Ph.D. program (+$2,300/mo.) and start working on some serious research stuff. I'll be finished with classes forever this December, and after that, it's smooth sailing to Dissertationville.

Meanwhile, Katy and I spent some time at the Engineering and Science library at CMU yesterday, and while she was working on research for a term paper assignment on modal logic, I was doing more research on the kidney. The research feels like the end of a jigsaw puzzle now; there are only a handful of pieces left, and they're all coming together pretty quickly. I still have to figure out how much blood can be in urine (possibly as a result of slicing gaping holes in the kidney's glomerulus and making it leak like a sieve) before the patient's situation becomes Really Bad, and then there are just a couple other little things to do before I can add this new research into the paper.

Oh, and it looks like the next Variably Recurring Trivia Night will take place on Friday, July 7. Again, we will want six teams of two people each, of which Katy and I will be one. If any of you, who do not already live here, want to spend a few days in Pittsburgh, this would be a good time to do that. We're looking forward to it!

June 25, 2006

An Uneventful Week

It's been over a week since I last posted here, and that's, as far as I can remember, something I've never done before.

I've been playing a lot of World of Warcraft since I got back from Argentina, and I now have a level 28 undead warlock, for whatever that's worth.

Very soon, I'll stop playing and start working on my kidney research again. I received a (very) lengthy email from the guy who "invented" the artificial white blood cell, detailing a large number of items to research in order to turn the paper into something publishable. To everyone's benefit, the paper will now be co-authored.

I've also been running just about every day after I wake up. I didn't run today because last night was Trivial Pursuit (and five bottles of wine) night. There was a good turn-out for the game, and it was lots of fun. We ended up with four teams of two people each, only two teams shy of the maximum, despite some people changing their minds about coming at the last minute.

Katy and I watched An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary about global warming by Al Gore, tonight. We just got back from the theater, in fact. The movie was very well made and echoes many of the grave concerns we scientists have about the future of our lovely blue planet. I highly recommend seeing the movie; it's only an hour and 40 minutes of your time, and it conveys a critically important message about the ability of humankind to sustain itself.

Also, Argentina beat Mexico 2-1 today! Vamos Argentina!

I think that's all the news I have at the moment. Aside from trivia night last night, things have been pretty uneventful here lately. I'll try to spice things up in order to have some more exciting entries later in the week.

June 17, 2006

Buenos Aires

The trip to Buenos Aires was amazing. Really, it was. There are few places I've visited that I will remember more fondly than that fantastic city.

My mother, my sister, and I arrived at Ezeiza Airport via the BusinessFirst cabin (the planes don't actually have a real first class cabin) of a Continental Airlines 767. When we met my dad outside customs at the airport and walked outside to wait for our remise, I saw the Argentina I imagined: bustling people, small cars, little traffic control, and many people eager to earn a few pesos by helping in some small way.

As the airport is about 35 km outside the city center, we rode in the remise along a tollway for about half an hour. Much of Buenos Aires I saw during this ride was old high-rise housing, home to many of the metropolitan area's more than 12 million residents. Incidentally, as a result of urban sprawl in the mid-20th century, the Aglomerado Gran Buenos Aires is the eighth largest metropolitan area in the world.

Our flight had arrived around 9:00 AM local time, so by the time we had settled into the hotel (Caesar Park, in La Recoleta) and slept for a couple hours, the prospect of eating lunch loomed in front of us. We wandered to a café through dirty urban streets surrounded by tall, ornate buildings, passing the new embassy of Vatican City on the way.
An outdoor café in San Telmo. Click to enlarge.
Somewhat tired and somewhat confused by the menu, I ended up with a glass of water and, essentially, a ham and butter sandwich.

I will spare you the details of the remaining visits to restaurants, but I would like to make some summary comments.

First, many of the meals we ate had a specific order to them: appetizer, main course, dessert, and then coffee. A meal like this requires a couple hours and involves at least one bottle of wine. Meals also tend to occur a few hours after they do here in the States: lunch-time starts around 1:00, and the beginning of dinner-time ranges from about 8:00 to 11:00. The coffee I drank in Argentina (usually an expresso doble) was some of the best I've ever had, and I never had anything even close to a mediocre cup of coffee there.

Also, Argentina has fantastic beef. The cows are mostly free range, grass fed, and never subjected to chemicals or hormones, so the beef has many very natural flavors that are foreign to much American meat.

And, many restaurants make their own mozzarella cheese and serve it as an appetizer along with sliced fresh tomatos and basil or pesto. This, along with some sort of cured meat plate, usually served as the first part of our meals

Lastly, the Argentines have also developed a wonderful dessert called the Don Pedro. This concoction is basically a Scotch float, topped with whipped cream and nuts. My dad and I had Don Pedros at a steak house the last night we were there (they were not on the dessert menu), and my mom had one on the flight back to Houston.

