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January 14, 2009

There I Go

After not blogging for many months, I've decided to start blogging again. My new blog is still on this web site but in a different spot. It's published by Blogger now, since I detest having to worry about managing my own blogging platform and its various security patches, upgrades, and so forth. Blogger, which is a part of Google, gets to take care of that now. Hooray!

Come join me at the new cww.blog! today!

June 29, 2008

Closing the Blog

After many months of not posting anything useful here, I'm finally deciding it's time to close this blog.

The blog, itself, will remain available for posterity (and to jog my memory about things once in a while!), but I'm not going to post anymore, and comments will no longer be allowed.

To those of you who have posted insightful and interesting comments here over the years: thank you very much for your participation!

May 22, 2008

Moved to Silicon Valley

I'm in Silicon Valley now! More details to follow.

April 29, 2008

Moving to Silicon Valley

As most of you are now aware, I am moving to Silicon Valley. That means this web site and all other web sites I host will be off-line for the duration of the move, which, depending on truck routes and all that other crap, could be up to about two weeks.

Exciting!

April 11, 2008

April

We're well into April, and it's been a few weeks since I've said anything here. For shame.

The three-year anniversary of my blog is coming up in May, but I fear the content I'm able to contribute here may be petering out. Writing about road blocks and orange juice and other things like that can only sustain me for so long, after all.

It would be nice to tell you about beer festivals and museums and travel, but, quite frankly, I've hardly gone anywhere lately. I may make an appearance at the American Craft Beer Fest in June, though, and if you're in the Boston area, you're welcome to come along!

March 27, 2008

Orange juice


Jugo de naranja
I love orange juice. And, what red-blooded, healthy American doesn't?

There's a problem with loving orange juice in America, though: we have awful oranges!

I just came across a BBC article (warning: it's from 2006) about Brazil's orange trade, and it rekindled my desire for really good orange juice. The people in Florida and other southern states may think they know how to grow oranges and make amazing juice, but when compared with Brazilian orange growers, those southerners certainly have a lot to learn.

About this time last year, I spent two weeks in Buenos Aires and drank, quite literally, gallons of orange juice and grapefruit juice that had been produced in Brazil and other places in South America. Normally, I wouldn't quite drink gallons of the stuff in two weeks, but it was just incredible! The flavors were so strong and sweet that, when I returned to Pittsburgh, fruit juice tasted like little more than water.

The difference wasn't just in the strength of the juice. It was an all-around different taste, and if the boxes of orange juice hadn't been labeled jugo de naranja and stamped with pictures of oranges, I may have never realized I was drinking something that came from what we Americans naively call an orange.

I have searched for juice from Brazilian fruits in grocery stores across the northeastern United States since my orange juice revelation, but I have come up dry, empty-handed, and decidedly unjuiced. Where do I find this life-giving nectar?

March 10, 2008

Road Safety Checkpoint

Today, Newark's finest have implemented a road safety checkpoint on the street below my apartment. Ostensibly, it's there to check for seat-belts and inspection stickers, but I wonder what else they do?

The officer apparently asks some percentage of drivers to pull over to the side of the road and submit to a quick "safety" inspection of their vehicle. However, I've seen a few cars and a utility van towed already.

I found a Road Block Registry for New Jersey on the web, but it mainly seems like a bunch of complainers. I'd probably complain, too, if I were delayed by a checkpoint on my way to work or I thought I were being racially profiled by the police. Unfortunately, I was unable to briefly locate any other substantial web-based documentation of these checkpoints.

At any rate, I took some pictures. Enjoy.






Road Safety Checkpoint, Newark, NJ. Click to enlarge

February 21, 2008

21st Century Engineering Challenges

Today, Slashdot links us to an article at Network World about the 14 greatest engineering challenges for the 21st century. An interesting assortment of people, including my buddy Bob Langer at MIT, came up with this list, and it sounds like they hit the nail on the head in most respects. "Engineer better medicines" must have been one of Bob's entries.

The most reasonable of these goals, I think, is to "make solar energy affordable." We've come leaps and bounds in the past 10 years in this field, thanks to generous venture capital funding and some really bright guys who, incidentally, are also mostly graduates of MIT.

The most vague of these goals must be "engineer the tools for scientific discovery." I suppose that probably means building better microscopes, telescopes, and tweezers (not kidding), but perhaps its wording could be somewhat more definite?

Overall, setting goals like these is a Good Thing. I can only hope the NSF is actually going to form task forces and invest heavily in achieving these goals.

February 19, 2008

Under the Weather

According to WebMD's cold and flu symptoms comparison chart, which I have bookmarked, I have a bit of a cold. It started Sunday night with a sore throat, and it's blossomed into wondrous aching and general grossness since then. I'm also blaming it for a wild dream I had last night, in which Arin was a tabby cat (think a gray Puss in Boots from Shrek the Third, complete with huge eyes but without Antonio Banderas), and he and I were having coffee outside a café before heading off to catch a flight.

In other news, I would like to thank everyone for their enjoyable comments on my video with Dorian from the weekend, both on this blog and on YouTube. I showed the video and comments to Dorian, and, based on his new critical acclaim, he now thinks he will be the next Puss in Boots. He doesn't seem to understand he needs to work on that sexy Antonio Banderas voice first!

February 17, 2008

YouTube Debut

Dorian and I are on YouTube now!

February 13, 2008

Kim Chi in Space

I love kim chi, South Korea's spicy pickled cabbage staple, and so does Ko San, South Korea's first astronaut. Kim chi starts off with the fermentation of cabbage, a process that produces a number of bacteria that would potentially be harmful to have aboard the International Space Station, however, and to combat this, scientists have devised a version of kim chi that does not include those "necessary" bacteria. Read more about Mr. Ko and his sterile kim chi at the BBC.

Also, check out this photo of an amazing kim chi market stall. Mmmmmm...

February 08, 2008

Super Tuesday Redux

Every American who reads this dusty old thing is familiar with Super Tuesday and the fact that it happened this past week. And, if you aren't, well, you should come out from under that rock for a while and read the news.

Mitt Romney dropped out of the Republican race after spending $35 million and getting a few doughnuts and cups of coffee for it. John McCain is the comeback kid at 71, according to the BBC, and Mike Huckabee probably really wants to be McCain's vice president. Ron Paul, the grassroots campaigner from Texas, didn't fare too well, but nobody really expected him to fare well, anyway.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are roughly tied, and, well, are there really any other Democrat candidates?

Since the 2004 presidential election started heating up, Andy Tanenbaum has run a lovely election prediction site at electoral-vote.com, which I use to keep an eye on various interesting elections around the country. It's worth keeping in your bookmarks or on your del.icio.us page.

February 02, 2008

del.icio.us

I've often wondered when the Internet would be mature enough to allow people to save their own content in an easily accessible and globally usable way. We're getting to that point, and one of the shining examples of the personal content evolution, if you will, is del.icio.us.

This service allows people to save web bookmarks, share them with friends, and even recommend bookmarks to other people. I started using it yesterday after exploring its capabilities and deciding it was exactly what I was seeking: bookmarks I can use anywhere!

I've added a link to my del.icio.us bookmark index at the top of every index page on my blog. If you ever find yourself at work, wondering what you bookmarked at home, or if you simply would like to share links easily, it's definitely worth checking out. Meanwhile, go have a look at my bookmarks!

January 04, 2008

It's 2008 Already?

Well, it's 2008, and I haven't updated my blog since December 16, 2007. I really haven't been doing much that's noteworthy lately, but for your reading enjoyment, I'll post a brief summary of it here.

I was in Houston for Christmas and then snagged Helen and drove a calm and uneventful but exhausting 24 hours with her up to New York City. She was here for a whopping 36 hours before flying back to Texas to attend to a family emergency. She returns tomorrow, and hopefully, we can peel her car out of my neighbor's extra parking space, which he very generously lent us.

I traded (some of) the past three days, and I had my most successful week so far. It's encouraging, but there's still tons of learning and trial-and-error to go.

Meanwhile, there's this addictive Nintendo Wii destroying the last of my will to be productive. On that note...

December 16, 2007

Meez

What a fun way to waste some time... check out Meez.

Here I am with my penguin!

In other news, we had a Nor'easter here today, and for the next 24 hours or so, we're expecting freezing stuff to fall from the sky in various forms and wind gusts up to 45 mph. Here's hoping the PATH train isn't suffering awful delays in the morning.

December 02, 2007

Calm Before the Storm


Snow in Newark. Click to enlarge
The New York and New Jersey area's first accumulation of snow this season happened this morning, creating a beautiful white cover over the homes and streets around my apartment. With virtually no wind and a pleasant 25- to 34-degree range of temperatures throughout the afternoon, today has culminated a relaxing first weekend of December.

Of course, tomorrow, that will all change. The National Weather Service made the following statement at 4:18 PM this afternoon.

The Wind Advisory is now in effect from 1 PM Monday to 3 am EST Tuesday.

West to northwest winds 10 to 20 mph Monday morning will increase to 25 to 35 mph with gusts in excess of 50 mph by midday Monday in the wake of rapidly deepening low pressure. These strong winds will continue into Monday night... before the sustained winds and strongest gusts begin to weaken.

Wonderful. I'm almost shivering, just reading that.

November 30, 2007

Structure Fire in Newark

From my perch high atop Newark, New Jersey, I bring you a photo of a raging structure fire about one or one-and-a-half miles southwest of here. Exciting!


Structure fire in Newark. Photo taken at 5:26 PM on November 30, 2007. Click to enlarge

An appropriate end to a really awful day of trading, a train collision in Chicago, and a hostage situation in New Hampshire.

November 10, 2007

Free Rice

For every word in this vocabulary test you choose correctly, 10 grains of rice will be sent through the United Nations World Food Program by the advertisers on the Free Rice page to poverty-stricken locations around the world. Read more about it.

My "vocab level" in the game swings between 39 and 42. The highest level is 50, with very few people scoring 48 and above. What's yours?

November 04, 2007

DARPA Urban Challenge

The DARPA Urban Challenge took place this morning in Victorville, California, where 11 teams let loose their fully automated robotic vehicles on a course designed to determine which robot can autonomously handle urban driving the best.

I'm happy to report that Carnegie Mellon's Tartan Racing was one of only three contestants to cross the finish line. Virginia Tech and Stanford were the other two teams. Apparently, the course was different for each robot, so the judges are still figuring out which team really finished first.

Two other competitors, the robots from MIT and Cornell, ended up in a funny, slow-motion collision.

Go Tartan Racing!

(Update at 7:49 PM: Carnegie Mellon's Tartan Racing Team is granted the first prize, of $2 million. Stanford finished in second place with $1 million, and Virginia Tech in third with $500,000. Go Tartans!)

(Update at 8:22 PM: This news is now officially covered on the Carnegie Mellon web site.)

November 03, 2007

Signs of Winter

As Hurricane Noel passed the New York City area today, we had high winds and a bit of rain under dark and cloudy skies. With a high of 49 degrees, Noel provided a much-needed segue from the unnecessarily balmy weather of the past couple months into more pleasant winter conditions.

Earlier today, I was set up to take a panoramic picture of the reds, yellows, and oranges that make up most of the tree-tops to the west, but when it came time to hit the trigger, the rain started pouring. Rather than sacrifice my camera to whatever the rain brings down from the skies above the New York City metro area, I capped it and walked back inside.

Soon, I hope to have the opportunity to take another panorama. The unending miles of bright, colorful trees are a sure sign the weather is becoming nicer, but about five percent of those trees are already stripped bare of their leaves. Photos of bleak, lifeless flora generally just don't evoke the same sort of warmth and exuberance, so I need to be quick about it! When the masterpiece is finally created, I'll be sure to post it here.

So far, I'm quite enjoying November.

October 27, 2007

Empty Blog

Well, this page has been empty for a while. Sorry about that!

I don't have much to report, other than day trading is going well, the Red Sox are kicking ass, I finished watching all 10 seasons of Stargate SG-1 today, and I had a wonderful time with Helen in Dallas last weekend. The weather has turned cooler, and the forecast is predicting lows in the 30s and 40s for four out of the next five days. Excellent.

I hope all is well with you!

October 13, 2007

Virgin Mobile IPO


Virgin Mobile's banner outside the New York Stock Exchange last Thursday. Click to enlarge
Two days ago, Virgin Mobile (NYSE: VM) had an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. Sir Richard Branson and crew rang the opening bell, and there were attractive women dressed as angels walking around the Exchange floor. It was quite a big deal and fun to watch, especially since Branson is just as eccentric as he is wealthy. CNBC even aired footage of him base-jumping following the opening bell.

Walking past the front of the Exchange on Broad Street later in the day, I saw the giant red banner pictured to the right; along with a big, red carpet; a stage presumably to be used for a concert in the afternoon (though, it rained, so I don't know what happened with that); and those lovely angels milling about. There was also a sound system playing the song "Maniac", which I thought was particularly appropriate for something associated with Sir Richard.

While I thought the fanfare surrounding the Virgin Mobile IPO was rather extreme for Wall Street but nonetheless entertaining, it seems Soleil Securities didn't feel the same way. In the afternoon, they initiated coverage on the Virgin stock with a "sell" rating. Ouch.

October 08, 2007

Political Compass

I was browsing Wikipedia today and found an interesting article on the Political Compass. Previously, I've found those types of tests are biased or not thorough enough to be accurate, but this one seems spot-on.

My result and the presumed results of world leaders are below. Perhaps you would also like to take the test? Let us know how you score!

My actual score was 0.25 (economic neutral) by -4.31 (socialist libertarian).




October 02, 2007

Candidates' Capital Gains

In next year's presidential election, I will not vote for Barack Obama. This is because he wants to raise capital gains taxes through the roof. All my income is capital gains, and it's already taxed at 35% (maximum), so I doubt anything else he has to say is going to change my mind on the matter.

Hillary has apparently said something about the possibility of raising capital gains taxes to "help the middle class", which is one of her big campaign themes. I can't find anything about her taxation intentions on her web site, but that declaration does not bode well for my vote, either.

I wonder about the other candidates, though? Aside from those two items about Obama and Hillary, I haven't heard much from the potential candidates about capital gains taxation. Have you?

September 20, 2007

The Economics of Street Charity

I've spent a fair amount of time in cities, living, working, learning, hanging out, you name it. As diverse as the cultures, economics, and opportunities of cities across the world may be, however, they always share one thing in common: the street beggar.

This person comes in many forms and may even not be noticed as a beggar at first glance. The messy drunks sitting on dirty sidewalks while wearing torn clothing are probably the easiest to spot, but I've also been approached by a guy who made up a freestyle rap involving my name and occupation, a migratory South African with a story about being held at gunpoint and forced to give up all his cash, and a lady who thought her shoes might have been in Montana. Those odd things happened in Portland, Buenos Aires, and Seattle, respectively.


A New York City hot dog vendor. Image borrowed from hu:User:Totya at Wikipedia
A bit more than a month ago, Stephen Dubner wrote a blog entry about street charity over at The New York Times. To some friends of his, who include Mark Cuban (and whose succinct response is my favorite), he posed the following question.

You are walking down the street in New York City with $10 of disposable income in your pocket. You come to a corner with a hot dog vendor on one side and a beggar on the other. The beggar looks like he’s been drinking; the hot dog vendor looks like an upstanding citizen. How, if at all, do you distribute the $10 in your pocket, and why?

The article, titled Freakonomics Quorum: The Economics of Street Charity, is very interesting and definitely worth a read.

The situation of concern is far more academic than it is a practical treatment of reality (since both beggars and hot dog vendors are everywhere in New York City, for example), but I provide my answer to it here, nonetheless. Four years ago, I gave a $20 bill to a beggar to eliminate any future moral objection I might have to walking past a beggar without so much as a glance. Thus, I feel my "street charity" work is complete, and if, at any point during the remainder of my life, I feel the need to further assist the impoverished, uneducated, war-stricken, or neglected, I will write a large check and send it to an aid organization that operates in Africa. As such, if I were in the situation described by Dubner, I might buy a hot dog (with chili, cheese, and onions, thanks), but I would not give $10 or any portion thereof to the beggar.

Also, in a peculiar twist of fortune, it should be noted I found his article by searching for information on the nutrition of vendor-bought hot dogs.

September 13, 2007

Six Weeks of Studying Pays Off

I passed my Series 7 exam today with a score of 86.4% (216 correct out of 250), well above the 70% required to pass and a far cry from the 73% national average score. The two parts of the exam took about three hours to complete, only half the allotted six hours. I can't say as much for the guy sitting next to me, who started before I did and was still on the first part when I started my second part, after I took a 45 minute break. Ah, well, I guess these things come more easily to certain people!

Tired, mentally exhausted, and still upset about waking up before 6:00 AM today, I think it's time to play some video games and veg out. I start work at 9:15 Monday morning, so I have three days to do absolutely nothing. Fantastic.

September 08, 2007

In Times Square with Aidan

My friend Aidan was in New York City yesterday for some interviews, so we met for dinner at Triomphe, which was fantastic. After spending a few hours there, Aidan wanted to check out Times Square, so we dodged tourists for a couple blocks and exchanged group photos with some other people standing in the middle of all the fuss. The upshot of this is the following picture, which, well, shines an interesting light on how people look in the glow of Times Square, I guess.


Click to enlarge

After visiting Times Square, we had a Scotch or two at St. Andrew's and parted ways. Two and a half hours mostly involving standing on train platforms later, I walked through my front door, took a couple Tylenol, and resigned myself to sleep. It was an exciting night, and it was really good to see Aidan again.

September 06, 2007

Luciano Pavarotti

Luciano Pavarotti, one of only a few true opera legends of our time and, arguably, the most globally well-known artist of the past century, has passed away today. He died of kidney failure at his home after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer. The BBC is covering the story.

I have been a fan of opera since the mid-to-late 1990s, after being exposed to a selection of operatic works during my time with my high school's Academic Decathlon team. I still have the CD that was provided as part of that program, and it remains one of my favorite compilations of opera music. In fact, a number of my friends have requested copies of it over the years because it provides such a varied range of musical styles and evokes the entire gamut of emotions.

The world will remember Pavarotti alongside other great contemporary artists like Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Frank Sinatra, and Andy Warhol. I'm sure the Italians will have an amazing memorial service for him, and it is truly unfortunate I will not be able to attend.

August 28, 2007

Studying on the Beach


Study material on the beach
Last Friday, I drove to Massachusetts to spend some time with family at a party on Sunday. Leaving New York City by way of Connecticut on a Friday afternoon is insane: the traffic was bumper-to-bumper on I-95 and CT-15 (I switched highways in Norfolk to see if one was better than the other) almost all the way to I-91. By the time I got to Massachusetts, the sun was beginning to set, and the traffic became much more favorable.

The party's attendees were relatives from the Massachusetts and New Hampshire area, including New Hampshire's most famous person. We had loads of fun, as always, and I've finally been roped into getting a kilt in the tartan of our beloved Clan MacLeod. Apparently, the best place to get a kilt is Atholl Brose, a store run by an old witch in west Boston. Exciting. I don't know when I'll get the chance to wear it, except, perhaps, to The New Hampshire Highland Games, which my sister and I would like to check out soon-ish. I won't have my kilt for this year's games, though, I'm afraid.

Yesterday, still on the island and enjoying the weather, I decided to spend some time studying for the Series 7 exam on the beach. The picture above shows my studying arrangements, complete with bright yellow beach chair overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. I spent two or three hours studying there before the chair started becoming uncomfortable, and I accomplished quite a lot.

Now, I'm back at home in New Jersey, with my cats whom my parents smuggled from Houston to Boston on Saturday. The return drive wasn't as bad as last Friday's drive, but I am compelled to point out using the Cross Bronx Expressway around 5 PM is a horrible idea. That said, I still managed to shave about 90 minutes off the time it took to get to my destination in Massachusetts.

I hope all you fine readers had a wonderful weekend and were able to experience at least some of the beautiful weather that appeared across most of the country on Sunday.

August 21, 2007

Tamara Visits the Big Apple


Saoirse, freshly awake, on a pillow on my couch
Tamara and her baby kitten spent some time here this week and last, and we had a great time hanging out and doing touristy stuff in Manhattan. We didn't have a great time dealing with a little car trouble, but when that was all fixed, some fantastic Cuban food at Victor's Cafe cured all that ailed us.

Tamara's kitten, Saoirse (SAIR-sha), is possibly the most active cat I've ever met. She runs around everywhere and constantly pines for a toy to be thrown her way. She's also super cute, as you can see in the picture above.

