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December 26, 2006

Post-Christmas Haze

In the annual post-Christmas haze, people reluctantly say goodbye to their family and friends in order to get back to the grind at work and at school. This year, I've had a wonderful Christmas, and I'll be saying goodbye to everybody in Houston in a couple days, but I don't really know what's in store for me after that. I'll go back to Pittsburgh and possibly have no obligations for another eight months. It's a very strange feeling.

Yesterday, while my family, Arin, and I ate my dad's fantastic bouillabaisse (complete with lobster and crab) for dinner, Dorian joined us on a tall chair. He sat politely and ate the fish and other dinner bits my mom fed him, while wearing the customary Christmas crown.

What a good, silly kitty.

December 22, 2006

In Houston for Christmas

I've gone through all the end-of-semester rigamarole, spent a few days hanging out and drinking wine with various people in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas, and landed successfully in Houston, where I will spend the next seven or eight days hanging out and drinking wine with various people. Including Arin, who will be here Saturday.

Tonight's flight was wrought with turbulence and an army sergeant's elbow taking over the left-hand side of my seat. He was nice guy, though, so I didn't complain. Ah well. It was nice to finally get in the (hired) car, where the seat was warm, the air smelled particularly pleasant, and the suspension was well tuned and not subject to changes in the configuration of surrounding air masses.

I'll update later during my vacation as events unfold, but for now, I'm just glad to be with the family.

December 15, 2006

The Missing Pillow Case

I'm quite at a loss for the location of my second flannel pillow case, and as a result, the related pillow has been alone, naked, and neglected on the bench in my bedroom for at least a week. I've been too busy lately with presentation-giving and paper-writing to call in the local SAR team to look for it, but I got a chance to take a look today, and I can't find it at all. Even Dorian has given up. Alas, it seems that pillow will remain in lonely isolation for some time more.

My back has been hurting this evening, possibly as a result of an unfortunate and rather nasty fall I took down my stairs last weekend. I didn't think I suffered any serious, lasting injury as a result of the fall, but perhaps I need to rethink my analysis? Maybe I'm not made of steel, after all. :(

One more paper to go, and it seems I'll have a masters degree. You can start buying champagne and flowers, but don't uncork the bottles just yet!

Oh, and by the way, if you're thinking of opening a bottle of the Bogle 2004 cabernet sauvignon, well, I first suggest not doing that at all, but if you insist, at least let it breathe for a solid hour before you take your first sip. Silly California wines... I feel like a sucker every time.

December 11, 2006

A Comic I Like

I don't know that I've ever really enjoyed any comic in particular, especially one on the web, but I guess I just wasn't looking hard enough. I found xkcd by way of a Slashdot article, and I've basically spent the last half hour of my life going through the comic strips.


An exemplary comic from xkcd. Click to enlarge

The comic even has an an RSS feed... it just doesn't get better than this!

December 09, 2006

Alpha-Hemolysin

I mentioned a couple days ago that I still have one more presentation and one more paper to finish before I'm done with the semester. Today, I spent a lot of time figuring out how I'm going to proceed for that project, and I decided I'd write about the sensing applications of the α-hemolysin molecule.


Ribbon representations of the α-hemolysin heptamer [1]. Click to enlarge
On the right, you can see a couple images of the α-hemolysin molecule (a top view and a side view), which basically looks like a hollow mushroom. Using a specific chemical process, it is possible to insert this molecule into a membrane, like a cell wall, so that the hollow part of the mushroom provides a sort of tunnel from one side to the other.

Once the tunnel is established, a probe can be pushed through it, and the probe can sense what sort of molecules are on the other side of the membrane. This is important for distinguishing DNA molecules that are different by, for example, only one base pair, which has significant implications for a number of biophysical applications. If you want to read all about it, ask me for a copy of my paper next week. Meanwhile, enjoy the pretty pictures.