There is so much more to say about the wonder of Argentine food, but I will leave the exercise of experiencing it to the reader.

The second day we were in Argentina, we went to a tango show. The tango is a form of music and dance that emerged and developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the lower-class districts of Buenos Aires.
A tango store near the port in the district of Boca. Click to enlarge
It has a long and rich history, and it has since branched into two commonly-found styles in Argentina: the traditional tango and the "tourist" tango. The tourist tango, like that which we saw, is glitzy, somewhat like a fast-paced opera, and comes with a nice dinner and lots of wine and champagne. The show we saw at the Carlos Gardel theater (Carlos Gardel is widely known as the father of the tango) contained many very intimate acts and was consistently surprising in terms of the dancers' abilities. Everybody should see a show like this at least once. The pictures we took at the tango show are on my mom's camera, so I'll have to get those from her and display them here.

The following day, Sunday, we hired another remise and visited San Telmo and Boca.
Taylor and my mom in the doorway of the shop full of fantasy crafts. Click to enlarge
Every Sunday, the famous Fería de Antigüedades de San Telmo, an antiques and hand crafts fair, takes place in San Telmo, so we browsed that for a while and then visited some local shops. Taylor and my mom bought some very intricately crafted elven dolls (in U.S. Dollars out of my pocket, no less) in an especially neat shop full of fantasy stuff.

The part of Boca we visited is near the port where ships for the Argentine navy were once built. Much of the leftover paint was used on the sides of the buildings, so the neighborhood is very colorful. One street, in particular, was full of merchants selling art, and the combination of the colors in the art with the colors on the buildings was very pleasant.

A street in the Boca district of Buenos Aires. Click to enlarge

Tango art for sale, on display on a street in Boca. Click to enlarge
We also visited the port in Boca, near where I took the photo of the Caminito Tango shop, and though the water smelled ungodly, I managed to hold my nose and steady my camera (no tripod small enough to fit in my duffel bag, but it would make a nice Christmas present *grin*) long enough to get some photos for Taylor. I believe she's interested in painting some of them and is especially concerned with the reflections of the ships on the water (particularly the photo numbered 0534). The photos are here, and they are the full-size, real deal, not resized for screen resolution, not tweaked in Photoshop, wonderful data that came out of the camera, so please do not rip them off or do anything other than look at them unless you are my sister and I am aware that you are my sister.

La Recoleta Cemetery consuming my dad. Click to enlarge

Me, standing in front of the mausoleum of the Familia Duarte. The nameplate of Eva Perón is visible (top). Click to enlarge
Further adventures in Buenos Aires took my dad and me to La Recoleta Cemetery, where my dad deftly found the way to the mausoleum of Familia Duarte, the tomb under which Eva Perón is buried. It is said there are two sub-basements in the tomb, accessible by secret trap doors, that lead to her coffin. The story of Evita's corpse is very interesting; it includes cutting off her hands, necrophilia, and a number of other exciting things. It is well worth the brief read.

After the cemetery visit, my trip to Argentina was almost at a close. Of course, I have omitted a zillion other things about my trip in this post, but I could write a book just from my experiences there. I flew back to Pittsburgh yesterday evening, after spending two more days in Houston and then finding out how it feels (and smells) to be on a plane whose jet engine is leaking fuel (thanks, Continental!).
The cabin on the return flight, somewhere over Bolivia. Click to enlarge
Today's high temperature was a very ridiculous 88 degrees, so I am now the proud owner of a portable, 10,000 BTU window venting air conditioning unit. It actually feels quite nice in here now, but I'm sure I'll rethink that statement when I go upstairs to go to bed later.

Now, I'm going to read some emails, catch up on my Mensa mailing list, and probably play some World of Warcraft. It has apparently taken me just under three hours to write this entry — wow!

Also, a big Happy Father's Day to my dad, who enabled us to go on this extraordinary trip to Argentina. Kudos!

June 07, 2006

Argentina, Here I Come

I leave this evening for Houston, from where I will depart for Buenos Aires tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to the trip, though I'm not entirely sure what we'll be doing there.
A scene from a tango show
As far as I know, the purpose of this trip is still to go house hunting (or, rather, penthouse hunting), so I imagine Taylor and I will be off doing our own things much of the time. The only performance I'm certain we'll see is a tango show, which promises to be amazing. Fun fun fun! I'm making every effort to remember my camera on this trip.

I'm debating whether I should pick up one of those reference books on conversational Spanish to review on my flight. I think I can probably "wing it" with most of the Spanish I'll need, but it would be nice to have the book to ensure I don't make a fool of myself. Additionally, the dialect of Spanish spoken in Argentina, castellano rioplatense, is different in certain important ways from the Mexican I learned when I was younger. That reference book is sounding better and better...