As for Manhattan, I gave Tamara the whirlwind eight-hour tour of touristy things over the course of two days. It included, in order, Times Square and the Theater District, upscale ethnic dining, subways, the World Trade Center, Wall Street, Battery Park with views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the South Street Seaport and Fulton Market, Grand Central Terminal, shopping on Fifth Avenue, Central Park, and Columbus Circle. Most of that happened in the evening hours, so we didn't get to any museums, but that leaves plenty of things to do the next time she visits the city! I also wanted to get to Chelsea and poke our heads into some art galleries, but we ran out of time in the end.

The lady and her cat are safely back at home in Texas now, so I'm relaxing by trying to determine how the current sub-prime lending mess is going to affect real estate mutual funds over the next few months. It really numbs the mind.

August 12, 2007

UFOs? Seriously?


The results of the BBC UFO poll
I was just browsing the BBC Science & Nature site, when I found a poll (near the bottom of the page) about whether people think UFO sightings are hoaxes, mistaken identities, or actual alien spacecraft. When I selected "mistaken identities" and pressed the vote button, I was surprised at what I saw!

Do 53.2% of people really think the unidentified objects in the sky are alien spacecraft? Seriously?

It's possible, albeit very unlikely, that we've had visitors from outer space. I'm certain there's life out there, perhaps even intelligent life on par with our own technological advancements, but would that life visit Earth and simply make a fly-by over London or New York or Roswell? I doubt it.

Until we have much better propulsion, habitation, and sensing capabilities, we're unlikely to see much of anything truly alien, save the odd bit of organic meteor remnants that happens to impact someone's house and tear a hole through the living room.

I'm up too late to write a long article on how we might go about finding extraterrestrial intelligence, so I won't. But, really, 53.2%?

August 10, 2007

Study Weather

For studying, what more could I ask of August weather than to be in the 50s and 60s with a bit of rain and a cool breeze?

As I mentioned previously, I'm studying for the Series 7 exam, which, upon passing, provides me with a license to be a stock broker, dealer, financial adviser, and a number of other things. In my current situation, it will allow me to trade on a large margin account.

So far, I've waded through the chapters on equities, debt (bonds), and options. It's not very exciting stuff to write here on my blog, so I really haven't been posting lately.

For those of you keeping track, I've completed 38.5% of the chapters in my study material, taken 24 of 104 quizzes (I'm repeating each of the 52 section quizzes a week after I take them the first time), and I have 10 chapter exams to go. After all that, there are a handful of practice exams, ranging widely in difficulty, that I will also take. My overall average score at the moment is 94.5%, and the Series 7 exam requires a mere 70% to pass.

I have until the end of the month to do this. No problem!

It would be nice if the weather held up, though.

August 01, 2007

New York City

Here I am, living in the Big Apple.

I spent most of last week involved in some aspect of moving here, thankfully with my dad's help. He flew up and stayed for nearly a week, assisting me with packing, driving, and everything else. The time constraints ended up being so tight that there's no way I could have done it without him in the end. Hooray for my dad!

The movers, on the other hand, were absolutely awful. They were slow, rude, and almost didn't take my patio furniture from Pittsburgh. It was only after I complained to their dispatcher that they (spent 15 minutes arguing with the dispatcher and) decided to disassemble the patio table for storage in the truck and then move the chairs in the truck's cab.

When the movers arrived here, a day late, they extorted unnecessary money (about $300) from me before they would even start moving my stuff from the truck. As it was Saturday, their dispatcher was out of the office, so I had no immediate recourse. Tomorrow, I will start the complaint process with a call to the moving company and move up the regulatory chain to the Better Business Bureau and even the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Apparently, "hostage freight" is a felony, and the FMCSA has authority over that sort of thing.

Enough bad news! Today, I sort of started my new "job". The enrollment process involves a number of forms, a cashier's check, a notarized document, and a fingerprint card, which I spent an hour or two getting settled while walking swiftly up and down countless blocks of Broadway in lower Manhattan. Can you believe I had to visit five banks before I found a notary? In Manhattan's financial district!

Now that the forms are complete and on their way to the company's main office in Phoenix, I get to spend the next four weeks studying for the Series 7 exam. Exciting.

If any of you feel like visiting any time in the next four weeks, I'm sure my study materials and I will appreciate the company!

July 19, 2007

The Duct Tape Fix

I had a friend in high school, Blake, who always said you can fix anything with duct tape. I never doubted that claim, having solved numerous problems with it and knowing the single thing that probably kept Apollo 13 from turning into a spectacular meteor shower was that very same adhesive of the gods. Never start a big job without duct tape.

Tonight, I had my own fantastic experience with duct tape.

Last night, when I pulled the condensation tank out of the air conditioner in my bedroom to empty it, I broke the sensor that determines whether the tank is full. If the tank is full, the air conditioner stops working so it doesn't overflow, and in breaking the sensor, I set it permanently in that mode.

The sensor is actually a metal lever that's connected to a sort of plastic button, and I somehow bent that lever. For the next 15 minutes, I tried furiously to bend the lever back into its original shape, using my other air conditioner's lever as a guideline, but I didn't have any luck with that. I tried so hard, I even got blood all over the condensation tank.

Eventually, I went to sleep with no air conditioning but with my ceiling fan switched to high. It was warm and humid, but at least the air was circulating.

Tonight, I had another go at solving the lever problem. With a little creative engineering and about three square inches of duct tape, I was able to force the lever into a position where it's always pressing the plastic button! That's right, the air conditioner will now always think the tank is less than full, even if it's overflowing. I'll just have to remember to empty it frequently. No problem.

Once again, duct tape to the rescue.

July 06, 2007

Moving to New York?


Cell phone camera picture of the Empire State Building at dusk, from the top of the GE Building at Rockefeller Center
Yesterday, I returned from a four-day visit to New York City, where I spent some time at the company for which I may be working, toured some museums with my dad, ate wonderful food, and watched the amazing Macy's Independence Day fireworks show.

Before I make a final decision about moving to the New York City area, I just have a few loose ends to tie up. But, if everything goes well, which it should, I'll be on my way in under three weeks.

Now, I just have to figure out where I'm going to live. For the first six months, I'm going to try to live inexpensively somewhere outside of Manhattan and make my daily commute to the financial district on the extensive rail network around the city.

There are so many choices for places to live, and they all have their peculiar commute times, prices, noise activity, and so forth. I'm finding it incredibly difficult to narrow them down. I imagine I'll be back in New York soon enough, spending a couple days looking at possible places to live. It's exciting, but it is truly a pain to organize this whole endeavor.

If any of you have suggestions that may help, I'd be glad to hear them!

June 29, 2007

Selling a Printer

I listed a printer for sale on craigslist about a week ago. It's nothing special, and it's been through graduate school twice now, so I'm offering it for pretty cheap. Its only two particularly good features are almost brand new toner and quick printing.

One person responded to the listing, just yesterday, and he was supposed to show up here at 6:00, 27 minutes ago. As you know, I value punctuality, and I'm not very patient.

I paced the length of my living room, dining room, and kitchen until about 6:12, when I decided to come upstairs and read the news. Now 28 minutes on, the guy hasn't called me or turned up at my door. He made a point to ask my phone number, so why doesn't he use it? Maybe that's just people these days.

Until this guy shows up or I get tired of waiting for him, I have to pay attention to the door, which is difficult to hear from my computer in the first place. Alas.

June 25, 2007

The Constant Gardener


The Constant Gardener movie poster
The Constant Gardener is a movie that highlights the impact of the greed of Big Pharmaceuticals in desperate regions like Africa. It was in my Netflix queue mostly because it was classified as a "thriller", but it turned out to be not a thriller at all but a cry for attention. And a very good one, at that.

In the movie, a particular pharmaceutical company bundles experimental drugs into a treatment for tuberculosis, so if the African villagers want treatment for TB, they essentially sign away their lives into this drug test. The testing ends up killing loads of people, and the main character's wife, Tessa, begins a secret crusade against this horrible exploitation. She and her friends end up dead, presumably at the hands of the drug company.

Tessa tried to keep her dealings secret from her husband because she thought that would keep him safe, but after she died, he started digging into her files and contacts, and he, too, became entwined in the underground movement against the TB treatment. At the end of the movie, Tessa's noble efforts, combined with those of everyone else, only led to their deaths. They were noticed, but if the story were to continue, I'm certain they would have put only an insignificant dent into the plans of the drug giant.

The cynical part of me can imagine this sort of thing happening all the time, and when you add this to the terrible things that have gone on Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and practically everywhere else in sub-Saharan Africa recently, it's no wonder everything is a mess over there. And, it's not stopping any time soon.

What can we do about it? There's no end to the support we can give the good organizations, like the World Health Organization, Amnesty International, and Médecins Sans Frontières. At least check out their web sites. If something terrible is happening on the other side of the world, that doesn't mean it's not happening.

June 06, 2007

Nice Night

Cool weather and coffee at midnight... it makes me want to be in grad school again!

It feels wonderful to have a break from the heat. I'm sure all of you suffering through the 100-degree afternoons in Texas can appreciate that. You should come to Pittsburgh for a visit! But, hurry — there is only about a month remaining during which I can be your host. After that, I will be in Manhattan or Boston or D.C. or London or Geneva or... somewhere!

June 03, 2007

Dead Tree Forecast

Today's customized Weather Underground forecast. Click for full PDFThe Weather Underground, a weather service possibly named after the leftist movement of the early 1970s, is one of my preferred web sites for obtaining weather information and forecasts. They have all kinds of weather-related services available, including marine and aviation weather and even weather blogs.

Today, I stumbled upon their Daily Forecast Flyer feature, which allows anyone to create a single-page flyer with the current local weather, regional and world weather, and the forecast. It seems like a really neat tool to use in a business, like a travel agency or a hotel, where customers may plan their activities based on weather forecasts. It also makes a pretty fun toy, as you can see in the flyer I linked at the top of this entry.

Go pretend you own a hotel in some exotic land and check it out!

Oh, and if you're going to be in the Boston area on June 15th (Father's Day weekend), you should definitely check out Beer Advocate's Night of the Lagers (beer list), which aims to "destroy the popular misconception that all lagers are yellow, fizzy, and boring."

May 30, 2007

Situations

Do you ever associate music with a particular time in your life? Perhaps you associate it with a specific event?

Sometimes, when I listen to music, I associate a song with an imaginary situation because it seems so very fitting.

Right now, I'm listening to the song Going, Going, Gone by Stars. It's on their album called Nightsongs.

Picture a quiet winter night in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Cars are parked along the street, and the sidewalks are covered with freshly fallen snow. The air is soft and quiet, clean houses line the view, and a single living room is lit by an antique lamp. Inside that living room is a woman in her mid-twenties, looking through a photo album of her mother's. Her mother passed away last week, and she has been spending every night since then mourning, imagining the life her mother lived and wishing for things that never had the chance to happen. She regrets the times she put her mother off for an engagement with friends or a late night at the office. But, what is there to do now but think about what could have been?

Watching her through the window, this song should be playing. "You're twenty-three, but how can that be? You're still hooked on cellophane, killing time with gin and lime. Each second numbs the pain," the song says, aptly channeling the poor girl's feelings. "I'm scared, but I'm OK," it continues.

Going, Going, Gone seems like such a perfect song for this situation.

Do you ever imagine situations for which a song would be appropriate?

And, then, the song quips, "All I see again is me everywhere."

May 28, 2007

Second Bloggiversary

Two years ago today, I wrote my first blog entry here. It was pretty terrible, but it was a rant about terrible service at a restaurant, so I guess the shoe fits.

Since then, this blog has matured. It has attracted many visitors and has been host to a number of intellectually stimulating conversations spanning the realms of food, travel, education, computers, and myriad other topics.

There have even been 746 hits to a useful tip I wrote that allows people to install iTunes, among other things, on Windows Vista. In fact, if you search for vbscript vista on the Microsoft Live Search utility, that particular blog entry comes first in the list.

Recently, I haven't been writing much because I don't have much to write. In the past week, I considered mentioning a ban on high-altitude football, Venezuela's latest slide toward communism, daredevil skiing, and soft drinks that damage DNA, but that would just be meta-news, and I don't really have strong opinions on any of those things. The daredevil skiing, though, sounds like a really fun way to break one's neck.

Thank you for your continuing visits and comments. I hope to have something with more depth to write soon.

May 23, 2007

Commencement Photos

Yesterday, I wrote an entry about my master's degree commencement ceremony and the extended weekend I spent with my family.

Last night, my sister did me the favor of uploading most of them to her personal web gallery. You can find them all in a special album there.

I don't normally post photos of myself here because that's a little weird, but I'm very proud to be able to call Carnegie Mellon University my alma mater, and the following eight images, probably the very best of the whole lot, show that pride precisely. Oh, and the second one shows Bill Cosby giving his keynote address!

May 22, 2007

Commencement

Because Carnegie Mellon University only has one commencement per year, in May, I was not able to traditionally graduate when I finished my master's degree last December. I received the diploma in March, and that was all well and good, but this past Sunday's official commencement really made me proud to be a graduate of Carnegie Mellon.

My parents, sister, and aunt and uncle from Massachusetts turned up last Thursday to spend a long weekend here, graze through some of Pittsburgh's best restaurants, chat and drink wine, visit The Andy Warhol Museum, and attend my rainy-then-warm-and-sunny commencement. Yesterday, their flights all departed within about 20 minutes of each other.

The commencement was incredible, with bagpipes, formalities, and even Bill Cosby walking a Scottish Terrier up to the stage, where he would later receive an honorary doctorate and give a humorous but inspiring keynote address. We took a number of pictures after the ceremony, many of which are quite good. I'll post them here after my mom downloads them from her camera and sends them to me.

Excepting a problem my mom experienced with Continental Airlines food on her flight to Pittsburgh, we all enjoyed the diverse food we ate over the weekend. Following is a list of the restaurants where we dined, hopefully in roughly chronological order.

If you're ever in Pittsburgh, I advise eating at as many of those restaurants as possible. Well, maybe not Quaker Steak & Lube, since it's generally overrun by high school kids with nothing better to do.

Oh, and in not-at-all-related news, Carnegie Mellon recently inducted Data, of Star Trek notoriety, into the Robot Hall of Fame. How very cool!

Update (May 23): An entry containing commencement photos has been posted.

May 04, 2007

Web Radio Royalties

Web radio may be entirely gone very soon.

Why, you ask? Because the United States Copyright Royalty Board, in March, decided on new royalty rates for web radio stations. Not only are these rates ridiculous, they are also retroactive through 2006.

Newsweek says over 50 million Americans listen to Internet radio each month, and every single one of them will be affected by these new fees.

Digitally Imported, one of my favorite web radio stations, estimates they will owe an incredible $2 million by July 15th, if the Internet Radio Equality Act (H.R. 2060) is not allowed to pass. Other stations, like SomaFM, expect similar fees, which nominally range between 100% and 500% of revenue, according to Digitally Imported.

If you enjoy listening to web radio, check out SaveNetRadio.org. You can also read more about this situation at Digitally Imported's blog.

May 01, 2007

May Day, 2007


President Bush speaking aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, May 1, 2003
Here we are, friends, in the long-awaited May of 2007.

It was a scant four years ago, on May 1, 2003, that our august leader declared our Iraq mission to be accomplished, after landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln, half-way around the world from the Middle East, in a flashy display of Navy air superiority.

But, let's not be critical of our wonderful president. It's a new year, after all! It's 2007.

Some would call today a beautiful day in Pittsburgh. The temperatures are in the low 70s in the shade, it's sunny, and the weather is not unlike that in Buenos Aires right now. Ah, to be back in Buenos Aires.

In completely unrelated news of which many of you are probably aware, the most attractive presidential candidate in France's history, Ségolène Royal, is vying with certainly one of the most pompous presidential candidates France has ever seen, Nicolas Sarkozy, in the second round of elections, to take place May 6. From a global economic perspective, I'm rooting for center-right Messr. Sarkozy, but when it comes to the people of France, I think they would generally be better served by socialist Mme. Royal. Do any of you have any thoughts on the upcoming French run-off election?

Secretly, I had hoped far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen would have won or, at least, come out of the first round of elections still standing. I don't like his policies; I just think it would have been hilarious to watch.

Enjoy your May!

April 29, 2007

Marilee Jones Lies

Marilee Jones, the former Dean of Admissions at MIT, resigned Thursday following proof that she lied about her academic credentials, which included falsely claiming that she held degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and other prestigious institutions.

I received a letter earlier this year, dated February 8, rejecting my application to the MIT Biological Engineering Ph.D. program, bearing her signature. I guess that letter is worth even less now!

She also posted her own statement on the MIT web site.

April 26, 2007

Hijacking a Viral Marketing Campaign

THE ALGORITHM IS FROM JERSEY

See this blog post for more information.

April 25, 2007

A Pittsburgh Kind of Day

After spending last night sleeping through most of a ten-hour, 5,200-mile flight and slogging through the early morning, without coffee, waiting in lines at immigration and customs in Washington, D.C., I landed in Pittsburgh around 9:30 AM. I walked off the plane with the top third of my shirt unbuttoned, my sunglasses hanging loosely, and an iPod connected to my ears. It was the quintessential modern beach bum look, even though it was prompted by mere convenience.

Leaving the Pittsburgh airport, I must have looked like a lunatic. There I was, emitting the temperate and sunny ambience of the Buenos Aires climate I had left a mere 14 hours prior, stepping into cold rain, dark clouds, and a wind chill around 45 degrees. I would have found it much more amusing if I wasn't completely soaked and terribly chilly by the time I got into my car.

All is well here and, perhaps, better than well, since my mom decided to make a number of improvements around the house for the week and a half she stayed here while I was in Argentina. My cats are happy, my rugs are clean, and there's an Italian chef on top of my refrigerator that sings when you stomp on his foot!

Also, you should check out today's xkcd. Be sure to hover your mouse over the image and read the caption. He speaks the truth!

Edit (2007 Apr. 26): The singing, bouncing doll on top of my refrigerator is apparently not an Italian chef. He has a chef's hat, but I think he sings about matzo. Does the stereotypical Jewish chef have a long, brown beard, a jovial smile, and brightly colored clothes? Regardless of his nationality, he's quite hilarious to watch!

April 21, 2007

Puerto Madero in Pictures

Here in Argentina, I am staying in my dad's extra bedroom at his super-cool, ultra-modern, high-rise flat in the Puerto Madero district of Buenos Aires. Puerto Madero was the old port of the city that had been full of abandoned warehouses for many years before being revitalized into a luxury shopping, dining, and residential area, starting six or seven years ago. The streets here are now some of the safest in the sprawling city and certainly the safest anywhere near the city center.

Over the first few days I was here, I took the following photos from the balcony of the apartment.

Sunset over the Buenos Aires skyline and Puerto Madero.

The easternmost part of the downtown area of Buenos Aires, with Puerto Madero in the foreground.

Puerto Madero, highlighting the Puente de la Mujer, or Women's Bridge, which, as you can see, looks very neat when illuminated at night. The big building in the background, I think, is the Ministry of the Interior.

A thunderstorm rolling into the city from the south. Winds from the storm reached about 60 mph and caused water to pour into the apartment through the stove vent and a vent over the kitchen window! It was very exciting. And wet.

April 12, 2007

Buenas tardes from Buenos Aires

¡Buenas tardes!

It's a beautiful early autumn day in Buenos Aires: temperatures in the low 70s, a light breeze, perfectly clear skies, and reasonable humidity. I'm sitting at the dining room table in my dad's apartment here, looking out over barrio Puerto Madero, the Casa Rosada, and a number of high-rise office buildings and apartments in the distance.

Over the next few days, I hope to post some photos of the view from the balcony here. It's just amazing!

I really should be working, rather than enjoying the urban landscape out the windows and writing about it. So, I'm off for now, but I'll update again soon.

April 10, 2007

Un Viaje a Argentina

For quite a number of reasons, none of which involve actually taking a regular vacation, I'm flying to Buenos Aires tomorrow. I'll possibly also be in Uruguay on Friday. Cool, no?

I will meet my dad at the Buenos Aires airport, and my first few days there will be a grab-bag of working, eating, and enjoying the lively culture of one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world.

My original reason for taking a trip overseas was to have some new scenery by which I could work, but a tentative trip to any random major European city evolved into this masterpiece of South American travel.

My mom is kindly arriving in Pittsburgh several hours before I leave, and she will take care of Master Gray and Lady Pixel while I'm out of town.

To whet your appetite for the trip to Buenos Aires in your own near future, be sure to check out my account of my previous trip to that fantastic city.

¡Hasta luego!