Since I've been reading a million articles on these transmembrane sensing applications all day, I think it's about time to order some pizza or some Chinese food or something. I haven't done any grocery shopping in about a week, and I've eaten just about every meal since then at home, so my kitchen is pretty poorly supplied at the moment. My neighbor wants me to put some Christmas lights up tomorrow (perhaps to complement the giant, inflatable, light-up Tigger and Pooh display on his front porch — if you live in Pittsburgh, you need to cruise down Phillips Ave. and see this monstrosity some time), so maybe I'll get some groceries while I'm out buying lights.

Anyway, it's pizza time!

[1] L. Song, M. R. Hobaugh, C. Shustak, S. Cheley, H. Bayley, and J. E. Gouaux, "Structure of staphylococcal α-hemolysin, a heptameric transmembrane pore," Science, vol. 274, pp. 1859-1866, 1996.

December 08, 2006

Post Paper

Slowly, I inch closer to the end of my masters degree here at Carnegie Mellon. It's been an exciting year and a half, and I only have one presentation and one paper left to go. I even have a PDF of exactly how my degree will look when it arrives in the mail in February (March, maybe?).


Fallen snow on my street yesterday. Click to enlarge
It's been snowing on and off for, oh, 36 hours or so, as you can see in the photo on the right. Pity, however, it won't stay around for much longer; the temperatures this weekend are supposed to be back up in the 40s, I guess, with clear and sunny skies to boot.

Well, I guess it's a slow news day because the only other thing I can think to write here is that the Steelers beat the crap out of the Browns yesterday, 27-7. That's good for morale around here, since the Browns are the football analog of blood enemies to the people of Pittsburgh.

This entry can't get any more boring than it already is, so I'll let you go here. Enjoy the photo of the snow... I'm enjoying the view out my window. :)

December 05, 2006

Kitties Go Yawn

Well, I've been continuing my paper on quantum cascade lasers today, so I don't have anything too interesting to tell you at the moment. I thought it might be a good idea, however, to follow Katy's lead and post strange pictures of odd cats doing weird things.

Oh, and by the way, it's snowing. Just a little. But, I'm still hoping my lawn will be white in the morning. :)

December 03, 2006

Busy, Busy, Busy!

In the time I've been in Pittsburgh since the Delta incident, I've been so incredibly busy that I haven't had time to follow up on the story. It's a pity, too, because the story really is quite amazing in many ways. To sum it up, the jerk sitting in seat 1D yelled mostly at me but also at other people in the first class cabin for the entire duration of the flight, he almost planted his hand in my face when he was struggling to sit down after stumbling to the bathroom, he constantly told me his dad (whoever he is) was going to cut science research funding to the entire state of Pennsylvania, and I'm pretty sure he got arrested by the Pennsylvania State Police who were waiting at the gate in Pittsburgh. For my part, Delta refunded me the 45,000 SkyMiles I used to take the four flights that weekend. I wish people like that Just Didn't Exist.

In more pleasant news, I did, in fact, have an absolutely fantastic time with Amy in Alabama and then again over Thanksgiving in Houston. Amy joined my family and me for Thanksgiving dinner and other events, and she may well think my mom is just on the amazing side of insane, my dad is really cool, and Taylor and Josh are quite awesome. The long walk from terminal E to terminal C in Houston after going through security and leaving Amy was one of the most upsetting things I've had to do in a while.

Since I've been back in Pittsburgh, I've basically been working on quantum cascade laser research. I'm giving a presentation on it tomorrow and submitting a paper on it on Wednesday. The presentation will highlight the quantum and semiconductor structure of the device and then go over recent technological advances and its current uses. The paper will go over all that and much more, though I don't think I'm going to be able to provide any new research contributions, like I did in the spring. Quantum cascade lasers just aren't as interesting as artificial white blood cells and kidney navigation, after all.

Well, I just thought I'd give everyone an update and a poor excuse for not finishing my Delta story. I need to revise my presentation a little more before heading off to bed, so that's all for now!

Oh! By the way, check out the Night Hotel in New York City. Bwahahaha... :)