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October 31, 2006

Harvard and MIT and Sick

I've spoken with most of you on the phone about how my hours at Harvard and MIT went this weekend. I think it would be appropriate to say I had a great time at both schools, and I look forward to attending one of them from next August.

One of the coolest things about Harvard itself is Harvard Yard. Upon arriving at Harvard Station via the subway, I walked up toward the surface and oriented myself. Big, black gates standing across the street told me I was very close to where I wanted to be, so I crossed an exceedingly busy Mass. Ave. and entered the gates, listening to the din of traffic and the stink of the city quickly fading away behind me. Harvard Yard is a very curious place: the city all but disappears into the background, and the serene environment becomes quite overwhelming. The air was cool and carried an aroma of cinnamon and cloves, a stark and pleasant contrast to Mass. Ave. fifty feet behind me. It seemed like walking into a painting, a surreal experience drawn out of an artist's imagination, engulfing me.

But, then, perhaps as a result of spending Friday walking and riding the T around Boston, I started getting sick Saturday evening, and it's gotten worse since then. My throat would basically be a lot happier somewhere other than my neck, I think. So, I've been drinking tons of tea and orange juice, and I'm even eating some organic spicy chili from Amy's Kitchen for breakfast right now. It would be a lot tastier if I could, well, taste more of it.

Anyway, I guess I should stop this mindless rambling and make my way to class, where I can cough and look unhappy and have a rather unpleasant time.

October 25, 2006

More Food Blogs

You may have noticed I added two new blogs to my blogroll, thus providing you with an even greater chance of having a heart attack at a young age.

Viaggi e Sapori is written by Orchidea, an Italian living in Stockholm who enjoys such wonderful things as involtini alla messinese.

Over at Cream Puffs in Venice, Ivonne writes about traditional dessert fare with a modern flair, like the cheesecake with apples and a brûlée top.

And, speaking of food, I just might try my hand at cooking a variation of Ruth Reichl's macaroni and cheese for dinner this evening. Why a variation? Because I hate recipes! :)

Bon apétit!

October 24, 2006

The Travel Season: Part 2

My annual travel season will begin sooner than I previously thought. I'll be off to Boston this Thursday, where I will spend several days hoping, among other things, that someone is taking good care of my cats. So as to not impose on Katy, to whom I would entrust their care more readily than anyone else in Pittsburgh, I'll probably just ask my next-door neighbor to feed and watch Dorian and Pixel.

This Friday, I will be at Harvard, and next Monday, I will be at MIT, speaking at length of nanorobots and doctoral studies and so forth. This weekend has the potential to provide some exciting opportunities for me, though I must admit to being somewhat nervous about it! I imagine I will provide an update on everything that happens there by this time next week, so you'll get to read all about how I've, perhaps, embarassed myself in front of various engineering faculty at two of the world's most prestigious schools. :)

While I'm not bathed in the heady glow of excellence emanating from Cambridge this weekend, I will be able to hang out with Taylor and with my aunt and uncle. Oh, and since it's now cold and dreary and snowy and stuff, I'll clearly have to spend some time in Newburyport at The Grog, rapt in the wonder of their clam chowder. Seems like a good weekend to me!

October 23, 2006


It is snowing. That is all.

October 20, 2006

The Travel Season Begins in Minnesota

I travel more than most people I know, and I log more miles per year on airplanes than many people do in their entire lives. The company I keep also has a tendency toward travel, and I enjoy speaking with them about their worldly adventures and comparing our experiences. In addition, new cities and new circumstances are made even better when one is joined by a friend. Perhaps this friend could even be that rare gem among the populous throngs and hoi polloi that happened to pique one's interest while sitting in an adjacent seat on a last-minute flight to a usually dismal place which, at the end of the three-hour journey, seemed newly fresh and bright and quite perfect indeed.

It is through this remark and its poignant meaning and history that I have discovered an overwhelming desire to explore the city of Minneapolis during, perhaps, the second weekend of November. The University of Minnesota provides a number of compelling academic reasons for my travel companion and I to enjoy a long yet brief respite from mutual absence, and this prospective meeting provides more than ample reason to become quite excited. In light of this excitement, it will be with great anticipation that I spend the days and weeks ahead.

October 18, 2006

Bloggers from Da 'Burgh

Thanks to the fine organizational skills of zp, I met with Katy today and headed over to Whole Foods for a little Pittsburgh blogger get-together. It was quite good to be able to put faces and personalities to a couple of the names I see so often in the blogosphere, although I might have been a little more involved in the conversation if I'd had another cup of coffee in the morning. As it was, I actually went into a Starbucks on my way home from Whole Foods, and after drinking that cup of coffee, I'm still not entirely awake, so maybe it wouldn't have made much of a difference at our shindig, after all.

When I finally arrived at home, by way of the 64A bus which was so bumpy I thought my brain might have rattled right out of my skull by the time I reached Squirrel Hill, I noticed the living room was very warm. I had called the realty agency in charge of this house yesterday before leaving my lab, and I complained that my furnace wouldn't turn on again and that I saw smoke coming out of the floor above the furnace. I can only assume they sent someone over here today to check it out, and that particular someone left the thermostat at a ridiculous temperature, somewhere between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature in the house is back down to comfortable levels now, and I can only hope my furnace doesn't start acting up again. (Or, maybe that would be a good thing, and they could pay for a replacement furnace that's 60 years newer than the current one.)

Last night, I was instructed to watch V for Vendetta, and I now have it in my possession, so I believe some part of this evening will be devoted to doing that. Otherwise, I need to tidy up a bit so my mom doesn't excoriate me tomorrow when she arrives to stay for a long weekend. And, presently, I think I'll steep some of The Republic of Tea's amazing rooibos.