April 07, 2007

Sunrise




I left my phone in a cab in Boston yesterday, so now I'm using the newest addition to the Motorola RAZR family, the KRAZR. It's pronounced like it looks: "krazer". Which is ridiculous, but it's a very nice phone, and so far, I'm very happy with it.

Enjoy the photos it took of this morning's sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean and my cup of coffee, steaming in the cold air while sitting on a washed-up log on the beach.

March 31, 2007

Favorite Movie

In response to what I wrote about the movie Brazil, Andrew inquired about my favorite movies.

But, for now, let's not talk in particular about movies or favorites. Movies, like anything else, are specific forms of abstract ideas, and favorites, well... I just don't have them.

I find it difficult to assign the word "favorite" to anything. I like some movies more than others, some people more than others, some cities more than others, and some public transportation systems more than others. I don't keep favorite movies or best friends or anything like that in my head, though.

How does one determine a favorite? Consider, for example, the drinks I enjoy. Wine is elegant, beer is comfortable, Scotch is sophisticated, gin martinis are cosmopolitan, Champagne is traditional, and limoncello is another world altogether. Is it possible to reconcile all these different drinks and all the special circumstances in which I drink them into one single category and then rank them, from top to bottom, in order of preference? I don't think that can be done.

The same goes for movies and people and cities and public transportation systems. They are so diverse in their qualities and the situations through which they can be experienced that I would find it to be a task of monumental futility to attempt to find a handful of favorites, to say nothing of a single favorite that outranks the rest.

I thought about answering Andrew's question directly by spending some time thinking about the films I found memorable over the past ten years. It was, indeed, a futile task: at every point in my consideration, I was unable to find a "good" reason to justify putting a particular movie on the list. Sorry, Andrew!

March 30, 2007

Amazon.com Marketplace

I have been an avid patron and fond supporter of the Amazon.com Marketplace for over four years. At the Amazon.com Marketplace, Amazon.com customers buy and sell their own goods at their own prices, and Amazon.com takes a small premium off the top. It works well for everybody involved.

I have, in the past, sold a number of books through that scheme, and more recently, I have sold almost my entire collection of CDs. Occasionally, I buy a book or a CD through the Marketplace, and in most cases, it shows up at my door within a week.

Until a few days ago, I had never had a problem with it.

On March 18, I purchased a book from a seller called eastonjain. This seller priced the book slightly higher than some others, but because the seller was in Pennsylvania, I thought I'd pay an extra dollar or two in order to shave a couple days off the time the book spent with the Postal Service. Which worked out just fine.

However, when I received the package in the mail, I opened it, and it was the wrong book. It was a book on the same topic, but it was about six years out of date. So, I sent an email to the seller, who responded with a message saying he never listed the book I purchased. He also said he would refund my money if I returned the book. This is where things get messy.

Knowing that I was clearly not at fault for ordering an incorrect book and feeling that I should not be held responsible for any shipping charges greater than what I had already paid, I contacted Amazon.com directly and explained my case. They gave me kudos for trying to work through the issue with the seller before contacting them, and then Amazon.com refunded my money.

After which, I received an email from the seller:

Hi
  I did give you refund back to your accout in full if you could return my book as soon as possible.
  Thankyou

Clearly, the seller is not a Harvard graduate; nevertheless, I immediately plunged myself into a retort and responded in kind:

Hi.

You seem to be missing the point.

You sent me the wrong book, and it is not my responsibility to pay even more money than I already have, to get it back to you. If you want to send me a check for the cost of shipping the book, I may be able to find time in the next couple weeks to get to the post office and send it back to you.

I am generally very busy, which is why I order books from Amazon.com in the first place, and I simply do not have the time or motivation to spend part of my day at the post office.

Colin

Indeed, spending $3 or less to ship the book back to this gentleman is no skin off my teeth. However, spending part of my day at the Post Office is. The USPS does not allow parcels over one pound in weight to be sent through ordinary mail boxes; those parcels must be sent at a physical Post Office location. In 2003, I discovered this rule by way of having such a parcel, which, in fact, contained an Amazon.com Marketplace item, returned to me, stamped accordingly.

At any rate, I now wonder: will he send me a check for the cost of postage? Will I then be obligated, after waking up at 3:00 in the afternoon as usual, to curtail the utter enjoyment I receive from drinking my first cup of coffee and reading the BBC News so I can get the book in the mail before the Post Office closes?

As the goblins say, "time is money, friend!" And, indeed, spending an hour, standing in line with obnoxious people on cell phones in a warm and overcrowded room simply to spend 30 seconds at a counter to ship a book that was mistakenly delivered to me in the first place, just does not seem worth the effort to me.

March 25, 2007

Brazil (A Film)


The original movie poster for Brazil
Last night, I watched the movie Brazil, written by, among others, satirists Terry Gilliam (Monty Python) and Tom Stoppard (Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead). The film was released in 1985 and is now part of The Criterion Collection.

I'm not really writing about the film, here, though; I'm more interested in one small difference between the cinema of 20 years ago and the cinema today: the hero. Of course, I'm no film critic, but I find the disparities intriguing.

Brazil highlights a near-futuristic dystopian society in which bureaucracy reigns supreme, paperwork is everywhere, and the totalitarian government tightly controls many aspects of everyday life. Despite this noble satirical effort, I found it very difficult to find a specific plot in the movie. A single main character was the spotlight of many scenes, but I don't think he followed any particular sequence of important events. He became caught in a number of situations about which he seemed, simply, utterly confused. The circumstances caused his actions, rather than him causing them.

This tells us the main character isn't a hero, per se, and that's perfectly fine. But, if you've seen any popular movies with similar motifs that have been released in this decade, you will have noticed the main character always wants something, and that character's actions provide an impetus that defines the story the movie is trying to tell.

Consider Children of Men, for example. Released in December of last year, it details a future in which humans can no longer procreate and the government of England attempts to control the disheartened populace by forcing otherwise ridiculous regulations upon them. Enter the naïve pregnant girl, the hero, who, along with a fair-weather faction of rebels, tries to achieve safe haven for the baby with the mythical Human Project. These rebels have a true goal with which the viewer can sympathize. Brazil does not even have this: there is no explicit objective; the protagonist just wanders through a sea of paperwork and silliness for two hours and 22 minutes.

I think we like watching a hero because it gives the film a purpose. That is, we want to be able to sympathize with somebody's cause in order to sit around for two hours and feel like something useful has happened. It gives us perspective. But, movies like Brazil do not have that. Quite a lot has changed in the film industry in the past 20 years, and it seems this is just one example of that.

March 23, 2007

Banana Box is Back

The banana box, as it's now being affectionately called by my friend Shea, is back. She had a panic attack while searching for the one on the comments page earlier today, which led me to find that it was missing!

If you posted comments over the past couple days, they didn't appear because my blogging software thought they were spam. You can re-post them now, if you'd like. Sorry about that!

March 20, 2007

A Visit from Texas

Instead of me visiting Texas last week, Texas visited me. I hosted Tamara and Arin separately and together for a total of about six days.

We ate, we drank coffee, we drank beer, and we ate some more. We also played Scrabble, StarCraft, and Civilization IV. Ah, it was relaxing indeed, and it was lovely to simply sit around and talk at length about meaningful things with intelligent and young friends.

One of the places we ate was Quaker Steak & Lube, a race car-themed suburban and rural tradition in this part of the country. Arin and I tried their "atomic" wings, the hottest they have. As the name suggests, they were pretty spicy, but they weren't anything we couldn't handle. My only problem was that some of the sauce got on my lips, and they burned like crazy for five or ten minutes. We were drinking St. Patrick's Day Guinness, though, so a couple pints of creamy stout later, everything was just peachy. I still have a couple atomic wings in my refrigerator, and I think I'll dig into them later tonight.

Though seeing my friends was lots of fun and a good time was had by all, my introverted self is back to enjoying being with my cats and working from home all day. Now, then, back to the grind!

March 11, 2007

New Blog Stuff

I finally got around to playing with the layout of my blog in the wake of the blog catastrophe a few weeks ago. I think I like the brown theme, but the background of the entries is a little too pink. I'll get around to changing that later.

I also updated my academic information so that it blends better with my blog. I think it looks quite nice, really, and very professional.

In addition to the color changes, I've also added a rudimentary spam filtering feature for posting comments. Andrew notes the word banana is peculiar for that feature, but I must admit it was simply the first thing that came to my mind. For whatever reason, later in the day after I set the word to be banana, I really wanted to change it to fox. I'm not sure why I never changed it. But, anyway, Andrew, there is no particular reason for the word to be banana; that's just how the dice rolled.

March 10, 2007

Grey's Anatomy

As part of my adventures with Netflix, I started watching Grey's Anatomy a few weeks ago. I finally decided there would be no more Dr. Meredith Grey in my life yesterday, after not quite getting through the second DVD of the second season.

The show is like a soap opera, focusing mainly on the relationships among the staff at Seattle Grace Hospital, while all but ignoring the medicine they practice in the background. Drs. Burke and Yang are entwined in an affair they want to keep secret; Drs. Grey, Shepherd, and Shepherd are an annoying love triangle; the chief of surgery doesn't like spending time with his wife; Dr. Bailey is pregnant and vocal about it; and Dr. Karev has a thing for Dr. Stevens but only in a fair-weather sort of way.

The only character not involved in a relationship at this point is George O'Malley, and he's the only one I enjoy watching.

So, goodbye, Grey's Anatomy. I hope other people like you more than I do.

March 05, 2007

Cat Proximity

I've written here before about the comic called xkcd. By reading this comic for more than about a week, I think I've set a new personal record for paying attention to a regular web publication.

Today's comic is a gem about cats, and all the cat owners among you will surely be able to relate to this one.

You can click on the image to go to the xkcd web site and browse more fantastic comics.

March 03, 2007

Back Pain

I flew to Houston on Tuesday, and at some point between parking my car at the Pittsburgh airport and getting on the plane, my back started to hurt. Like, really hurt. By the time we were in the air, my back felt like it was on fire from the pain.

I had a layover in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I picked up two packets of extra strength Tylenol, each of which contained two pills. I took the contents of one packet along with about a liter of water and a Millionaire Margarita (which actually only cost $14 at some bar where the bartenders say "hola, amigo!" when you sit down), and after deciding that wasn't helping around the midpoint of my connecting flight, I took the other two Tylenol. None of which seemed to do anything for the pain.

The following day, in Houston, I visited my "family" doctor, whom I hadn't seen in seven or eight years, and he prescribed narcotics, muscle relaxers, and anti-inflammatory agents. Yesterday, I went back for a follow-up, noted the pain was worse, and was prescribed steroids, more potent narcotics, and X-ray series for my chest and back. The chest X-ray was performed in case my lungs had something to do with the problem, and I can only assume the back X-ray was done to determine whether my spine was doing gymnastics without me. Alas, both X-ray series were clean. Which is a good thing. But also a bad thing.

So, here I am, back in Pittsburgh, with five prescription bottles, back pain that's only getting worse, and no diagnosis. This seems to happen once every few years, and it's really starting to worry me. After all, my current prognosis is "it'll probably get better in a few days."

For those of you who are curious, my current list of medications reads something like Darvocet, Mobic, Soma, Vicodin, and Prednisone. I really hope I don't need to go begging to my doctor here in the 'burgh for more pain medication when all this dries up.

I'm off to bed now, surely to wake up in several hours wondering why someone is stabbing me with ice picks...

Oh, and by the way, if you ever take Prednisone before getting on an airplane (or shortly after getting on an airplane, as I did this morning), I highly advise putting a lot of food in your stomach, too. The turbulence during landing in Charlotte today didn't exactly help things, but without slow, deep breaths, I would have undoubtedly have been feeling around seat-back pockets for barf bags.

February 20, 2007

Broken Blog

You've surely noticed the layout and colors of this page are somewhat different from those you're accustomed to seeing when you visit my blog.

Over the past year or two I've been writing here, my blogging platform, MovableType, has undergone a number of changes. I've been upgrading the software but not keeping up with the modifications I've needed to make in order to keep pace with the upgrades. As a result, I noticed a glaring incompatibility between my old layout and the new software today.

So, for the next few days, I'm going to keep the site like this and research how to modify my layout the Right Way.

40 Degrees

It's about 40 °F outside right now, a temperature that provides a stark contrast to the below-freezing temperatures of the past several weeks. A forceful but relatively warm wind blows across the city, and once in a while, icicles can be heard shattering against the ground.

We've had below normal temperatures in Pittsburgh so far this February, despite the balmy conditions in December and early January. My most recent gas bill states the average temperature for the billing period was down eight degrees on last year, though we barely had snow at all then.


A factory's smokestacks belching pollutants into the atmosphere (Image credit: Utah Department of Environmental Quality)
This brings up an interesting point of disagreement among people across the country. That's the "G" word... or, perhaps, the "G" phrase: Global Warming.

On New Years Day this year, when one could walk outside in a tee shirt and be more or less comfortable, everyone was quick to point out that global warming was the probable cause of the abnormal weather. The colder it got, however, the more those conversations disappeared. Clearly, the concern was temporary, but just as clear should be the fact that the controversy has not gone away.

I'm not an environmental scientist, so I can't really bring hard facts to the table when it comes to discussing this, but I've read my share of articles on the subject, and I must say the evidence is obvious: global warming is here, and it's not leaving until we do something about it.

Overzealous politicians have tried to propose implausible ideas like the Kyoto Protocol, which sounded like a good idea on the drawing board but calls for too much of a solution too soon. Indeed, it seems only the United Kingdom and Sweden are actually on track to meet their 2010 emissions requirements.

A mere three days ago, a number of countries that, this time, included the United States agreed upon the Washington Declaration, the supposed successor to Kyoto. The Washington Declaration is somewhat more tenable, and with the comparatively firm support of the United States, it may actually go somewhere.

I'd like to ask you this: if you could force the world to do one thing to combat this grave problem, taking also into account the related complex economic and political issues, what would it be? That's a daunting task, but thousands of people are working on it every day. And, they're not just working on one big thing everyone can do; they're trying to figure out what hundreds of tiny contributions governments, companies, and individuals can make toward overcoming the struggle against global warming.

Now, I'd like to propose a challenge. Each of you intelligent, well-informed, environmentally conscious readers should come up with one thing you can do to reduce your toll on the environment and do it for a week. See how it goes, and if you're proud of the benefits you're producing at the minor expense to your lifestyle, keep going. Tell your friends about it, too, and maybe they'll join you.

February 13, 2007

Travel Database (Oh, and My Birthday)

Well, it's been quite some time since I posted anything here... so long, in fact, that up until this entry gets posted, the front page will have been empty for a couple days. Weird.

It's my birthday today (or, rather, it was my birthday yesterday), and I had about 10 text messages and 28 emails when I woke up, most of which had something to do with that particular fact. I spent the day like any other day, with the exception of opening five packages of completely unexpected presents sent from far and wide. Thanks, everybody! I also tried to get my friend Steve to go have Japanese food with me this evening, but it turns out he's at a conference in San Francisco. Alas, we'll perhaps celebrate my birthday this weekend, instead.

In other news, I've stopped hanging onto boarding passes and started collecting data on my travels in a database. Maybe I'll use it to create cool graphs or something in the future, but right now, it's just getting started. The travel databaseI've been able to insert 34 flights into it so far, most of which are from 2006.

I think this database will be interesting to view in the future, when I feel like looking back on a trip to Buenos Aires or that time I smelled cinnamon and cloves in Harvard Yard. Technical graphs of flight frequencies and interfaces to airlines' web sites would be pretty cool to include eventually, too.

I would like to appeal to those of you with whom I've flown in the past: if you have old boarding passes, emails, journal entries, bills of lading, deportation notices, or any other such items that might give me a clue about flights I've taken, I'd love to have that information. For example, I don't have any information on the flights I took back and forth between Texas and Oregon in 2002 and 2003 (hi, Kari!). Nor do I have any data for when I met Tamara in Seattle in July, 2004, or when Katy and I spent Christmas in New England and Texas in 2005. I'm also missing flight numbers for the week I spent in London in 2004 (hi, Uncle John!). Oh, and how about the Thanksgiving trip to New York City, also in 2004? And the various trips to Pittsburgh before I started graduate school in 2005?

All those flights aside, the gold mine, of course, would be to find old information for the flights I took around the world when I was much younger (hey, Mom?). It would be really neat to know which KLM, Pan Am, and Eastern Airlines flights I took when I was a jet set two-year-old. I have my old passports around here somewhere, but those are only going to help so much.

February 04, 2007

A Night in Pittsburgh

I'm at home in Pittsburgh for the night, where the temperature is 7 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind chill varies based on whether the wind feels like blowing at 20 or 30 miles per hour. When my plane landed this evening, the wind was blowing at 28, and the resulting turbulence gave my stomach a reason to complain for the next couple hours. Those little Embraer jets just can't handle the wind quite like the big guys can.

I don't really know what to expect in Missouri over the next couple days, other than seeing my old friend Rick for the first time in about seven years. It'll be good to see him again, but I should focus on my work, since I need to assimilate a whole lot of information in the 47 hours between flights. The work is steeped in mechanical engineering (industrial thermodynamics and heat transfer) but is essentially a software programming project. I can handle all the aspects of it, but it would be nice to go into this consulting deal with a better idea of what they want out of it. I ironed a couple shirts, anyway, just in case I need to make some quick, authoritative decisions and have people respect the words coming out of my mouth.

I'll just be sure to take tons of notes and drink more than my fair share of coffee, and everything should work out. After all, that strategy got me a pretty nice masters degree. :)

February 01, 2007

Dilbert the Engineer

An hilarious clip from the Dilbert TV show (there's a Dilbert TV show?) about Dilbert becoming an engineer... it's on YouTube, so check it out.

Oh, and happy February!

January 30, 2007

Coastal Cold

I'm writing this from a warm couch, about 50 meters from the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean that roil across the street and beyond the beach. After a snowy and delayed departure from Pittsburgh and a half-sprint across the overly warm airport in Philly, I arrived in Manchester, New Hampshire, to be greeted by my uncle and to find my checked bag indeed also made the quick trip through the City of Brotherly Love. Several hours later, we've eaten dinner, chatted, and are cozy with kitties.

I'll be here on Plum Island for a quick four days, punctuated briefly by a trip to Boston to do a Harvard beer and robots run and to see my sister (and, hopefully, bring her up to the island for a couple days).

For now, I think I'll have a Smuttynose.

January 27, 2007

iPod Music

Several days ago, Andrew inquired about the music I have on my iPod. This reminds me a little of when I took an inventory of the contents of my freezer. If you look closely at that the comments for that entry, you'll see I was berated by my mother for introducing Helen to Bombay Sapphire gin. Ah, well.

So, here you have it... a list of some of the particularly good artists in my new iPod Nano.

  • Stéphane Pompougnac
  • Fluke
  • Guster
  • Jethro Tull
  • Juno Reactor
  • KMFDM
  • Laika
  • The Crystal Method
  • Thievery Corporation
  • Venus Hum
  • Zero 7

Mostly, I tend toward dark and groovy music like Fluke and Juno Reactor, but as you can see, it's also punctuated by some of the fantastic, older stuff like Jethro Tull. Aqualung is one of my favorite Jethro songs, but every time I try to get a guitarist at a bar to play it, they decline and say they don't know it. It's a pity, really.

I'm afraid this list might be a little disappointing to Andrew, since I don't have any 2 Live Crew or Right Said Fred. However, I don't like that music. Those "I'm too sexy for my hat" lyrics were novel, oh, the first 60 times I heard the song in 1992, but that's really not what I want to hear when I'm waiting to board my flight or trying to do some work.

As far as the 1990s go, I can only think of one popular song I still enjoy hearing. That's Scatman, by Scatman John. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you should definitely check out the music video (incidentally, it's recorded from MTV, back in the lost history of when they actually played music videos) over at YouTube. Wikipedia also has a pretty cool article about the Scatman.

January 24, 2007

Bionic Eyes

The feline eye has a very similar structure to that of the human eye, which has allowed researchers to experiment with bionic implants on cats with failing sight. The blindness is probably a condition induced in the laboratory, but my opinions on that are more appropriate for a night at the pub, not a blog entry. Regardless, the bionic eyes use an array of 5,000 microphotodiodes (which should give about an image with pixel dimensions of about 70x70) to provide the cat with an image it would not otherwise be able to see. This seems like a really cool application of microtechnology, and it will be very interesting to see what happens to the future of this device.

Stock photo courtesy absenseNow, let's take this idea and extend it a little further. A tiny, fancy camera in your eye could do a lot of things, after all.