When I get back from Argentina, I'll likely get back into nanotech mode, possibly get some new Ph.D. research, and maybe co-author a paper or two. In my free time, I suppose I'll play lots of video games. Summer just isn't what it used to be.


June 04, 2006

World Cup Daq

The BBC has, in the tradition of the Radio Five Sportdaq, started a specialized virtual stock market for the World Cup, the World Cup Daq. The idea is to buy and sell shares of teams in order to earn the more "money" than anybody else. Each player starts with £10,000, and shares of teams range from £1.00 to about £32.00 each.
The World Cup Daq trading screen. Click for full image
As with trading in real markets, fees are charged for transactions, dividends are distributed (based on square centimeters of press coverage!), and the stakes are high. It's tons of fun, and if you have any interest in World Cup 2006, you really should join. If you join, let me know your user ID, so I can add you to the league Katy and I started. No intimate knowledge of British currency is required. :)

In news of other diversions, I have been playing World of Warcraft, a massively multi-player online role-playing game (MMORPG), pretty frequently lately. Last night, I spent a few hours killing gnolls in order to get to the top of a tower in a keep, just so I could study a particular book shelf. Games like these aren't for everyone, but I really enjoy my time playing them.

Also, I'm still waiting to read more responses to the question about the worst presidents of the 20th century that was posed a few days ago.

June 03, 2006

Molecular Manufacturing

Molecular manufacturing is the wonderful idea of being able to precisely place atoms by mechanical means. It's a lot like trying to use a shipyard crane to lay bricks... or dominoes. And, tons of people are talking about ways to build this magic crane.

Howard Lovy wrote a blog post today about a molecular drive shaft built with this software called nanoENGINEER-1. The software basically allows you to take virtual atoms, put them all together in the configuration you want, and simulate whatever happens next. A bunch of big names are attached to nanoENGINEER-1: Mark Sims, Eric Drexler, Ralph Merkle... the list goes on.

Everybody wants molecular manufacturing to work. People like Drexler bleed theories about how to make it happen. But, what exactly does this entail?

Molecular manufacturing means a number of things, including manually overcoming interatomic forces, balancing electric (ionic) charges all over the place, preventing your tool tip from binding onto the object you're manufacturing, and a wide variety of other things that, at times, just don't seem like they can happen. That's not to say they won't happen — they just seem very unlikely, given my knowledge of the physics and engineering involved.

Anyway, I just wanted to point out that it bothers me that everyone's talking about molecular manufacturing, making pretty pictures and animations about molecular manufacturing, and writing long-winded articles about the glorious future of molecular manufacturing, but as far as I know, nobody is actually saying, "hey, let's go back to my lab and build some stuff."

Papers have been published left and right about equipment that can theoretically make atomically precise devices. Let's see it! Let's see a cube made of exactly 125 carbon atoms. Or the outline of a cube made of 44 carbon atoms. When I check out Nature or Science in a few weeks, I would love to see an AFM-generated (or similar) image of that cube on the cover of the issue, staring me in the face.

Anyway, that's my rant for this morning. I'm going to watch some Farscape.

June 02, 2006

Washington Steelers

Joking about Iron City beer and throwing passes with Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward, President George W. Bush welcomed the Pittsburgh Steelers to the White House today.
President Bush receives a Steelers jersey at the White House
Bush even received his own Steelers jersey from the president of the team. I hope he wears the jersey with pride. Maybe he can show it off next time he's in town.

A few days ago, Andrew asked me whom I would consider to be the worst United States President of the 20th century. As I was not alive for much of the 20th century and cannot rely on my own memories of that period, this question is difficult for me to answer. Following are some brief considerations I have made while thinking about this question, to the end of answering it.

President Warren G. Harding (#29: 1921 — 1923) ranks high on my list of worst presidents because of his involvement in the Teapot Dome scandal and in the Ku Klux Klan. If you are familiar with the phrase "tempest in a teapot," you will find a strong similarity in meaning (not to mention the coinage of the phrase) with the events of the scandal.

President Calvin Coolidge (#30: 1923 — 1929) was incredibly boring, very quiet, and didn't really do much for the country. He was not a powerful leader, and while some of his dismay in life may have been derived from the death of his son, the lack of poignance of his presidency is inexcusable. During these years, the country would have been better served by a more progressive leader.

President Richard M. Nixon (#37: 1969 — 1974) also makes the ranks, notably because of his involvement in the Watergate scandal and his eventual resignation from the Office of President. No president should ever end up resigning. I should also note that, although his actions to not necessarily merit a separate entry in this list, President Gerald R. Ford gave President Nixon a full pardon in 1974.

Virtually every president since George Washington has been involved in some sort of corruption or scandal, and I really dislike both those things. Corrupt government officials cause endless torment to people around the world, and while I suppose that's the nature of politics and power, it would be wonderful if corruption would just end. Alas.