October 16, 2006

Funny Old Things

I went to the Engineering & Science Library at the university today, and I used their microfilm machine to scan a three-page article on mouse genetics from a 1966 issue of Nature. They had a neat interface that allowed me to simply email the scan to myself, so now that I'm home, I've printed a copy of it. The author of the article immediately before the one in which I am interested is signed by one B. D. Lake, whose address for correspondence is quite curious:

Department of Morbid Anatomy,
Hospital for Sick Children,
Great Ormond Street, London, W.C.1.

Things just aren't what they used to be, are they?

October 12, 2006

Electric Heat vs. Gas Heat: Round One

I have previously mentioned I am going to use electric heat this winter instead of keeping my vintage 1940s gas furnace operating full time.
One of the heating cost calculations
Only one of my planned ensemble of heaters has yet to arrive on my patio, so I am starting to get a good idea of what the electricity and time requirements for the heaters will be this winter.

I created a spreadsheet to calculate what it will cost to run my electric heaters, and the most liberal analysis yields a grand total of about $85 per month, with my nominal estimate somewhere between $70 and $75 per month. Which is peanuts compared to the $400 I would have been expecting if I had stuck with just the furnace.

As it is, I will still use the furnace to keep the house around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but the electric heaters will supplement that and provide localized heating in certain rooms, which will hopefully end up having mean temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit when they are in use.

Because the furnace is so old ("Mawn-creef, good gawd," said the yinzer furnace repairman), I don't have any way of calculating, with any appreciable precision, how much money I will be saving by using electric heat, but I'm sure it will be quite a lot. I hope to develop a method for testing the efficiency of my furnace as the winter wears on, and I'll post my findings here as they occur!

October 11, 2006

First Freeze of 2006

Well, I guess that's all I have to say about that. :)

October 10, 2006

Cubist at Heart

Cézanne, Picasso, and Braque are generally regarded to be the fathers of cubism. Their styles lent abstraction to the real world depicted by impressionist artists and prompted people to look at art from many different perspectives, both physically and mentally.
Accordionist by Pablo Picasso
Cubist paintings tend to have many surfaces, intersecting at odd angles and giving the viewer a distorted sense of the subject.

If one were to translate cubism from the realm of art to the practices of science and engineering, it would provide a deeper understanding of the fundamental methods by which the best researchers are able to consider situations and solve problems. It is often advantageous to look at one's research from many angles, as this provokes a richer set of paths toward an eventual solution. In my work, this is imperative, as I must constantly find balance among many constraining ideas, much in the same way a cubist painter would search a subject for facets of artistic beauty before considering how to incorporate them into the canvas.

One of my Mensa people found an art and personality quiz at the BBC, which analyzes the relationship between a person's art style preferences and personality traits. It's pretty short, so it's worth a look, even though it told me I should be interested in impressionism instead of cubism.

That said, I'm off to get a hair cut from Gino on Murray. :)

October 04, 2006


I've mentioned before that I live in a heavily Jewish neighborhood and that I live on the same block as a synagogue. One of the things that results from this is that I get to learn a bit about Jewish culture and holidays.

Today, I heard lots of hammering and sawing on my street, which I figured was just somebody building some random thing. Well, it continued after it got dark, and it was still going on at 9:00, so I asked my neighbor if he knew anything about the construction that was happening.

It turns out this is the beginning of the holiday of sukkot, and these people are building structures of the same name outside their houses. They erect these temporary shelters and eat and sleep in them, to remember the days after the Israelites left Egypt and were wandering the desert, sleeping sometimes in similar structures.

With the unpredictable weather we've been having here lately, I don't think I would want to spend my nights under a plywood roof, but it seems they have a good reason for doing it, so more power to them.

October 01, 2006

Furnace Trouble

My furnace doesn't work. The pilot light is on and the fan can blow, but the heating flame doesn't start. My neighbor, Bob, and I spent about 15 minutes today playing with my thermostat and various furnace bits to try to get it to work, but we just don't possess the magic that can make this happen. So, I'm going to call my loser realty management people and get them to send someone out to fix it. While they're here, they can take a look at my oven, too, which apparently also didn't work for the previous tenant.

Aside from furnace idiocy, today was pretty boring for me. In fact, I haven't really done much other than sit in this very chair since I got out of bed. It made for a decent Saturday after a busy week, but I feel like I should have been doing things, instead. Ah, well.

The largest of the polymer capsules from last week's batch. Click to enlarge
This past week, I gave two talks, sat through a number of meetings, sent about 100 emails, crammed an entire photonics homework assignment into a single evening, built the polymer capsules I've been designing with our 3-D printer, inhaled more solder than I've inhaled for about five years, attended an extra photonics class because my professor will be gone next Wednesday, went to an oral surgeon appointment, moved my study into a different room in my house, purchased six electric heaters of various types and configurations, had my dining room windows replaced, assisted Taylor with her wireless network at MassArt, and was very occupied otherwise, as well. Maybe I did deserve to have a lazy Saturday, but it still doesn't feel quite right.

I'm also looking forward to welcoming Tamara to Pittsburgh for a three day visit next weekend. She will surely enjoy the respite from her work in Dallas, and I will enjoy her company. Hopefully, I'll be able to come up with something more interesting for us to do than sit around idly and watch Star Trek, like I've been doing all day today. And, hopefully, the furnace will work by then, as it's getting more than a little nippy here.

Oh, and by the way... welcome to October!