First, let's improve the number of photodiodes we can put on the surface of the chip to, say, 1,000,000. That gives us a 1 mega-pixel image. What can you do with an image in the mega-pixel regime? Well, you can zoom into it, for one thing, and that would give the user the ability to see things really far away. You can also filter out natural light and view only the infrared part of the spectrum picked up by the photodiodes, which would give the user the ability to sense heat. What about using terahertz photodiodes in addition to visible light photodiodes? Then, the user could see through walls! Well, they would have to be thin walls, but they would be walls just the same. All this, without even changing the basic idea behind the device.

The military currently uses nifty but bulky binoculars to provide these functions to its troops, so wouldn't it be a vast improvement if they could just implant the binoculars into the troops' eyes? Well, that's where I see this going, and I think that's pretty neat.

January 19, 2007

The Crazy Professor

I had dinner with an old friend, Boris, last night, and his assessment of my future in academia echoed an opinion I've heard countless times: "You'll be the crazy professor."

I think being the crazy professor is a pretty cool idea, and I imagine something like that would happen based on my views, standards, and so forth... but, why is it that people think of me as a professor, and suddenly, the word "crazy" pops into their heads? I'm not exactly a lunatic, after all, and most of the things I do are relatively down-to-earth. Perhaps your run-of-the-mill professor wouldn't show up to class with bright purple streaks in his hair or what-have-you, but maybe that's the difference between crazy and normal? Maybe the difference has more to do with my ridiculously broad range of interests? I'm not really sure.

If any of you happen to have an opinion on this, I'd love to hear or read it.

One other thing Boris mentioned was pretty interesting. In his robotics work, he occasionally comes across people who are capable of doing tons of different things on a project, like computer programming and control systems and sensing and on and on, and it often turns out that regardless of what subjects they studied for their advanced degrees, they did their undergraduate work in physics. It seems physics, when taught places other than where I did my undergraduate work in it, actually covers a very broad range of topics, and this becomes incredibly useful when dealing with the applied sciences later in one's career.

Now, I hate to cut this entry short because I rather enjoy writing about academic things, but it's after 8:00 AM now, and I haven't been to sleep yet. So, good night.

January 15, 2007

Firefly

Per the separate recommendations of Tamara and a guy at Katy's new years party, I started watching Firefly yesterday evening. The pilot was an hour and a half long, and it looks like I'm in for an exciting ride.

Firefly seems to be set in the not-too-far-away future, where space ships still use fossil fuel combustion for propulsion and the common space port is a dodgy affair. The environment is created in the style of a futuristic western, combining outlaw heroism, horses, twangy guitar music, and even the odd piece of ambulatory poultry.

In many ways, it reminds me of Farscape, in that the protagonist crew is an assortment of renegades with dubious histories and conflicting objectives, and everyone seems to have a flair for getting into trouble.

The series was cut by Fox after the first eleven episodes, so I guess that's all I get to watch, but so far, I'm looking forward to it!

January 08, 2007

Graduation: It's Official

It's official. According to the Carnegie Mellon University Student Information Online web application, my current student status is graduated. So, I now hold a masters degree from the #3 ranked graduate department (up one from last year!) in computer engineering.

Now, to see about this Ph.D... my applications are all complete, and I am looking forward to reading the glowing letters of acceptance and offers of large sums of money that come my way in March and April. Haha!

In other news, my cold is basically gone, and I can breathe normally now, with the exception of the odd trip to the Kleenex box.

Also, Katy and I have watched most of the first season of House on DVD over the past several days, and we absolutely looooove it. If you haven't seen it, and you're even remotely interested in intellectual banter or diagnostic medicine, this is your chance to show the world that you are fully capable of watching a really cool television show! Oh, and you'll be able to tell all your friends about interesting ways of determining whether someone's husband is cheating on them, which I guess has its perks.

As for everything else, I'm being pretty boring these days... basically, I'm trying to find something to do for the next seven months. My search will probably take me to the "input your resume" part of Monster.com tomorrow, after which I will browse a million jobs in which I'm grossly uninterested or for which I'm ridiculously overqualified, and then I'll get dismayed and wonder whether I'd be better off trying to make a quick buck just selling useless things on eBay from the comfort of my study at home? But, I digress. I'll keep you posted.

January 02, 2007

Happy New Year

Another year, another 365 days of not knowing what the future has in store.

As I was at the end of October, I'm currently sick. Cough, congestion, obnoxious nasal voice, you name it, and my doctor will hear about it later this week. I imagine Katy is also getting sick, since we got back together over our Christmas holiday in Houston, and we've been spending a fair amount of time together in Pittsburgh since then. She has to teach at Pitt tomorrow morning, bright and early, so it has been a relatively short reunion for us. Regardless, we're in it for the long run now, and we're both exceedingly happy about it.

Now, I need to go find some decongestant... happy new year!

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 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... :)

November 30, 2006

Snow in Dallas, Apparently

You guys are hilarious. :)

Oh, and since we're here and (baby) it's cold outside, the hot chocolate (and submarino) lovers among you should check out this recipe from Orchidea for cioccolata calda!

November 05, 2006

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

November 03, 2006

Trader Joe's

Today, a week after it opened, I visited the Pittsburgh branch of Trader Joe's, next to the McDonald's on Penn Avenue, a bit south-ish of Penn Circle. I've known good ol' Joe for a few years now, and I've found him to consistently be a bit strange in terms of the grocery store world, even though the stores are a favorite among foodies across the country.

You see, Joe sells organic veggies. But, they're wrapped in plastic. He sells high quality wild and farm-raised fish. But, it's frozen. He sells eggs. In bulk. He sells wine (well, in California, he does). For two dollars. (Who remembers Two Buck Chuck's!)

Despite the idiosyncrasies of Joe's business, it's a decent enough place to buy groceries; indeed, I spent about $50 there today and am quite pleased with my purchases. However, I must point out Trader Joe's will probably not become my market of choice, since the selection is somewhat limited, and damnit, I want to look at the entire length and circumference of a zucchini before I buy it.

Anyway, I'm glad Joe has moved into the 'burgh. It seems businesses here are finally starting to cater to the high-end and health-conscious residents of the city, and I think that's a sign of good things to come.

In other news, the Carnegie Mellon Tartans football team is now 8-0 for the season and have just won their first UAA title (whatever that is) since 1997. Hooray Tartans!

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 23, 2006

Snow!

It is snowing. That is all.

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

Sukkot

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!

September 26, 2006

Dow Jones

I just have a brief comment to make in this entry. The Dow closed at 11,669.39 today, up 0.81% from yesterday. Today's closing value is the second-highest for the index in its 110-year history.

Can you guess when the highest value was? They say it was September 3, 1929, when the index hit 381.17, which presumably inflates to something outrageous. According to this American Public Media web site, it then went on to bottom out at a whopping 41 points in July of 1932.

Is this something for which we must plan? Will 2009 bring such economic deficit to America as 1932 did?

Maybe I'm being over-cautious, but with bond yields rising and real estate tanking while the DJIA is looking surprisingly good and the market is showing signs of bullishness, perhaps it's time to reconsider where that mutual fund money is invested?

September 25, 2006

Signs of Autumn

As the weather gets colder and the skies grow whiter, the landscape changes in step. The first part of the transformation from lush summer greenery to the harsh lifelessness of winter manifests itself in the appearance of the trees. Some of the trees around me have already changed color completely, and some don't show any signs of that.

I present to you some pictures I took in my back yard yesterday. Click them to enlarge.


My favorite is the photo of the silhouette of the trees against the brightly-lit evening clouds.

What signs of autumn have you seen so far?

September 20, 2006

Small Magnets

My lab now has 25 small magnets that are magnetized across the diameter, as you can see in the photo to the right.
Diametrically magnetized cylindrical magnets configured into a smiley face design
The magnets are for use in my capsule endoscope project, but they may just become toys because we've nearly decided we want to use smaller magnets with different shapes. By way of attracting along the diameter instead of along the axis like typical cylindrical magnets, they can make some pretty cool designs. We should have bought 100 just to take neat photos.

My favorite thing to do with them today was line them up next to each other and put each end on a magnetic surface so that the loop of magnets looks sort of like a noose. In this configuration, I could tap them from any direction, and the whole magnetic link would wobble a bit and then settle down. It looks pretty cool, anyway!

In other news, my mastery of sausage-making led to a party this past Saturday, and while I have lots of pictures of making the sausages, I don't have any pictures of the actual party, where people delighted in eating them for about four hours! I made 29 sausages of six different varieties. I'll write about them at some point... really.

September 12, 2006

Kosher Spam

Lately, I've noticed my spam filter has been catching some interesting emails. In particular, the word hillel has appeared several times!
A hillel email in my spam catcher
I'm not sure what to make of this, but maybe the spammers are trying to appeal to the Jewish crowd?

I don't really want to open the emails to see what's inside, and I doubt it would actually end up being anything relating to Judaism. But, at least I know if I ever want kosher spam, I have to look no further than my own email!

In other email news, I received one from a professor this morning, stating the classroom for our class is changing. This is mostly beneficial because the first room really wasn't conducive to teaching engineering material. It was in the Center for Fine Arts... for whatever reason... but, now it's in the mechanical engineering building, Scaife Hall. My only disappointment is that we'll no longer have the neat view of north Pittsburgh afforded by the large windows in the room in the CFA. Ah well.

September 10, 2006

Many More on the Blogroll

I have changed my blogroll again, adding five more food blogs to the mix. I read these regularly in my RSS reader, and I really enjoy the diversity of the entries and the comments. If you're at all into food, check them out. I especially recommend Lobstersquad, the food blog with drawings, written by professional illustrator and food lover extraordinaire Ximena Maier, from Madrid.

In my own food world, I must confess I ordered take-out Chinese food tonight. I don't normally like Chinese food, in general, but I sometimes feel like I have to have an egg roll Right Now, and that's basically what happened tonight. I ordered from How Lee, just up the road at Shady Ave. & Forbes Ave., and while the delivery took somewhat longer than I expected, the egg rolls and spring rolls were quite good. So were the few bites of orange chicken I ate. My order also included pork fried rice, so I have tons of left-overs, which I will eat over the next several days. Too easy!

September 09, 2006

Poor Old Gaspare

I finally removed Gaspare from the image of my family at the New York Stock Exchange in the marquee at the top of my blog. Poor old Gaspare just happened to be looking at the camera when the broker took the picture. The family photo from the NYSE, with Gaspare in the background. Click to enlargeAlas, while it took me a year to get around to changing the photo, he no longer appears there. By the way, creating the selection path in Photoshop along my mom's hair was ridiculously difficult, which is probably why I've spent a year getting around to doing it again.

Today is another lazy day, I guess. The weather is very nice, and I have many of my windows open. I have some emails to write and some research to do, but perhaps all that can wait until I have another cup of coffee. Indeed, they will wait until then.

I also need to call Steve because he has invited me over to his place in Greenfield this evening. Seeing what he has done to his house over the past year will be very cool; he's certainly put a lot of time into it.

My mom told me she plans to visit Pittsburgh for a while during my dad's next extended trip to Argentina. I'm looking forward to hosting her for a while; it'll be fun!

September 08, 2006

Wow, It's a Dorian!

I was going to post some of the pictures of Pixel I have on my camera, but I found this wonderful (somewhat modified) picture of Dorian and decided it needed its own entry. Good kitty!

I'm listening to Pink Floyd and being generally unproductive tonight. When The Division Bell is over, I'll probably watch a movie. Uneventful Friday nights tend to make a person feel lonely, non?

Oh, and by the way, to hell with rice cookers. :)

August 31, 2006

Pixel Face Photo

Pixel is difficult to photograph because, it seems, every time I get the camera to take a picture of something cute she's doing, she's not doing it anymore when I get back with it. Well, today, that situation sort of changed.
The new pixel face photo. Click to enlarge
She curled up on some graph paper on my desk while I was sitting there, and my camera happened to be right next to me. I took a few photos, and I present to you one of the good ones, touched up a bit, of course. (Now that I look at it on the web, it seems I reduced the color along the outline of her face a bit much. I'll fix that eventually.)

I'm leaving for Boston today, where I will do a number of things, hopefully including eating some good shellfish. I've been craving lobster or crabs or something for days, and Boston is a wonderful place to satisfy that craving... preferably not at Legal Seafood.

Speaking of crabs, I really want to try The Wednesday Chef's crab cake recipe at some point. They look amazingly wonderful.

It's time to pack for my trip. Pity it's illegal to take toothpaste on an airplane now. I guess old ladies won't be able to brush their teeth in the lavatory before storming the cockpit with their blunt scissors and knitting needles anymore. And, that's really too bad because I would probably find that pretty amusing.

August 28, 2006

Transit Friends

It seems I meet cool people when I'm traveling. I met Kurt at Dulles, I met Amy on a flight to Houston, and today, I met Kelsey on the bus. We rode the infamous 61C together from Carnegie Mellon to Squirrel Hill, and upon noticing a frazzled newcomer to the front of the bus having a difficult time discovering the bus pass presentation protocol, Kelsey asked me a question about how our ID cards work as bus passes. I explained it to him, and we talked for several blocks. It turns out he's interested in magnetics applications that are somewhat similar to my own research. I actually discussed the specific concept he mentioned, magnetic nanoparticles, in the Presentation that Never Was. So, he and I will do coffee or beer together at some point.

I started classes today, and my CMU ECE web site reflects the new courses, so you can read about them there. Today's class was Elias's, which will be a good class, and I'll probably learn quite a bit about fiber optics and how all that stuff works, even though I really don't have any particular use for the information that will be in my head at the end of the semester.

In other news, the guys in Los Angeles finally picked up their phone today, and I got a very long-winded description of what happened with my server. They are pushing the blame onto a contracting company called Data Connect, which owes Cogent Communications something like $22,000 for several months of leasing one of their data lines. Cogent shut off that line last week because the payments had become so overdue, and my server was on that line. It seems, despite this, Black Sun still never bothered to call me about it, so they aren't any less responsible. The end result, though, is someone will take my server to one of those shipping outlets so they can pack it up securely and send it to me. That's not going to be a cheap shipment.

Oh, oh, oh, and guess what I had for dinner tonight? I had D'artagnan black truffle chicken sausage, on top of fresh brie, on top of cracked pepper water crackers. And, it was really good.

I'm also still waiting for Katy to officially tag me for the food meme thinger.

August 25, 2006

Server Service Suspended

The company that colocates my server in Los Angeles, Black Sun, has failed to pay their bandwidth bills for the Cogent carrier line that connects to my server. Yesterday, it appears, Cogent suspended service on that line.

As a result, I can't get to that server through the Internet.

Also as a result, several peoples' email service and web hosting service is suspended indefinitely.

Now, I don't have any idea why they've failed to pay their bills. And, their sales department isn't answering their phones.

The only thing I can do is keep trying to call them. My intent is to have them send my server back to me right away, hopefully by 2-day freight or better.

When the server arrives here, I will be able to restore service to those web sites and email accounts here in Pittsburgh, but until then, I will not be able to do anything with them.

If you are affected by this service outage, I apologize, but as you see, the matter is out of my hands.

Netblock Outage

In this edition of Everything Goes Wrong in the Internet, Cogent, the company who provides network services to my server in Los Angeles, has been having some serious issues with their network yesterday and tonight. All attempts to contact my server in Los Angeles are failing; they're stopping either in New York City or in Washington, D.C., depending on the origin of the attempt. And, it's not just happening to me; there are at least 200 other Internet addresses affected by this outage. As per usual, all my emails have gone unanswered.

I can't wait to get my server back.

In other news, my vet's phone number was "temporarily disabled" by the phone company yesterday, and by the time I could get through to their office to ask when Pixel's appointment is, they were closed. So, my talk at CMU, which happens some time between 2:00 and 4:30 today, may have to override the importance of Pixel's check-up at the vet. Hopefully, the vet will be able to see her on Monday or Tuesday, instead.

Sigh.

Oh, but I did watch Dark City tonight, which started off very well and had me quite hooked but then gradually lost its cinematic luster and had a very disappointing ending.

Alas, perhaps sleep will make this day go away.

August 23, 2006

The Skypeway

I woke up early this morning and took Pixel back to the Animal Rescue League, where they spayed her for free and told me my $50 deposit refund would arrive as a check in my mail in 4-6 weeks. I thought they would just refund the credit card charge, but I guess that would be too easy. Anyway, not having $50 for a month is much better than paying $250 to get her spayed at the vet.

I used a cable tie to attach a webcam to one of my speakers, since it wouldn't quite fit on the top of my LCD monitor, and Arin got to watch me, via Skype, solve the mysteries of spontaneously rebooting servers for a while. I also chatted with my mom and Helen today on Skype, and Helen figured out the Mac software doesn't support video yet. That's a pity, too, because I'm sure she would have liked to see Pixel in all her groggy, post-spay glory.

As for this spontaneously rebooting server issue, it's been going on for a few months now, and after many hours of investigation, I've finally pinned down the cause (hopefully) and decided to do something about it. As a result, I have four computers running in this room right now; all of which are contributing to the effort in some way. Also as a result, there may be infrequent disconnects for services I host here at home. After the server is back on its feet, which will hopefully be tomorrow (today, Wednesday), I'll be able to transfer everything else from Los Angeles and then ask the ship of fools there to send my $1,500 heap of black and red circuit slag back to me. It's a very pretty server; I hope I can find a good use for it here or, at the very least, sell it to a nice, geeky home.

Also, you will notice I have added another blog to my blogroll: Eat. A mother in Pittsburgh and her son in New York post to the blog, and their entries mostly focus on restaurants and food but also contain other bits of information on life in the authors' respective cities. Currently, Leland, the son, is taking bread-making classes, and I really enjoy reading about those. Perhaps I'll try my hand at making bread when the weather cools and I can bear running the oven in my window-ventilated first floor.

I'll try to get some more Pixel pictures up here soon. I know some of you are very interested in seeing them!

August 19, 2006

Introducing Pixel

I went to the West Pennsylvania Animal Rescue league around 4:00 this afternoon and found so many cats I wanted to take home. I considered adopting two, but sense came over me again, and I only got one. So, now, you get to meet her! In the tradition of naming cats after prominent literary figures, I present to you Pixel, the cat who walks through walls. I expect a big grin to be on at least Tamara's face after reading the previous sentence. :)

And, without further ado, some pictures! Click them to enlarge.

Friendly Local Beercat

A number of relatively minor things have happened this week, and while it's nothing to write home about, perhaps my avid blog readers would be interested?

I spent most of Wednesday and Thursday working on my presentation on magnetic actuation for my research group, only to find out Friday morning that there was not enough time remaining in our meeting for me to present the entire thing. In all likelihood, I will give my talk next Friday, instead. This is sort of a relief, in that I now have more time to prepare the talk (and pare it down in length), but it is also disappointing because I was quite ready to present this morning.

This past evening, I decided it would be nice to drink a beer or two, so I tried out a new beer distributor called Mellinger's on Semple Street in Oakland, just a couple blocks down Bates from Mad Mex. Mellinger's has an extensive selection of brews, including one of my favorites, Delerium Tremens, which was $88 per case. I ended up with a case of Shiner Bock, a beer that is rarely exported from Texas, for slightly less than half the cost of Delerium Tremens. At less than $2 per bottle, it's a fantastic deal by Pennsylvania standards.

Lately, Katy has been worrying about Oliver, her cat who meows often, seemingly because Dorian is gone. Katy remedied this problem by adopting a new cat, whom she named Eliza.

Dorian has been exhibiting the same sort of symptoms of loss lately, though not quite as severely as Oliver apparently was. Tomorrow (today, Saturday), I think I'll make my way over to Animal Rescue in East Liberty and choose a new friend for Mr. Gray. Perhaps a certain younger female tabby with silver coloring would do the trick. I'll keep you updated!

I also need to figure out the details of attending move-in day at MassArt with Taylor. September 2 is a Saturday, so this is certainly feasible.

That's all the news I have today!

August 15, 2006

Infographics

Today, Fark.com linked to a very enlightening set of infographics hosted by the International Networks Archive, a project involving some faculty from Princeton that aims to develop sets of data that chronicle global issues through empirical research.

Some interesting things I learned from browsing the infographics...

  • While Finland, Canada, and some other usual suspects have the best drinking water in the world, guess who has the worst? It's not Rwanda or India... it's Belgium!
  • 7,000 bags of luggage are lost every day by the airline industry, a figure that gives you only a 99.5% chance of being able to pick up your bags at the carousel at your destination. I'm glad I always carry on!
  • It's true America has the highest percentage of people who own cars, at 78.5%, but did you know that same figure for India is only 2.5%?
  • More than twice the number of people robbed with guns in Ireland in 1997 were robbed with what other device? That's right, a syringe, which outgunned the pistol with 590 incidents, compared to a paltry 252.

Check those infographics out; there's more interesting stuff where this came from!

In other news, Taylor is on a flight to Boston right now, and she'll meet our mother at the airport there this evening. Taylor said the security measures that have come into effect because of the UK hijacking hijinks last week didn't really slow anything down and that the line at security was pretty short. Cool!

Now, I have until Friday to prepare a survey of current research on magnetic actuation at the micro- and nanoscale. I'll give that presentation at the nano-lab meeting Friday afternoon. Here we go.

August 13, 2006

New Blog Host

If you're reading this, then you are connecting to the server in my home study to read my blog, instead of the server I colocate in Los Angeles.

This is the first step toward moving content from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh, and over the next several days, I hope to move all the content from there to here. When that process is finished, I intend to ask my colocation host to return my server to me, after having it colocated there for three years.

During this transition period, I would like you readers to report any malfunctions or other oddities you experience in connecting to any of the web sites I host. By doing so, you will help keep the quality of service high for everyone involved.

Also, you will notice in the address bar of your browser that you downloaded this page from sandbox.colinwetherbee.com. Do not bookmark or link to this site specifically, as this is only a temporary URI change.

August 11, 2006

A Handful of Pictures

Since Taylor has been here, she has been a wonderful help with assembling furniture and unpacking boxes. I now have a tall glass display case in the dining room, a couple new bar stools in the kitchen, and a shelving system in the study.
Looking down my street at night


The Church Brew Works's Pious Monk Dunkel beer
The shelving system is pretty neat because it's big enough to hold all the random stuff, including various computers, I haven't been able to properly store over the past few years. I'm also looking forward to putting things in the display case, but I don't know that I have enough cool-looking and shiny stuff to do justice to the amount of shelf space in it.

I also have a couple new rugs, one of which is huge and takes up just the right amount of space in the living room. Ideally, the dining room could use a rug of similar size, but giant rugs aren't exactly cheap. We'll see what happens, I guess.

Tonight begins an art show and wares sale on Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside, not dissimilar to the Glow Night they held (and about which I wrote here, I think) last winter. Perhaps Taylor and I should go over there later. The festivities end at 8:00, so we'll have to get there "early" in order to browse all the galleries. The event continues until Sunday at 5:00.

Next Monday, I have another research meeting with the nano-lab group, and it looks like I won't have to complete the survey of magnetic actuation papers before then.
Dorian helping me unpack in the kitchen


One of the staircases leading from the first floor to the second floor
Which is just as well, since I haven't really even started on it, as I've been so busy with moving and with Taylor's visit. Regardless, I must attend the meeting, so that will suck a couple/few hours out of my Monday afternoon.

By the way, the pictures included with this entry are from several days ago, and my kitchen looks much different now. Dorian, on the other hand, doesn't look too different, and he's just as helpful as ever. He has been quite wonderful assisting with this move, especially in terms of occupying the space on the floor where I want to step while carrying something large and/or heavy. The photo of the case of beer is included simply because it was there, and I think it's a fine example of some very interesting packaging. Thanks to Katy, many of my dishes were packed in that box.

I imagine Taylor is out of the shower now, and maybe she has also finished primping. I think it's time to go determine her status and have some yogurt and/or cereal for my 2:00 PM breakfast. And, then, we'll continue the search for the hardware for my pot rack, which we abandoned after becoming tired and lazy some time last night.

Enjoy the photos. I'll try to post more of them, as things around here start coming together better. It shouldn't be too long until this place is completely unpacked!

August 08, 2006

Bomb Squad

When I first looked out my front windows this morning, I saw a fire truck parked diagonally across the street and fire fighters standing around it. I didn't think much of it, as they seemed to have everything under control, and I hadn't had my coffee yet.

I left around noon to go to the 'burbs and do some shopping before picking Taylor up at the airport, and when I pulled out of my driveway, I turned right to go down the street toward the I-376 ramp. However, a man in the street waved me the other way, so, based on his gesticulations and the road block at the next intersection, I reversed into my driveway and turned left, instead, driving past that same fire truck and a police car in order to get off my street.

It turns out the Jewish synagogue where the road block was (Shady at Phillips) received a "suspicious package" earlier this morning. And, so did three other synagogues in Pittsburgh.

Bomb squad robots removed the packages from the buildings and so forth, and it was determined the contents were just some poorly marked digital media. The packages also had no return addresses, and it was this observation, apparently, that caused the synagogue staff to alert the police.

So, there wasn't really a threat in the first place, but it's definitely a strange feeling to have a bomb squad checking out suspicious packages a few doors down.

In other news, thanks in part to Taylor, I now own two new rugs. The first is in my living room right now, and it looks really cool. Hooray!

August 07, 2006

New Digs Update

I'm apparently supposed to write a blog entry now, as people (you, perhaps?!) have been telling me they've been looking for one and can't find it.

Well, Saturday night was an interesting night. I hung out with my neighbors on Bob's porch until 1:00 AM. There were nine of us, including the woman who previously lived in my house (she has moved to Brownsville, Texas, oddly.). We talked about everything, and we all had something to say, since we come from wildly varying backgrounds. One of the interesting things about the demographics of this group, by the way, is that three are from South America. In this neighborhood, it would be common for the immigrants to be Asian or Middle Eastern, but not our group! Anyway, that was lots of fun, and I look forward to more gatherings like that.

In other news, unpacking is just making things messy and ugly right now, but maybe Taylor, who is coming to Pittsburgh tomorrow to stay for a week, can help with that. I also now have cable Internet access, which is blazingly fast, and a washer and dryer that make beeps and have lights that blink and are super-efficent, and gas service is still scheduled for Wednesday. I wonder how Taylor's going to enjoy taking a freezing cold shower?

Because I have Internet access here now, I moved my server and most of the rest of my other things out of Katy's place tonight. When I plugged the server's UPS into the wall, it overloaded the circuit, and I had to go find the breaker box and fix things. It seems I can only have one air conditioner and one UPS on any of my circuits. Which is interesting, since the only grounded circuits are in my bedroom and my study. Anyway, one long power cable extension later, the problem is solved, if not elegantly.

I took some pictures last night, but I don't feel like making them all blog-ready right now. Stay tuned — I'll try to have them up here in the next couple days.

August 04, 2006

Gas Company

First of all, happy birthday, Dad! I don't know if you read this, but if you do, rest assured I've been thinking about you today.

After another hour of dealing with gas company drones this morning, I am scheduled to have gas service next Wednesday, from the same gas company that told me, just yesterday, they didn't service my address, and they didn't have my meter number on file. Yes, that's Wednesday, five days of cold showers from now, when Dominion Peoples Gas Company drives down the road to turn a knob outside my house (or whatever they do).

Katy was a dear and let me take a shower at her place tonight, though, after we ate Indian food and the kitties had some play time.

I've been toying with the idea of taking pictures of this place while it's still full of semi-packed boxes. That way, I won't have to make everything perfect before taking pictures because you'll understand I've just moved in, and I won't have to put up with those of you who will bug me for the next three months about sending some photos your way. However, the easiest thing for me to do remains letting you sleep on my couch for a few days so you can see the house with your own eyes, and I highly recommend that alternative to bothering me about taking pictures. The circumstances are especially so if you're willing and able to assist in the unpacking of the semi-packed boxes that litter the first two floors.

Andrew noted yesterday that I might meet my neighbors in the future. Surely to everyone's surprise, I've already met many of them, and I like them! My immediate neighbors are a retired fire fighter and an oncology surgeon, and I don't really know what anyone else does. I did a Google search on the fire fighter's address last night, and I found out that he might have practiced law at some point, too, and that he has the same (uncommon) surname as another person from whom I considered renting a place to live. They're both about the same age... maybe they're brothers or something. Weird.

Maybe there will be pictures tomorrow. Maybe not. Either way, there should be a brand new washing machine and dryer in my basement, expressly for those times before Wednesday when I want things to rotate in a cold drum for a while.

August 03, 2006

New Digs on the Hill of Squirrels

Some time between 8:45 and 11:45 this morning, I officially moved into my new place in Squirrel Hill. I'm typing this from my laptop, which is connected to the Internet by some lovely neighbor's unsecured wireless network.

The new house has its ups and downs, but in the end (and in the winter), I think this will be a very nice place to live. On the other hand, this means I'm no longer living with Katy, and that is very sad, upsetting, and depressing. You see, we didn't actually "break up" or anything; we just figured out, over the past few months, that we really aren't very good at living with each other. So, now, we're trying to keep bad things from happening to us in the future by preventing the future from happening. This was a difficult decision to make, and it has been even more difficult to live through its consequences. I have a feeling our cats are going to miss each other quite a lot, too.

To add insult to injury, the gas companies of Pittsburgh are wreaking havoc on my brain. The two largest (I think) gas companies here are Equitable Gas and Dominion Peoples Gas. It is now apparent, after filling out forms on the Internet, spending at least two hours on hold, waiting for various people to get back to me, manually reading my gas meter serial number, and so forth, that neither of the gas companies service my new address. Before I get really desperate, I'm going to try the other game in town, T. W. Phillips Gas Company. They, however, are only open for business from 8 to 5 on weekdays, so if I can't get something arranged tomorrow, I won't have gas until next week. Something tells me I'll have to get used to taking cold showers (one of which I took earlier, grunting and grumbling and cursing the entire time).

Another problem that arises from not having gas service is that I can't cook anything, do dishes, or wash my laundry. I posited to Arin earlier that I might just buy a microwave, which could solve all three issues to some degree under the proper circumstances. Instead of buying a microwave, however, I went to the grocery store and spent $150 on lots of food and beverages; nothing of which needs to be cooked. I am presently eating the simplest of those purchases: chips and salsa. At least the electricity works — without a refrigerator, I'd really be in trouble.

In somewhat unrelated news, a frontal system is in the process of passing through here at the moment, and along with it have come some fantastic thunderstorms. I'd really like to sit outside and enjoy the storms, but I have more pressing things to do right now. Like write this blog entry. Or something.

July 30, 2006

Weather Woes

As the temperatures prepare to climb into the 90s for the week, I am reminded of a post to this blog I made last October 19. It may have been the first time the highs dipped below 60 last fall, and I'm looking forward to that happening again this year... only two and a half months to go, now! We had a good rain today, and its associated frontal system sucked some of the humidity out of the air, so we now have a brief respite from the muggy air.

I think I'm going to try to schedule my move to Squirrel Hill for Thursday, since that's when the temperatures are supposed to drop off a little bit. I'm glad there aren't very many stairs to negotiate this time; I think the three flights down from my old condo almost killed one of the movers last time!

Meanwhile, I am researching wireless AC actuation for Metin, and I'm supposed to present a survey of current research at one of our meetings at some point. I am pretty unclear on when that happens, though, so I hope he returns the request for clarification I emailed to him this morning soon. I certainly won't be able to have the research finished by this Friday (if I remember correctly, research meetings are on Fridays), but next Friday might be do-able, and the following Friday would be all but guaranteed.

Tristram the Australian cooked something that smelled like onions and butter about half an hour ago, and since then, I've been getting more and more hungry. It might be time to eat soon!

July 29, 2006

Inspection Days' End

I drove around for a little while today and finally found an auto inspection station that was open. To my surprise, it seems many mechanics are closed for the weekend here in Pittsburgh.

The Meineke at Liberty & 31st took my car, and an employee lambasted me for affixing my temporary registration to my window while Texas plates were still on the car (but, that's what AAA told me to do, I think) and told me to come back in 2-3 hours. I took the 86A bus back home, dawdled for an hour or two, got their phone call, and took the 86B back down to Meineke. The car now has Pennsylvania plates and looks absolutely nothing like it did with Texas plates! Er, well, that's not really true. But, it no longer has a front license plate — how d'ya like them apples?

I joined Angie's List today, at the exhortation of Katy, to check out moving companies. It looks like the James Moving Company (est. 1950) will be moving me some time next week. They received high marks from Angie's List and the Better Business Bureau, so I'll call Monday and set up a date and time. If it weren't so warm and humid here, the move would be much more exciting than its current state of interminable dullness. I've started packing what little I have to pack, but as with everything else this summer, I'm just not very motivated to do it.

In other news, kitties are happy and clawing a sisal post, and it's coming up on the early evening, the hottest time of the day. So, I'm going to sit around and do nothing for a while.

July 28, 2006

Car Inspection? No Thanks!

Wednesday, I titled my car here in Pennsylvania, and I have ten days to get it inspected. So far, I've spent about four hours of my time dealing with Monro Muffler & Brakes in some capacity or another. Yesterday's efforts ended when I needed to leave before they even started the inspection, after sitting there for a couple hours, and today's efforts ended when I called them, inquired about the progress, and got a response of, "I was just going to call you and tell you our emissions machine broke." Lovely.

I guess I'll try again tomorrow, and this time I'll take the car somewhere else.

Meanwhile, I've secured some new digs. The new place is in Squirrel Hill, and it has three storeys, three bedrooms, a reasonably sized and well-equipped kitchen, a decent backyard, a private garage, and so forth. I'll get the keys Monday, after they fix a few problems I found in the bathroom on the second floor. Dorian is going to love this place.

July 25, 2006

Gas Prices

I just ran into a 2001 article from the Houston Chronicle that mentioned a jump in gasoline prices from $1.19 per gallon to over $1.40 per gallon in April of that year. It's difficult to believe gas cost so little only five years ago, and it seems like forever since it was below $2.50. Crikey, something must be done!

Also, Metin Sitti has agreed to be my advisor, and we're going to get the ball rolling with the related paperwork right away. Hooray!

Waiting

I'm sitting in my office at CMU right now, waiting for my advisor-to-be to finish talking with someone else. It's warm in here, and even sitting down and doing nothing is uncomfortable. I've just turned the air down from 75 to 71, so we'll see what that does.

It seems a lot of the people who inhabited offices around here in the spring have moved to Porter Hall. I wonder if there's something I should know about? Maybe the air conditioning works better there!

I think after I finish talking with Metin, I'll go check out some houses... my eye is on a townhouse in Squirrel Hill, even though it doesn't have central air conditioning, so I'll probably call that guy first. I have a stack of other advertisements in my car, as well, in case that one doesn't work out. I will, of course, keep you lovely readers updated.

July 21, 2006

Boston Bereavement

I have a flight to Boston tomorrow afternoon, where I will meet my dad at the airport and spend a couple days with the usual suspects on our lovely island (where the highs will be in the 70s, by the way). Alas, it will not be entirely the joyous, fun-filled adventure it usually is, as my aunt Kathy died this morning after a prolonged battle with cancer.
Kathy on Plum Island
It is said that, yesterday afternoon, Kathy was pale gray and not drinking anything. I understand she passed away around 1:00 this morning. The funeral takes place next Saturday, but because my dad will be required in Buenos Aires, we have elected to visit this weekend, instead.

I wasn't particularly close to Kathy, but she was, without a doubt, a wonderful woman.

I'll be back in Pittsburgh on Monday, and next week should be a whirlwind of house-hunting and nanotech. I've emailed and called a number of people about their properties, and there are some definite winners in the bunch. I'm also going to print out some more advertisements so I can bleed on them on the plane tomorrow. I imagine I will move house the following week, which will give me almost a full month to get settled before the fall semester begins.

Also, Taylor turned 18 today, and I suspect she's having a wonderful time of it. I tried to call her earlier to wish her a happy birthday, but I was only able to leave a message.

July 19, 2006

Jabberwocky


The frumious bandersnatch
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One two! One two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

— Lewis Carroll.

July 18, 2006

I Got the Dealership Blues

I took my car to the dealership today to have some work done on the interiors of the passenger-side doors. I also told them to give it an oil change and a new air filter. The impetus for this work is that I'm finally getting around to titling my car here in Pennsylvania, and I don't think it will pass inspection without the door repair.

The oil change part of this is interesting: my oil change was due April 6, but the car still has about 1,800 miles to go until it hits the mileage threshold, since I rarely drive anywhere. I figured the mileage part is probably more important than the date part, but why not have the oil changed while it's in the shop, anyway? And, the air filter... well, cars need new air filters once in a while.

The dealership has to order a part, so the car will be in the South Hills for another few days. I'm stuck at home (or on a bus) until that happens, but that isn't much of an inconvenience these days.

Tristram, the Australian house-mate/tenant, came back from his summer in Melbourne last night, and he's already left dirty dishes (sans rinse) in the kitchen sink and left the toilet seat up at least once. Oh, well; he is moving out August 1.

Speaking of moving, I'm also in the process of finding somewhere new to live, since Katy and I decided it would be best to part ways. We're still on quite good terms, despite a number of irreconcilable differences, and I hope that continues.

Katy's mom and sister are turning up tonight, and they'll stay for a few days to help Katy paint some of the walls here. Katy's sister is tentatively interested in the engineering department at Carnegie Mellon, too, so I guess she'll check that out while she's here.

July 16, 2006

Nothin' Doin'

It's hot here. Really hot. Mid-90s hot. With two 10,000 BTU/hr. air conditioners in the house, the temperature doesn't get much below 80. In fact, the thermometer right here on my desk says the current temperature is 81.9. Yuck!

Katy and I hosted Debra for the past couple days, and she's now off to Georgia, where she will apparently spend some time with family. She has already driven north from Houston, and she arrived here by way of Dallas, Topeka, Omaha, and Chicago. May the wind be at her back.

Two of Debra's siblings are also on a road trip, but they're in California, having recently left Hollywood for San Francisco. Note one of these siblings in John, who has left his two-year-old son in the hands of the (working) mother for no particularly good reason. I stopped caring much about what goes on in their broken, dysfunctional relationship, but hearing about him going on an indefinitely long road trip (he's already been gone at least two weeks) instead of staying in Houston and working really bothers me. That's John, though: no responsibility, no care for his own child, and future to the wind.

Meanwhile, I'm still doing kidney stuff, magnetic inductive power transfer stuff, and World of Warcraft stuff. Inside. In the dark. Where the temperature is now 82.1 degrees.

July 11, 2006

Mumbai bombings

A year and four days after idiot terrorists set off bombs in the London Underground and on a London bus, more idiot terrorists have set off bombs on trains and at train stations in Mumbai during the evening commute. This has killed at least 160 people, injured far more than that, and left hundreds of thousands of people without a way to get home. The bombs were nearly simultaneous, just like those in London last year.

Katy and I had left-over lamb vindaloo for lunch today... hmph.

I'm going to work on my kidney research this afternoon, and I'll keep an eye on what's happening in Mumbai.

July 05, 2006

Independence Day

In the past few days, I've seen more people than ever write the word independance instead of independence. Are our public schools really that poor?

Yesterday, Katy tried to get me to go to Point State Park, the end of the peninsula where the Allegheny River, the Monongahela River, and the Ohio River meet. The big fireworks show in Pittsburgh is apparently held there every year, and she wanted to do a picnic thing. My counter to her suggestion was that we eat dinner at a nice restaurant on Mt. Washington, instead.
Fireworks as seen from the upper Isabela dining room. Click to enlarge
The side of Mt. Washington facing downtown Pittsburgh (and Point State Park) is basically a cliff face, and there are a number of houses and restaurants built at the very top of it, along Grandview Avenue. I made reservations for 8:30 at Isabela on Grandview, and that afforded us a wonderful view of the fireworks: they exploded at eye-level and were choreographed to a radio broadcast. From the martini to the shrimp, the lobster, the duck, the pork, and the goat cheese cheesecake and all the paired wines and fireworks in-between, it was an exceptionally pleasant dining experience. We must have been really lucky to get those reservations, too, since one of the waiters told us they already have reservations for next year's fireworks.

In other news, I started into my pound of Kopi Luwak coffee (Dallasites: lemur shit coffee) today, and after about a cup and a half so far, I can report that it is the most fantastic coffee I've ever tasted. It is incredibly smooth, yet it has a robust and well-developed palate of berries and old smoky wood. Great stuff, this.

July 04, 2006

San Telmo Comic

I was playing around in Photoshop and turned one of my photos from the San Telmo antiques fair in Buenos Aires into something that looks like it came out of a comic strip. Now, I wonder how other photos would look if I used this technique to modify them?
San Telmo street scene, modified to look like a comic. Click to enlarge
Perhaps I'll try it and see what happens. Any suggestions? It seems people turn out pretty well.

In other news, Katy and I ate dinner tonight at one of our favorite restaurants in Pittsburgh, the Harris Grill, but we first had to wait an hour at the bar for a table on their back patio. Ah well, we talked with Scott the bartender, who is one of our favorite waiters ever, and that was good. He even told us the two places in the city where we can get some Magic Hat No. 9 on tap. The Harris Grill stopped serving Magic Hat on tap when their distributor went dry, and they don't feel like driving eight hours to go get a few kegs of it.

We're about to have a lovely line of storms pass through here; the appearance of which was somewhat predictable because Katy ran the drip hose in the garden all evening. It should help me sleep soundly, at any rate. I love a good thunderstorm, even if it's not Texas-sized or visible 100 miles away.

Well, anyway, good night!

July 03, 2006

Magnetic Mentality

I met with the graduate student with whom I will be working on Ph.D. research today. His interests currently lay in the realm of magnetic power transfer, which seems like a good first step toward the remote powering of nano- and micro-scale devices. I guess you have to start somewhere, right?

People have been trying to make wireless power transfer work in significant quantities since about the turn of the 20th century. Perhaps you've heard of Heinrich Hertz, Nikola Tesla, or Hidetsugu Yagi? These three visionaries spent a lot of time working on moving electricity from one place to another, and they never really succeeded on any sort of large scale.

However, it is entirely possible to move reasonable amounts of power from one place to another on a small scale. Sometimes, people "plant" fluorescent tube lights under power lines for artistic purposes, and they light up brilliantly. Nikola Tesla even powered a similar light from 25 miles away.

We're talking about doing it on an even smaller scale. For medical technology, this would work by having a device external to the body that generates a magnetic field. Then, by means of magnetic induction, the power is transferred to the device inside the body. This sounds lovely and wonderful, but there are some problems. For example, Steve (the other graduate student) says this method has about a 0.1% efficiency. That is, for every 1 tesla (of magnetic flux density) transmitted, only 0.001 tesla is received, and the rest dissipates. This is only one of the problems currently facing the research, but what good is research if there are no problems to overcome?

Anyway, I'm looking forward to working on this project, and it will be nice to actually do some experimental stuff, instead of having my head in books all day.

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 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.

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 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 18, 2006

Swindled

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

Bagpiper

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

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.

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 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 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.

Bah.

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.

March 31, 2006

Noise Complaint: Part 3

I woke up this morning to the sound of bass thumping, so, fed up and tired, I called the police and asked them to come out and talk with me about my options. By the time the two officers arrived, my neighbor had left, and all was quiet. They advised me to file a harassment complaint with the local magistrate and call them again if his music was loud again in the evening.

So frustrated!

Finding out about this magistrate business on the web was a pretty grueling ordeal, as I nearly exhausted all my mental faculties simply coming up with search words, until finally, I just emailed someone whose email address was on an Allegheny County web site. Strangely, she responded within the hour, and her email contained the address and phone number of the local magistrate's office. Brilliant.

I called the magistrate's office and spoke with one of the least helpful people ever and then had to deal with her again when I arrived. Before I went, however, I printed out a couple copies of a log of all the related interactions I've had with the police, my landlord, and my neighbor. As it turns out, that wasn't necessary because that's apparently something the magistrate will only want to see after he approves the complaint.

Anyway, I filed a harassment complaint against my neighbor, and now, we get to see what happens. I also told my landlady, and she forwarded my email to my neighbor, whose music was miraculously at a reasonable (but still audible) volume for most of the evening.

Lunar Eclipse

This is what happens when a satellite is watching the Sahara Desert during a lunar eclipse. Very cool.


Image: Eumetsat, BBC News

March 26, 2006

New Shoes: Part 2

I received my new shoes a couple days ago, and they're absolutely fantastic, incredibly comfortable, and distinctly uncommon. I've really been enjoying wearing them.

So much so, in fact, that I'm going to get another pair of Børn shoes. They will probably be the Judson in the blue and white color scheme or the Lakota in the white and light brown color scheme.

I think the blue/white scheme would be better for spring and summer, but the white/brown scheme would be better for autumn. Maybe that's how I'll plan this. :)

If you're looking for shoes with superior comfort, I highly recommend shopping at Børn.

March 25, 2006

Computer God

I enjoy getting high scores on all the nerd/geek tests I can.


My computer geek score is greater than 99% of all people in the world! How do you compare? Click here to find out!

Hey, Andrew, how are you enjoying Seattle?

March 21, 2006

Art Auction

My sister submitted a Prismacolor piece to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo art auction, and it was selected as one of 53 out of 300,000 submissions to actually be auctioned. Her piece sold for $16,000 to the CEO of Loomis International, an oil and gas services company with a really crappy web site. That's pretty incredible for her first auction piece! She's, like, really awesome and stuff.

I firmly believe the world is out to destroy me, as after a tense evening of listening to my neighbor's bass yesterday, the City of Pittsburgh had its jackhammers going on my street at 7:00 this morning. It seems they're fixing the roads or sidewalks or something, but still... jackhammers at 7 AM are really nerve-wracking. So, four hours of sleep later, I'm awake again. Need coffee.

And, to answer Andrew's query about my parents moving to Buenos Aires, they're doing so because my dad's company, whose Argentina operations he has been managing from Houston for several years, recently gobbled up a smaller Argentine oil company, and the new amount of resources to manage is going to require him, the director, to be there more often. Since Taylor is off to MassArt in the fall, they don't have much keeping them state-side. Besides, why not?! My dad is at least partially fluent in castellano rioplatense, but my mom is going to need to work on it!

March 16, 2006

New Shoes

I just bought these shoes in the "french roast" two-tone color, and I think they're going to be really awesome and comfortable and happy... hooray!

I'm suffering from lamb vindaloo overload. It's wooonnnderful.

March 15, 2006

Chili Peppers

The BBC is running an article right now about how chili peppers make prostate cancer cells commit suicide. Gentlemen, it is time to eat more spicy food.

In other news, it's windy and snowing here on the island. Such wonderful weather... I wish it could be like this all year.

Oh, oh, oh, and it looks like my parents are moving to Buenos Aires soon. Which means I get two (I think?) free trips there each year. Aconcagua, here I come! Stay tuned.

March 13, 2006

Pittsburgh Code

The following link goes to a PDF of chapter 601 of the Pittsburgh municipal code, as of 2006 March 13.

pittsburghcode-ch601-20060313.pdf

It seems section 601.04(d)(1) (page 4) says a person's in-home noise cannot be louder than 10dBC (day) or 5dBC (night) above the nominal ambient background noise level of a neighboring residence.

Further, section 601.04(h) states any noise measurement must be performed with a device conforming to the Type 1 or Type 2 specification defined in ANSI S1.4.

Given these two pieces of information, it seems I should be able to justify accusing my neighbor of being loud if I measure his noise to be above those limits with an approved measurement device.

Then, pursuant to section 601.04(d)(2), an officer will stand in a centralized location in my condo and measure the noise to verify my findings.

If the officer does, indeed, verify my findings, then it seems section 601.04(i)(1) will apply, and my neighbor will be fined by the city. According to section 601.14(a), this fine must be at least $15 plus court costs.

Would some of you mind reading the document and telling me if my analysis makes sense?

More of the Pittsburgh code can be found here.

March 12, 2006

Flow


Play | Hints | Instructions

Katy says it looks like a mind-control experiment. I say it's creepy like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Enjoy. Evolve.

March 08, 2006

20 Page Homework

Some time early this morning, I finished a four-problem homework assignment for my linear systems class. The problem set was 14 pages, and my solution set was 20 pages. My stapler couldn't even staple it, so I turned it in with a paper clip, instead. Wow.

Katy and I have been watching a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation lately, which provides a wonderful respite from whatever work we had been doing up until the break for the show. This week is her spring break, but she's been spending a lot of it writing papers. Next week is mine, and while I don't think I'll spend so much time working, I'm sure it won't be all fun and games. My mom has, however, convinced me to spend a couple days on the Massachusetts coast with the family. She needs to send me her itinerary, so I can buy my plane tickets!

The guy downstairs has been mysteriously quiet this week, with the exception of his dog barking loudly at odd hours.

I don't have much else to say. My brain is pretty fried. Ta-ta for now.

March 04, 2006

Nathan the Wise

Katy and I saw the CMU Drama production of Nathan the Wise last night. It was really, really incredible, and you should read that article about the play.

February 28, 2006

Noisy Evening: Part 2

Right on cue, it's 6:30, and my floor is vibrating, and I can hear bass hits.

I'm so tired. I just want him to stop playing his music for one night, so I can relax, like I should be doing in the evenings, instead of being completely tense because I'm so pissed.

February 27, 2006

Noisy Evening

I had a nasty, evil exam today, and I came home directly after it. All I want to do is relax with some soft music and a crossword puzzle or something. But my freaking floor is vibrating. This guy's music makes me so angry. ANGRY. I don't get visibly angry. THIS makes me angry.

My $1400 deposit goes down the drain if I break my lease. It's probably worth it, but where would I go? I need to explore my options. I also need to explore the idea of suing my landlady for providing me with a residence in which it is not comfortable to live, supposing she refuses to return the deposit. I could also sue my neighbor for lost productivity or something. And get a restraining order. All these lawsuits; I must really be feeling American tonight!

I'm just going to crank my own music so that I'm slightly less uncomfortable than I am when I'm only hearing his music. Too bad that won't stop the floor from vibrating.

February 26, 2006

Photos: Cats and Katy

I present to you la photographie du jour.





Click to enlarge.

In other news, we have two-ish inches of snow right now, and the forecast claims it will continue to snow for at least a couple more days. Fantastic.

Oh, and regarding the birthday card I received from Washington Mutual... I studied the handwriting in detail, and I'm firmly convinced there's no way it came from a machine. It's even possible to tell where the pressure differentials in the paper from the pen's tip are. The bank probably wouldn't even bother going that far in handwriting imitation.

February 23, 2006

Noise Complaint: Part 2

I had words with the loud guy downstairs tonight. For no less than 15 minutes. Maybe 20.

I'd like to mention that I'm very introverted and non-confrontational. I hate talking with people I don't know, and I get really nervous when I'm complaining about them doing something wrong. Yet, that's exactly what I did tonight. That's right; after six months of dealing with this guy's music, I finally descended my stairs, ascended his stairs, and spoke with him.

It was a very heated conversation involving accusation, threatening, and, eventually, compromise. I don't want to go into the details of it here because, for me, the whole experience was pretty terrible. The end result, however, is that he has agreed to keep the volume of his music a bit lower than it has been between 6:30 PM and 8:30 PM. Before and after that time interval, he's said it will be quiet.

If he keeps to this agreement, I will be satisfied, but I don't really expect that to happen. We'll see.

Meanwhile, I'm OK, and I think he's OK, and maybe I won't have to break his face with my chef's knife, after all. It's been a tiring evening, and it's definitely time to play some video games.

P.S. The Weather Underground reports five days of snow in the immediate future; hooray!

February 22, 2006

Birthday Card

In the mail today, I received a hand-written birthday card from my bank. It was mailed from zip code 98101, which makes sense, as that puts it right in the middle of downtown Seattle.

The card is orange and red and has both printed and hand-written birthday messages on the inside. I wouldn't have known it was from my bank, had the last line inside the card not said, "from all of us at WaMu." My address on the envelope, by the way, is also hand-written.

Seriously, who receives hand-written birthday cards from their bank? What does this mean? They would have to employ full-time card writers to get one of these to every one of their millions of customers! There's no way they do that. I'm so confused.

February 18, 2006

Noise Complaint

I've been having problems lately with my neighbor's music. He owns the condo under mine, and he has a stereo that he often turns up so loud that I can hear not only the bass but also the words to the music! The floor shakes, the walls rattle, my wine glasses clank together on the stemware rack, my pots vibrate against each other on the pot rack, and the devil on my shoulder wants me to go downstairs and shove his face onto his lit stovetop. If you go try to talk to him about the music, your first impression is that it's going to be a difficult thing to do because the music can be heard from well beyond the bottom of the stairs to the front door. Once you get up there, the barking of his dog doesn't quite overcome the obscenity of his back-woods West Virginia hillbilly accent, so you're forced to try to decipher English words among the din of his music, a dog's bark, and an uneducated accent. Then, when you can finally hear what he's saying, it occurs to you that he's telling you off. This guy seriously needs an anvil dropped on his face, and I really wish it was legal to do so.

This morning at 2:30, I called the Pittsburgh Police. They showed up very quickly, and the volume of his music was soon lowered to a point at which I felt comfortable going to sleep. Mind you, I could still feel the bass in the floor and through the bed. At 11:00 this morning, I awoke to the sound of his bass.

I've told my landlady about this numerous times, and she insists she's talking with my neighbor via email. While she holds no sway over what he does, he did buy his condo from her, so they know each other much better than I know him, and maybe something she says will make his decency axons stop misfiring.

Meanwhile, I have to wonder why I am constantly neighbor to people who like to run their stereos at ridiculously loud levels in the middle of the night? This happened at several places where I lived in Dallas, and something similar happened in Portland. The guy in Portland liked to play video games at all hours with his subwoofer planted firmly against our shared wall. Portland's noise ordinances only allowed the police to respond to a complaint between certain hours at night, and I found this out by calling the police once during the afternoon and having my request rejected. I haven't been able to find a Pittsburgh noise ordinance list on the Internet, so maybe I'll have to discover this one the hard way, too.

Anyway, this guy is a resident in radiology at a hospital near Duquesne University, so he's presumably been through medical school, and he also is presumably intelligent enough to realize people need to live their lives without their walls shaking. Alas, my reasoning must be folly.

February 16, 2006

MSN Prizes

MSN is apparently trying to woo web surfers (away from Google, *cough*) with its new gimmick called MSN Search and Win. I took a look at it, and while it would be neat to get an XBox 360 for free, I think the horrible odds of winning probably far outweigh any benefit gained through using MSN's search feature. The two most consequential aspects of this are the slow response time from the search engine and the poor quality of the search results (relative to Google, of course).

In other news, Katy is playing Civilization IV, and we're listening to U2's The Joshua Tree, and we're having a pretty nice night of it. The week is over, so why not? Hooray for Thursdays.

If you haven't contributed to my Johari Window and Nohari Window, by the way, please do so at the following links.

Johari Window (view) | Nohari Window (view)

February 15, 2006

Falun Gong

Fark.com: China extending its violent crackdown on political dissidents to new places. Places like Atlanta.

Oh, and happy belated Valentine's Day.

February 14, 2006

Rabbit Sausage


Click to enlarge.

I have an assortment of photos for you today! They were all taken on Sunday, when I was trying to relax in observance of my birthday.

Remember that rabbit I had in my freezer last month? You'll notice in one of the pictures that it has become sausage. It was my first real time to use the meat grinder I got for Christmas, and it turned out very well. I was a bit squeamish about the idea of taking kitchen shears and a chef's knife to a young, innocent rabbit, but one glass of Scotch later, it really wasn't too bad. The sausage is mostly rabbit but also contains about a quarter of a ribeye steak and some venison sausage seasoning. Katy and I ate some of the sausage last night, and it was quite wonderful.

The three other pictures you see are my kitchen after playing with the raw image settings (tint, exposure, shadows, etc.) for my camera, Dorian on my door mat, and the view out my front door when it got particularly blustery. If the green kitchen photo were not so dark, you would be able to see rabbit blood and guts and parts and bits on one of my cutting boards.

Alas, the snow is pretty much gone for the next few days, and the weather has deferred to clear and sunny skies. Hopefully, a sizable portion of the snow will stick around until the weather starts back up again. The next snowfall is due between Thursday and Saturday. The snow photos in this post, by the way, are here by request from my mom, who, living in Houston, hasn't seen a whole lot of the white stuff this year.

I guess I should go read some stuff for the quiz I'm having at 10:30 before I get my bagel and coffee and then head over to the university. Enjoy the photos!

February 13, 2006

Johari Window

Katy has introduced me to the concept of the Johari Window, a model for mapping personality awareness. The idea is that many people can select traits that describe you, and then you can see a map of constructive and destructive interference among the attributes. One can also consider an "inversion" of this idea that maps peoples' not-so-great traits; this is called a Nohari Window.

I invite you all to contribute to my interactive Johari Window and Nohari Window at the following links.

Note: Anonymous contributors seem to have made dishonest entries in my Johari and Nohari Windows. [14 May, 2006]

Johari Window (view) | Nohari Window (view)

Please do not allow your modesty to prevent you from selecting any particular attributes.

February 12, 2006

Birthday Snow


Click to enlarge.
It's really coming down out there, and the National Weather Service has issued a number of special advisories for this part of the country. Over the past couple days, I've been watching a weather system move across the southern United States and start heading up the east coast. That's what you see falling onto my deck in the photo to the right (sorry, I didn't remove the chromatic aberration artifacts from the image, and I fear they're rather obvious in it). Parts of Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Delaware are expecting upwards of a foot of snow from this storm. While we're not expecting anywhere near that much snow in Pittsburgh, it's absolutely beautiful, nonetheless.

It's been a long time since I've had birthday snow. Last year, I nearly had birthday snow by way of spending the following weekend in a snowy London, but that doesn't quite count. So, happy birthday to me! Hooray for snowy birthdays!

I'm now a year older, a year wiser, and a year more stressed out and tired. It's not all bad, though: I have Katy, I'm at Carnegie Mellon University, and I've met a number of wonderful people in the past year. I still have my health (hey, I'm not that old yet!), I'm happy, and I spend a lot of my time learning things. There's not much else I want out of life at the moment. I'm not much of one for reflection, but it's been a rather incredible year, so I'd like to thank everyone who helped make these wonderful things happen: my mom and dad, Taylor, Diana and John, Katy, Tamara, Helen, Debra, Aidan, Danny, and, of course, all the little people. :)

Thanks, guys, for making it a great year. I hope the next year is even better.

Meanwhile, if you're reading this from the east coast, enjoy the storm!

February 11, 2006

Snow!

!

February 09, 2006

Football Games

Andrew requests that I explain my feelings about professional sports. Actually, he apparently narrowed that down to sports with "ball" in the name, but I think my opinions can be applied to any major team sport.

Most importantly, I don't watch sports because I feel watching them is a waste of time. That's not to say I don't have other ways of wasting time, but sitting in front of the television and watching people kick the crap out of each other or run around a diamond a few times or hit a little black cylinder that nobody can see or run back and forth across a wood floor while dribbling a bouncy orange thing just seems pointless to me.

If I'm interested in the game (which, by the way, is an associative property of sports; i.e. I am interested in a game because people around me expect me to know something about a game), then I'll take a look at the score on the web and read a couple highlights. And, while everyone else is watching that game, I'll be doing something less brain-rotting than watching TV and eating potato chips (or eating chicken wings or drinking beer or...).

This has a similar application to live sporting events.

Another important aspect of my dislike for watching sports is that I do not typically get along with the sort of people who watch sports. In Pittsburgh, that's different because everyone here watches sports (what else is there to do on a Sunday afternoon?), but in most cities, the usual suspects for sports-watching are less civilized, etc., than I am. They get excited about football tackles and hockey fights and batters getting hit by pitches. That's not my cup of tea.

I enjoy watching solo sports, however, and maybe all this dislike for sports actually stems from my desire for isolation. But, I like watching a lot of the Olympics for just this reason.

I hope this entry does justice to Andrew's query. I've had a long week (it's over now, though!), and I don't really feel like thinking anymore, but I've been putting off responding to him for a couple days. So, here it is.

February 06, 2006

Super Bowl XL

I did something new yesterday: I went to a bar and watched a football game. Before yesterday, I had never watched a football game, let alone one at a bar. I was afraid I'd have no idea how to "watch" a football game, and somehow, I'd mess up, and everyone would spot me, the impostor! Fortunately, that's not how the evening proceeded.

Katy and I went to the Harris Grill about an hour before the Super Bowl XL (Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Seattle Seahawks) kickoff, where we paid $10 cover for a really awesome buffet (thanks, Rodney) and took over the last two available seats at the bar. Being in the company of a bunch of Steelers fans during the game turned out to be a lot of fun, and as a result, I'm now slightly hoarse from yelling.

The Steelers won their fifth Super Bowl (one for the thumb), 21 to 10, and it was a glorious victory. The city of Pittsburgh went wild, and we even had to dodge fireworks on our walk home.

Also, Taylor sent me a text message during the game that, in so many words, said she has a crush on Steelers safety #43 Troy Polamalu.

February 05, 2006

Extremism

If you don't want your group to be viewed as extremist, stop setting things on fire.

In other news, R.I.P. Grandpa Munster.

February 03, 2006

Five Things: Part 2

I decided to take longer than several minutes to determine five things about me that people don't generally know, in sequel to my post here yesterday. So, I've been thinking about it.

  • I have orange boxer shorts. In fact, I was wearing them yesterday. They are of the Ralph Lauren Polo variety, and they have little Ralph Lauren Polo logo polo players on them.
  • When faced with a new situation, I often enter blindly, pretend I know exactly what I'm doing, and hope for the best. If someone else I know is present, I rarely tell them, and I usually make it seem like I've been doing it forever. For example, long ago, when I first ordered a bottle of wine at a restaurant, I really had no idea what I was doing when it came to doing the smell/taste thing. But, I pulled it off, and nobody knew the wiser. In fact, I don't think I've ever really messed anything like that up so badly that anyone knew I was a first-timer.

You now have two. I will try to think of three more and post them here soon.

February 02, 2006

Five Things

Kari has tagged me in a game of tell us five things people generally don't know about you. I tried for several minutes to come up with even one thing I'd put on this page that is obscure enough to qualify but which is not private enough to keep secret. I couldn't think of anything. Sorry, Kari, I lose the game. I guess I enjoy my privacy too much.

It's raining here, and it's going to rain for the next couple days and then start to snow. I have been telling people that, because we've had such a balmy winter so far, February is going to be full of snowstorms and all kinds of great weather. Pittsburgh normally gets 36 inches of rain and 40 inches of snow per year, and we definitely haven't had more than about six inches so far this winter.

February 01, 2006

State of the Union

A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners, and that recognize the matchless value of every life. Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research: human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids, and buying, selling, or patenting human embryos. Human life is a gift from our Creator -- and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale.
George W. Bush

I believe that paragraph ranks the highest on my list of asinine paragraphs from last night's speech.

Also, there is at least one disparity between the version of the address at GOP.com and the version at whitehouse.gov. The one I found is at the very end of the speech. Can you spot more?

January 31, 2006

Bailey's Bath

I have no idea why anyone would ever bathe in Bailey's.

January 30, 2006

ECE Steelers

Remember when I said Pittsburgh would go crazy if the Steelers made it to the Super Bowl? Well, I wasn't kidding. Even CMU ECE is in on it.


Click to enlarge.

You also really need to check out this music video. It's the Steelers dirge, er, fight song tailored for Super Bowl XL.

January 29, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

Katy and I caught a 10:20 showing of Brokeback Mountain last night at the Waterfront... what a wonderful film. What a wonderful love story. The movie was simultaneously funny, happy, and quite tragic. I think the world has been due for a movie like this for a long time, and I encourage everyone to watch it.

This afternoon is good student time, so I'm off to finish my linear systems homework.

January 27, 2006

Uneventful

Things have been pretty calm lately. No new developments. Lots of quantum mechanics and linear state-space systems. Yep, uneventful.

January 25, 2006

Another Day

Not much in the way of interesting stuff has happened lately. Aside from the Steelers winning the conference championship and Pittsburgh going completely nuts, that is. Oh, and Katy's birthday was Monday. She's now "a year older" than I am, but that will only last another few weeks.

Classes are moving along as predicted, and Elias Towe finally gave me a spreadsheet that correlates the nanotech institute's projects with the principal investigators, so I can talk to them about research. I'm trying to line something up for this summer and/or fall because if something works out, it will significantly help my application to the M.S./Ph.D. program, to which I am planning to transfer (from the "ordinary" M.S. course program) after this semester.

I'm eating a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel, and I'm drinking a cup of coffee. They're both from Bagel Factory. Yum.

January 19, 2006

Classes

I thought you might be interested in reading about my classes. I'll start from the beginning.

My Distributed Systems class meets for 80 minutes, every Tuesday and Thursday. It is co-taught via multiple video, audio, and SmartBoard links with a professor at AIT in Greece, which makes for a very interesting class. There are multiple flat panel screens around the room, automated video cameras everywhere, and microphones integrated into the tables in the class room. It's amazing that technology can integrate two classes across continents so seamlessly. Very cool stuff. As for the content of the course, it's moving really slowly right now, I don't like the lecturer we've had so far, and we've been promised a four-person group project soon. I hate group projects. Hate.

I am also taking a nanotechnology course this semester, which is, so far, really amazing. It's taught by Elias Towe, who totally rocks the house, and it meets for 110 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday. After lunch. And coffee. The first half of the class is going to be a review of quantum mechanics, and the second half will be an introduction to nanoscale structures like quantum dots, photonic crystals, and so on. It's also a small class, which makes it even more exciting. This will be the best of the three, I'm certain.

The third class is Linear Systems, which meets for 110 minutes every Monday and Wednesday and is taught by, shall I say, a very unique character. The class is offered under the departments of chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering, and the professor does rather an excellent job of teaching the material simultaneously from each perspective. For example, we spent the entire class yesterday solving a particular differential equation to obtain the transfer function for a physical system, and the professor explained it with the discharge of a battery, a beam with weights, and a voltage divider circuit, all at the same time. Which is nice, but Nicole says his homeworks and exams are insane. His syllabus is 21 pages and has footnotes, citations, and a table of contents. Who the hell does that? This should be interesting. If not lethal.

January 17, 2006

Starting School Again

Today marks the dawn of a new semester. In less than one hour, I will board a bus that will take me into Oakland, from whence I will walk along the border between Oakland and Squirrel Hill to meet that which is to be a great part of my life for the next three months. Today, I will begin two classes, and tomorrow, I will begin a third. They say taking three classes is absurd, and it certainly was absurd last autumn, but in order to remain a full-time student and retain my health insurance, this is what I must do. Wish me luck, as I embark on another grand adventure through the rigor of Carnegie Mellon University's graduate program in electrical and computer engineering.

In other news, the vegetarian dinner I cooked Saturday night turned out to be fantastic, and all on hand enjoyed it. It started with warm pita and dips, three of which were bought from the store and one of which I made. Then, it progressed to a plate of white asparagus wrapped in a delicately balanced cream-based mixture of bread crumbs, feta cheese, tomato, crushed red pepper, and Turkish aleppo pepper. The main course followed, which was pasta and a sauce made of a bunch of stuff, a large portion of which I can't remember. The sauce was cream-based and contained yellow and red bell peppers, aleppo pepper, tomato, feta cheese, parmesan cheese, herbs, spices, and some other things. I added boiled shrimp to three of the dishes, but the fourth had to remain vegetarian. As far as I could tell, everyone was impressed with dinner.

Now that I've made myself hungry by writing that, I'm going to head into town and see if I can find a pastry and a cup of coffee before class. I think I'll try Craig Street Coffee first.

Oh, by the way, I have made note of my new classes on my CMU ECE web page, if you're interested in what they are.

January 14, 2006

Urban Outfitters: Part 2

As Andrew said in the comments section of my previous post, yes, the executives of Urban Outfitters Inc. are quite adept at separating fools from their money. I have no problem with that at all. In fact, retail establishments largely serve to separate fools from their money. I know this: I buy Armani, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, and the rest, too, but I guess my point was that I am well aware buying a $200 shirt is a bit over the top, but the 15-year-old who pays $35 for flip-flops probably has no idea what she's doing.

Anyway, Katy has two friends in town this weekend, and I spent some time with one of them last night. We got along quite well, I think, but Katy apparently thought we were tearing each other apart. Silly Katy is just not as mean and nasty as we are, I guess, but she's really cute, so that makes up for it. :)

I may be cooking a vegetarian dinner tonight because one of the visiting girls is crazy like that. Weird.

Oh, oh, oh, and I saw the movie Munich last night with Kurt, Niraj, and Laurent. Excellent, fantastic, wonderful, gripping, and three hours long. Go see it.

January 13, 2006

Urban Outfitters

Urban Outfitters Inc. owns Urban Outfitters stores, Anthropologie stores, and Free People stores. I have received Urban Outfitters and Free People catalogs this week, and if I receive an Anthropologie catalog, I'm going to start complaining. I've never shopped at any of those stores, and I don't particularly want to shop at them.

I find it amusing that these stores, which cater largely to the urban youth and the new hippy ideologies, are run by at least four guys who make over half a million bucks a year and have millions of dollars in stock options to exercise at their respective whims. I guess the people who shop there don't care or don't know. No wonder they sell flip-flops for $35. They have to keep food on the CEO's table!

The fifth guy in the "key executives" part of this corporation is the general counsel, who earns a paltry $345 000.

New Look

A slightly new look for a slightly new year. What do you think?

Also, I present to you Carnegie's-Benz, courtesy of my mom.

January 09, 2006

MySpace.com Censors Users' Journals

Rupert Murdoch, the highly conservative, idiot head of News Corporation (which owns organizations with extremely asinine opinions like Fox News), recently convinced his board they needed to start buying into the Internet. Their first purchase was MySpace.com, an online journal service similar to Xanga and LiveJournal, for some $629m.

As The Independent reports, around the time that happened, any reference or link to rival site YouTube, was censored by way of removing the mention from the communication. MySpace users then created a forum to complain about the censorship, and the forum was subsequently shut down.

Since the censorship, hundreds of users have switched from MySpace to other online journal and blogging sites. Good for them.

January 08, 2006

Snow Gone, Now Warm

It's warm here. In the freakin' 40s. The forecast says it'll stay that way, with highs even reaching 50 a couple times in the next week. What the crap? All the snow that fell yesterday and the day before has melted. AARRRRGGH.

Is there not actually going to be a full month of snow-covered streets and sidewalks this year? December was shaping up to be one, but the complete absence of snow upon return from vacation made me painfully aware that that would not be the case. This almost makes me want to cry. I miss my snow.

Also... if you're not aware, the "j turn" is a driving technique wherein a car starts in reverse and then turns through 180 degrees to end up going forward in the same direction the car was originally reversing. The fine people at Guinness World Records note the narrowest "j turn" was performed in 1999 in Germany, and they have a video to prove it. Very cool stuff.

Several years ago, I read that Secret Service officers are trained to perform these maneuvers while driving limousines. You know, in case the car comes under attack from the front. Also very cool.

January 05, 2006

Oliver Twist: Photos

Two photos of Oliver Twist, Katy's recently adopted two-year-old kitty, taking a break in one of Katy's file boxes, for your viewing pleasure.


Click to enlarge.

CES

The annual Computer Electronics Show (CES) is happening right now in Las Vegas. This means that over the next few days, technology companies from around the world will be announcing their new innovations to the other companies and journalists that are there (it's not a public event, despite being, globally, the largest electronics exposition).

Bill Gates unveiled Microsoft's new Urge music system, which will compete directly with Apple's iTunes but has one distinctly better feature: Urge provides consumers with the opportunity to purchase an "all-you-can-eat" music download subscription with a recurring periodic fee. Evidently, this is something iTunes users have wanted for a long time.

It also seems the next generation DVD format war is really heating up, with Blu-Ray grappling for a hand hold. Incidentally, Microsoft has also confirmed they plan to introduce an external HD-DVD option for the Xbox 360.

Another point of coolness from CES is the flash drive wristband, developed by our good friends at Imation. Now, you can carry your files around on your wrist.

Most of the rest of the stuff that companies have announced so far has been related to USB storage, VoIP, and other big consumer stuff. Hopefully, we'll see some cool new technology before CES is over, though!

January 04, 2006

Curried Louis Braille

It seems today is Louis Braille's birthday. And, Google is still cool.

Image of Google spelled in Braille

Further, having in the past week made a fantastic beef vindaloo and a delicious shrimp coconut curry from recipes pulled directly out of the proverbial (chef's) hat, I would like to announce I am at your service for any relatively small curry making events you host.

Now, I need to figure out how to make naan, paratha, and raita... :)

As the Craig Street Coffee shop in Oakland notes, we're having a heat wave. It's 48F outside, yuck. Tonight, however, it's cold front time, and according to Intellicast, the snow will last for at least three days.

January 03, 2006

Oliver Twist

Katy has a very cute new kitty named Oliver Twist. He is black with white paws, chin, and belly, and he is a bit over two years old. We picked him up from a shelter near here yesterday afternoon, after getting the necessary kitty stuff from Petsmart the previous day. Hooray for cats. We like cats.

In unrelated news, I would like to note it's possible to get a round-trip flight from London to Prague for around $50, including taxes and fees, on easyJet. While they probably make you sit on cinder blocks during the flight and don't have much of a beverage service, you're still only paying $50. What a deal. I wonder why such cheap fares cannot be found in the States?

Also, I have made little progress on the steel composition thing, but I still have some articles to read on knives. I did, however, figure out that my knives are made of surgical steel.

December 31, 2005

MassArt

Taylor was accepted today, by telephone, to her second choice for college, MassArt, so hooray for her! Her first choice is RISD, from whom she will not hear until the middle of January.

At any rate, she'll be a New Englander soon!

December 30, 2005

Steel Alloys: Part 2

Katy and I returned to Pittsburgh yesterday, and we expect to remain here for a while. I think I will be in Manhattan and/or rural Maine for a few days in March, but other than that, the next travel dates will likely be in May or June.

I'm a little closer to understanding enough about steel alloys to be able to solve the problem I found with my Wüsthof Classic knives.

Codes and Standards Training Inc. (CASTI) publishes the CASTI Metals Black Book in European and North American variants. As Wüsthof is based in Solingen, Germany, I looked at the "lite" version of the European variant (available here), and I found the key for the particular subset of steel alloys in question.

The number after the X is the percentage of carbon in the steel, multiplied by 100. So, X50 means 0.50% carbon. Each chemical symbol after that stands for a component of the steel, in decreasing order of significance. Then, numbers at the end of the designation, separated by hyphens, correspond to the percentage of those elements.

X50 Cr Mo 15, then, should mean the steel contains 0.50% carbon, 15% chromium, and less than 15% molybdenum.

I still don't know how the different compositions affect the quality of the blade or the longevity of the knife, but I'm working on that.

Also, now that I'm back home, I looked at my other Wüsthof Classic knives, and it turns out they, too, vary in composition, though only two of the steak knives' alloys are represented: X50 Cr Mo 15 and X50 Cr Mo WV15. Hmm.

December 27, 2005

Steel Alloys

Because of a lack of coordination between Katy's parents and my parents, I now own ten of the Wüsthof Classic steak knives I mentioned in my previous post. Which is a wonderful thing, as they're excellent knives, and I think I'm going to keep all ten of them, but I have a concern: they're not all the same.

They're quite the same in terms of packaging, naming, appearance, and all that jazz, but when it comes down to the composition of the steel in the blades, there are three alloys represented in the ten knives.

X50 Cr Mo 15
X50 Cr Mo WV15
X50 Cr Mo V15

I can parse some of these alloy designations. Some of the letters are the symbols of chemical elements: Cr means Chromium, Mo means Molybdenum, W means Tungsten, and V means Vanadium. Beyond that, I'm not really sure. What does the X mean? What about the numbers 50 and 15? Do the compositions have any impact on the longevity of the alloys? What do tungsten and vanadium add to the alloy that chromium and molybdenum don't have?

If you happen to know anyone with a background in metallurgy, I'd greatly appreciate your asking that person. Everything I can find on the Internet is either too technical for me or doesn't really explain anything. Help!

Back to Mensa Sudoku for me.

December 11, 2005

Programming Marathon

The past three days have been one long programming marathon for me. Remember that project I mentioned earlier in the week? I'm working on that. I've so far written nearly 2200 lines of Perl code, and it doesn't even really output anything useful yet. Once I get to the useful part, though, it should be smooth sailing, since I will have already implemented the infrastructure.

Twenty percent of the grade for this project consists of "coolness" points. The idea is, you guessed it, to make the program do something cool. I was going to do a 3D graphical representation of these systems that are normally in 2D, but I don't think I'll have the time in the next two days to figure out how to do that in a way that doesn't suck. I'll have to come up with another cool thing to make it do. Hmm.

At any rate, I want to have this finished by Monday night or, at the latest, early Tuesday afternoon. I have to demo the program for my professor, and that has to happen before Wednesday because I'll be flying out of here Wednesday.

I've been programming for about 14 hours straight (not quite straight — there have been a couple breaks to walk to the convenience store two blocks away and get one of those horrible cappuccinos they have), so it's about time to see Katy for a bit. Hooray. :)

Also, I figured out my ICQ password the other day, after not having logged into ICQ for probably two years or so. Net_Fish, also known as Nick, who lives in Tasmania, found me. A selection from our conversation:

(02:48:30) cww: It goes well. Doing a masters degree in computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.
(02:48:47) Net_Fish: blimey, talk about getting up in the world

December 10, 2005

In My Head

For those of you interested in what's been on my mind the past couple days, here's a screenshot of my workspace. Beware the bandwidth demons: the image is over 800kB.


Click to enlarge.

December 09, 2005

Isn't It Pretty?


Click to enlarge.

December 08, 2005

Hello, Snow

Feast your eyes upon the wonder of the weather radar and the spiffy snow it brings to Pittsburgh. We're expecting over four inches of wintry goodness by tomorrow morning, and then it should continue into tomorrow night, as well.


Click to enlarge.

Furthermore...

It's winter all around! Texas must be grinding to a halt. :)

Katy and I will be staying in Strong, Maine, next week and the week after next, as we're going skiing at Sugarloaf Mountain, which is a short drive away. Brr!

In other news, my exams are finished, and I only have one thing left to do for the semester. It's a cell placer for VLSI circuits that implements the process ("Eisenmann forces") described in the paper Generic Global Placement and Floorplanning which was presented by Hans Eisenmann and Frank M. Johannes at the 35th Design Automation Conference in San Francisco in 1998. And, it doesn't look easy, so that's what I'll be doing tonight... and tomorrow... and Saturday... and...

I'll probably be on AIM most of the time, so if you're privy to my contact information there, this serves as notice that I will actually be connected for more than three seconds for once.

December 06, 2005

Silly Chemistry

Ever heard of the molecules fucol, erotic acid, megaphone, bastardane, or arsole? Now you have.

November 28, 2005

Homework, Homework, I Loathe Thee

I have a really nasty homework assignment for my computer security class right now. We were given the source code for two programs: a server that performs a trivial operation and a client that requests that the server perform that operation. By analyzing the source code for the server program but not changing it, we are to modify the client program to exploit any one weakness we find in the server program. The end result must be that the client will actually be able to steal any file from anywhere on the server computer.

The difficulty is in finding the weakness(es). We were told there is at least one buffer overflow problem in the server code, and there is a format-string violation that we can exploit for extra credit. So far, all I've been able to do has been to clean up the code. It was so poorly written, I couldn't even really figure out what was going on. Anyway, once I find the weakness(es), modifying the client to exploit them should be a breeze.

Because I'm going to Washington Thursday morning, I have less than 2.5 days to do this. It's due next Monday at 4:30. Ugh.

Oh, and Katy, Tristram, and Jay are all eating sushi on the south side right now. Grrrr.

November 27, 2005

Thanksgiving Food-ish-ness

Thanksgiving week is over, and I had tons of fun with all the family that showed up here. It was also very nice to have Katy around for a lot of the stuff we did.

Le Pommier served a fantastic prix fixe Thanksgiving dinner, and Isabela was even better on Friday night. We had four days of excellent dining, drinking, discourse, and Dorian. Now, Dorian the World Traveler is in Houston, breaking things at my parents' house and awaiting my mid-December arrival.

Katy and I went to the Strip District yesterday to do a bit of grocery shopping. One of the more remarkable things we purchased was a 9.29 lb. bag of 89% lean ground beef. Yes, a bag. Of ground beef. At the incredibly low price of $20. It has since been divided into eight smaller bags and frozen. What a deal! We also got some neat spices (seems there's a lot of Indian curry in our future), some fan-freakin'-tastic baba ghanouj, 1.5 lbs. of slab bacon, bulk hot Italian sausage, and a bunch of other stuff.

Katy's purchases there included the ingredients for shrimp spring rolls, which Tristram joined us to eat last night. They were very good, and so was the chili bok choy I insisted she make. :)

Mmm, food. I just wish all the good stuff had less bad cholesterol.

November 23, 2005

On This Day in History

Oh, The Onion, you are so irreverent.

November 22, 2005

Snow Picture

Well, here it is: snow.


Click to enlarge.

November 20, 2005

Wish List

Just in time for the holidays, I've added a link to my Amazon.com wish list to the top of this page. :)

I wasn't really sure which Amazon.com URL to use for it. I tested the one I'm using while logged in and while not logged in, and it worked fine. Would one of you test it while logged in as yourself and see if it still works? Thanks.

My VLSI CAD homework, which is due tomorrow at 5 PM, is complete and very pretty. It also has a drawing of a penguin waving on the front page (does anyone submit homeworks without penguins these days?). Now, on to Computer Security homework...

November 18, 2005

English Genius

English Genius
You scored 100% Beginner, 100% Intermediate, 100% Advanced, and 100% Expert!
You did so extremely well, even I can't find a word to describe your excellence! You have the uncommon intelligence necessary to understand things that most people don't. You have an extensive vocabulary, and you're not afraid to use it properly! Way to go!

Thank you so much for taking my test. I hope you enjoyed it!

For the complete Answer Key, visit my blog: http://shortredhead78.blogspot.com/.



My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 69% on Beginner
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 48% on Intermediate
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 81% on Advanced
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 95% on Expert
Link: The Commonly Confused Words Test written by shortredhead78 on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Well, it wasn't exactly difficult.

Snowy Physician's Disease

After much ado, hubbub, and rumpus, it finally snowed here yesterday morning. It didn't stick, and by the time I left the house, there was no evidence of any snow fall. So, I apologize to those of you who wanted pictures of the first snow fall -- you're not going to get them.

Yesterday's high was 31F, and last night's low was 17F. Right now, the temperature is 29F, and it "feels like" 25F with wind chill.

Brr.

The current forecast for next week is snow from Tuesday to Friday, with temperatures ranging from 26F to 39F. If you're one of the lucky people who is visiting here for Thanksgiving, be sure you pack some warm clothing. :)

In other news, the acronym PCPID, as I knew it when I woke up today, stands for Primary Care Physician Identification. I noticed earlier today that it also stands for President's Committee for People with Intellectual Diseases, which is some pork created in 1961 by President Kennedy for placating the 2-3% of Americans who are mentally retarded or suffer from another form of "intellectual disease." It seems this committee is mostly responsible for writing reports and delivering them to the president, whose responsibility, in turn, it is to add the report to the heaps of paper the White House recycles every day. Even the title of the 2004 report, A Charge We Have to Keep, reeks of people who just don't care. But, their web site does have a link to the Department of Homeland Security, so you can be certain you're still part of a terror machine, even while reading the latest White House fireplace fodder. Your tax dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen.

November 15, 2005

Morality Debate: Part II

Last Tuesday, I posted a blog entry that generated a lot of interest among the visitors to my blog. The following is a summary of the debate so far. If you have any further comments, please feel free to post them against this entry, rather than the original.

I started the debate by saying Katy believes in a society wherein there exists one particular set of morals that is correct, and I disagree: every person maintains a set of morals, and if one person's morals differ from another person's morals, that's fine, and nobody can say one set of morals is correct and another is not.

arc followed that by saying he agrees with me, but there exist certain ideas which are universally immoral, such as taking an action that results in harm being done to another person and denying someone equal rights. He also noted the end result of this discussion might not be entirely divergent from Orwellian thought.

Katy then wrote that people can be incorrect in their evaluation of things as moral and immoral. She also noted she does not think there is an objective truth about morality, but a moral code is a system in which there exist no ideas that anybody could reasonably reject as a standard for action. She conceded there is a possibility that two people could have divergent but simultaneously correct morals in a small number of cases, but in most of these cases, the issues at stake are unimportant.

I followed up by stating arc's idea of universal immorality is good but that it still does not necessitate the formation of a standard set of morals; i.e. if something is, indeed, universally immoral, then all people will consider that thing immoral, regardless of whether it's written down anywhere. I also agreed with arc's Orwell observation in a more 1984-ish sense than an Animal Farm-ish sense. I brought up some questions about the ability for a "bad" society (e.g. Nazi Germany) to create moral standards and what the impact of that might be on its citizens.

tlt began her response by saying she is troubled by the idea that absolute sets of morals could exist. She then asserted a moral standard should evolve over time and disagreed with Katy's assertion that a judicial system is based on morals: she believes a judicial system tends to reflect the needs of a society rather than the morals of those who enforce the laws. tlt also said the concept of universal immorality may blind the society that holds those beliefs to their consequences in other societies.

Katy then stated tlt was incorrect in assuming she believed in absolute sets of morals. She said she, instead, believes there is one correct way to judge whether a set of morals is legitimate: namely, if anybody could reasonably reject it, then it is not good.

tlt offered several examples to illustrate the alleged invalidity and possible abuses of an assumption that a group in power must consider all beings which it is morally obligated to consider and related points.

phyzics used a (botched but fixed later) logical argument, based on Quine, to demonstrate that Katy's assertions imply that a moral code is subject to a tribunal of experience. He referred to this as a double-edged sword on the basis of the possible underdetermination of a moral theory based on cultural differences. He then dropped a few more names and concluded it is snobbery to assume a suitable moral code can be created by the careful study of intellectuals.

Katy responded that she could not understand why phyzics was using a logical argument to support a theory that is based on empirical evidence. She also said she believes phyzics is incorrect in his assertion that a culture is unable to create a theory that is valid across all cultures. She went on to say that, because of societal differences, it's OK for standardized morals to be applied differently across societies and thus yield different results, so long as those moral maxims are constant (I'm going to call this theory propagation now.).

phyzics's next argument was based on possibly conflicting definitions of existence and truth by way of examining the logical existential quantifier. He asserted that a group of people can, indeed, define a theory that is true across all cultures (which seems to contradict an earlier argument of his; cf. previous paragraph). He then said the concepts of right, just, and moral are subject to the tribunal of experience.

Katy, in disagreeing with phyzics's formalization of her previous idea about theory propagation, reworded her theory in logical form. She stated disagreements on the definitions of existence and truth are irrelevant to this discussion. She also asserted her theory is eminently applicable, specifically regardless of time and the evolution of human thought.

phyzics responded with a clarification of his goals: he noted a theory based on observations is only correct to within a margin of error. He also reasserted that there exists a disagreement over the definition of "existence."

OK, my head hurts now.

November 14, 2005

Blog Changes and Firefox RC2

This entry is slightly geeky. You are warned.

In the individual entry pages on this site, you'll notice comments now contain posters' names at the beginning in addition to the end. I noticed reading comments and keeping the posters straight could get a bit confusing when the comments got particularly long. I'm also planning to write a summary of that morality thing, but I don't want to do it just yet.

Also, our friends over at Mozilla have released Firefox Release Candidate 2 (RC2). If you're still using Internet Explorer, you really need to get with the times and start using Firefox, which is, hands down, more featureful, safer, cleaner, prettier, and all-around better than IE. It will even import all your cookies, settings, saved passwords, bookmarks, and everything else, so the change is completely seamless.

If you're running Windows x64, there is a slightly older release of Firefox, the Deer Park Alpha 2, available for download. I've been running it a few days now and haven't had any problems with it.

You might also be interested in FlashBlock, a super-spiffy plug-in for Firefox that replaces all the Flash content on web pages with little logo things that you can click if you actually want to see the content. You'll notice a severe drop in the annoyance level of a lot of sites, as many obnoxious advertisements come in the form of Flash. It's also pretty simple to add sites to a whitelist, which will prevent FlashBlock from blocking content on those sites. That feature is particularly nice for web sites that use Flash in a non-annoying manner. Alas, that is usually the exception to the rule.

In other news, the current installation of my VLSI CAD homework (number five!) is roughly 25% complete, and it's due Thursday. It's shaping up to be yet another pretty assignment. :)

November 10, 2005

Pittsburgh Weather

I learned two things about recent weather conditions in Pittsburgh in the past five minutes. First, it snowed for at least one hour this morning (0700-0800) at the airport. Second, the forecasted low temperature for tomorrow has dropped by about ten degrees to "the upper 20s," according to NOAA.

Also, according to NOAA, tomorrow is Veterans Day. I don't really know what that means... we're supposed to think a bit about the enlisted men and women who helped make America the biggest, most bad-ass war machine ever? Well, that's cool. I've heard people in my family have been in the service, and that works for me. I just think America's recent armed excursions have been a bit off the deep end.

The morality debate rages on.

November 08, 2005

Spicy Morality Cat

It's 7:40 AM, and I've been up long enough to have had an espresso an hour ago. Yeah, weird. This is probably the second or third time I've been up before 9:00 or so since I've moved to Pittsburgh, and it's the first time I've actually gotten up and stayed up because of Dorian. He just wouldn't calm down this morning, and after three hours of sleep and one hour of trying to get him to shut up, I figured what the hell, I'll just get up and make some coffee. I needed to be up early anyway... just not that early.

Katy and I ate at Mad Mex a couple nights ago, and it turned out to be a triumph of cuisine in Pittsburgh. I had really been getting worried about the state of affairs in the food realm here, but I'm optimistic again after eating there. Excellent food, neat and unique atmosphere, and a huge dude with dreadlocks behind the bar serving the, er, $9 margaritas. I found it amusing but entirely politically incorrect (ugh.) that the "medium" size margarita, which retails at $7, is affectionately called the "ladies margarita" on the bill, as Katy indirectly discovered. You must try the pork.

Also, Katy is doing this thing on morality for one of her classes, and she informed me last night that she thinks there is a standard set of "correct" morals. So, for example, if you believe wearing blue clothing is morally good, but the moral standard says wearing blue clothing is bad, then despite any convictions you may have about your own morals, that particular one is objectively wrong. I, on the other hand, think having standardized morals is absurd and anyone's morals are perfectly fine and entirely correct.

Not being a particularly moral person, perhaps my amorality is distorting my view on the subject, but I firmly believe that if my moral code says I can wear blue clothing, and your moral code says I can't, then I'm being just as moral in wearing blue clothing as you are in not wearing blue clothing, and having a moral standard that says one is correct and the other is incorrect is a really bad idea. This seems especially bad once it extends to religion, government, and so on. Can I get some of your thoughts on this? Perhaps Katy would also like to post a comment to clarify her point of view on this?

November 05, 2005

Dorian's Chair

I'm not the only one who enjoys my new recliner...


Click to enlarge.

Dr. Trout

Tamara defended her dissertation yesterday in front of her committee of boring, old men, and I guess she did pretty well because she called me after it, and the first thing she said was, "I'm a doctor, and you're not!" Cute. She deserves it. Now, she needs a job. Not a j-o-b, but a job. At a university. Not at Starbucks. Doing physics. Not making espresso. Is anyone hiring broken, tired, stressed, but eminently educated cosmologists?

November 03, 2005

Not Much

Not a lot has been going on the past few days, aside from homework, sleep, and the occasional ingestion of proteins and carbohydrates.

I guess Tamara is defending her dissertation tomorrow, which is cool, since that means she'll finally have her doctorate, and she'll go on to wonderful things like wearing a really disgusting green, gold, orange, and black gown at graduation in December. If any of you know anyone who's hiring physics doctor types, I'm sure she would love to hear from you right now.

Katy got a new housemate today. This housemate is allegedly a guy from Detroit who is starting as an assistant manager at some steak house out by Pittsburgh Mills. Why someone moves 300 miles to work at a restaurant that's not even profitable enough to sustain itself without having a mall next door (I know, I know, I'm jumping to conclusions) is beyond me, but whatever. I'm apparently joining them for dinner in about an hour. Which I don't particularly want to do because it means we'll be eating in Bloomfield, which is where I got food poisoning last week, and now that my immune system has proclaimed its mortality, my fear of dodgy restaurants (like those in BloomfieldPittsburgh) has resurfaced. Yeccch.

My recliner is coming tomorrow, some time before noon. I'm going to go make room for it.

October 31, 2005

How About Some Nanotech?

I sent an email to Elias Towe today, basically telling him I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'd like to do some nanotech stuff, thanks. He replied and said, hey, stop by my office, and we'll chat. So, I did, and we did.

The first thing that impressed me was that he was able to give me an overview of the CMU nanotech institute as if he'd done it a million times before. Maybe he has, but it was still cool to feel like he was actually putting some effort into presenting the institute to me.

We talked for 15 or 20 minutes about the stuff they do, and most of it sounds pretty interesting. I'm not really interested in the storage systems research, but stuff like nanoscale transistors, solar energy gathering, cleaning up New Jersey one molecule at a time, single photon transport, and a particular medical sensing application held my interest pretty well.

He said I should send him an email in a week or so and tell him what sort of general things I'd like to do, and he'll hook me up with the appropriate people in the nanotech institute.

Meanwhile, I'd like to check out the ICES Open House this Thursday. The Institute for Complex Engineered Systems (ICES) is the umbrella group under which the Center for Nano-enabled Devices and Energy Technologies (CNXT) sits. CNXT is where all the nanotech stuff happens.

So, yeah, the conversation with Dr. Towe got me pumped. Hooray.

Oh, and happy Halloween or something. :)

October 30, 2005

More homework?!

I worked out today that my VLSI CAD class was assigned a new homework this past Tuesday, while I was out with food poisoning. It's due this Thursday, so I guess that's what I'll be doing for the next few days. I'm already 17% finished (20 of 120 points), though, so I guess that's good. However, the last half of the homework covers material that was introduced while I had food poisoning, so I guess that's bad. I may have to pick the TA's brain a bit... in person... which I hate doing.

In related news, the food poisoning went away on Friday as quickly as it came. I was about a third of the way through watching Star Trek: First Contact, when all of a sudden, I noticed my stomach stopped making noise and carrying on. A few hours later, I still hadn't noticed anything, and the following morning, there was still nothing. I deemed myself cured and haven't looked back. Hooray for patience.

Katy and I made our flight reservations for the Massachusetts/Maine/Texas trip this afternoon, and we're excited about it. Oh, if only the next month and a half would pass more quickly...

Also, if you are a registered voter in Texas, please read what Andrew has to say about the November 8 ballot.

So, I'm trying to get someone in CMU ECE to consider giving me something cool to do in the spring. I emailed a professor several minutes ago about some nano-self-assembly and quantum electronics stuff, and maybe that will pan out, but wow, I really suck at selling myself. Especially in an academic context. I mean, what do I have to say? I went to a crap undergraduate school, passed my classes, don't remember jack about them, was employed in telecom for a while, don't remember jack about that either, and I probably got into one of the best schools in the world because someone hadn't had enough coffee when they were reading my application? That doesn't sound like it will fly. Anyway, I really want to get the opportunity to do some nanotech-related research in the spring, and if any of you have any idea how to make this easier, I'd appreciate some tips.

Back to tech mapping in SIS... poof.

October 27, 2005

Midgets with Hammers

Once in a while, someone sends me an email with the following attached. This time, my dad sent it to me, and it arrived in PDF form, rather than just text. Spiffy.

Supposedly, these are actual problems and solutions listed on Qantas post-flight gripe sheets. Pilots write the problems, mechanics write the solutions. The email is also always accompanied by the sentence "Qantas is the only major airline that has never had an accident."

Regardless of whether they're real, they're always funny.

P: Left inside main tire almost needs replacement.
S: Almost replaced left inside main tire.

P: Test flight OK, except auto-land very rough.
S: Auto-land not installed on this aircraft.

P: Something loose in cockpit.
S: Something tightened in cockpit.

P: Dead bugs on windshield.
S: Live bugs on back-order.

P: Autopilot in altitude-hold mode produces a 200 feet-per-minute descent.
S: Cannot reproduce problem on ground.

P: Evidence of leak on right main landing gear.
S: Evidence removed.

P: DME volume unbelievably loud.
S: DME volume set to more believable level.

P: Friction locks cause throttle levers to stick.
S: That's what they're there for.

P: IFF inoperative.
S: IFF always inoperative in OFF mode.

P: Suspected crack in windshield.
S: Suspect you're right.

P: Number 3 engine missing.
S: Engine found on right wing after brief search.

P: Aircraft handles funny.
S: Aircraft warned to straighten up, fly right, and be serious.

P: Target radar hums.
S: Reprogrammed target radar with lyrics.

P: Mouse in cockpit.
S: Cat installed.

P: Noise coming from under instrument panel. Sounds like a midget pounding on something with a hammer.
S: Took hammer away from midget.

October 26, 2005

Summertime, Summertime, Sum-sum-summertime

I had been tossing and turning in bed for over an hour before I decided to bring my laptop in here and browse the web for a bit. Again, being sick sucks.

While the NOAA forecast doesn't say this, the Intellicast forecast does: it will snow tonight and tomorrow morning. I'm looking forward to it, and if I'm awake when it's happening, I'll take some pictures so you silly Texas people can drool over them.

If you haven't already, read Andrew's comment to my previous post. He definitely has a way with, er, revisionist history. :)

This is the point at which you can stop reading if you don't care about technobabble.

So, I joined this thing called IRCache today. It's basically a network of content caching proxies all over the US...

You don't know what a content caching proxy is? OK, well, it's a program that runs on a server between you and the Internet. When you use a web browser to access a web site, the web browser asks the proxy for the web site, instead of asking the web server itself. If the proxy doesn't have the web site you want, it downloads the content from the web server on the other end of the Internet and stores it on its hard drive. If the proxy does have what you want, it just asks the web server if there's a newer version. If so, it downloads it just like last time. If not, it feeds your web browser the page it downloaded, oh, two days ago.

Most of the time, the last case happens: you ask the proxy for a web page, and there's no new version available, so it just gives you the content it already has. This has the benefits of reducing overall Internet bandwidth use, reducing the time it takes for you to get your web page, and reducing the bandwidth cost to the person or company that runs the web site. So, it works out very well for everyone.

IRCache, this thing I joined today, is a network of these caching proxies. I linked my proxy (located on the server in the closet in my living room) with their proxy in New York (They have one in Pittsburgh, but the one in New York is actually closer in terms of Internet distance (hops).), and essentially, my proxy is now going to feed off that proxy in New York. Because many people use these IRCache proxies, it's fair to say I'll notice a huge decrease in (pseudo-) web site response time, which is good for me, good for them, and good for the Internet. Wonderful!

Incidentally, you too can use this service even without having your own proxy server. Go find that box, somewhere in your web browser preferences, that asks you for an automatic proxy configuration URL. Enable that thing and enter http://www.ircache.net/pac/random.pac. Hit OK a few times, and that's it. You're now on the road to glorious proxy quickness. Your web browser will only ask the proxy for content that's unsecure (HTTP protocol, not HTTPS protocol), by the way, so you won't have to worry about it hanging on to your bank account password or anything like that.

If you want more information, there's a manual/FAQ located here. Section 4.2 tells you how to configure your browser to do this in a bit more detail than I gave.

If you're at work or behind a corporate firewall or something, this may not work. Your company may already have a proxy implemented in a transparent fashion, and trying to use a different one may screw it all up and not let you access the web at all.

Maybe I can sleep now.

Oh, and Taylor: yes, definitely, Katy makes fantastic chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.

Maybe It's Food Poisoning, Maybe It's Catholic

I have decided my current ailments can be attributed to either food poisoning or influenza. Both have symptoms similar to what I've been experiencing for the past day or so. I really think it's food poisoning of the listeriosis variety from some Thai curry I ate Monday night. Being sick sucks.

Elsewhere (Jersey), in an abortion of free speech rights, Pope John XIII Regional High School has told its students they are no longer allowed to blog. Period. If a student is found to be blogging, he or she will be suspended. Reverend Kieran McHugh, the school's principal, says this rule is now in effect because of the dangers of predators going after the students. Our friends at the EFF are looking at ways to flog Pope John with large olive branches.

Also, anyone who wants to buy a ViewSonic VX924 monitor to replace my VA721 monitor is welcome to do so.

October 25, 2005

Chilly Days May Be Sickly

As I mentioned in my last post, the weather forecast had snow and then didn't. Well, it's back. In fact, it's back for today, this evening, tonight, tomorrow morning, and again on Thursday. So, uh, snow, anyone?

After a restless night, I woke up this morning very warm, weak, and with a headache. Because this is not something I normally do, I got a little worried, and Katy scampered off to bring me ibuprofen and Sudafed. It is entirely because of her valiant, selfless effort this morning (she also made me green tea) that I am now able to write this post. Hooray for Katy!

In other news, you've surely noticed I changed the site a bit. I guess I felt it needed more black and white and less color and shading. It's a minimalist, wintry blog now, I suppose. And, it looks tons better in Firefox than in Internet Explorer, which is a nice change.

Andrew notes that Time has commanded their monkeys to create a list of the 100 best English-language books that have been published since 1923. I regret I have only read nine of them in their entirety, but I'm certain another 15-20 have been on my list of books to read for years. I only really read on flights these days, sigh.

In 2003, with some help from my mom, I compiled a list of all the books I could remember reading and put in on the web. That list is now outdated and defunct, but it was an entertaining exercise while it lasted. I encourage anyone who hasn't done this to do it at some point, as it puts one's literary experience in perspective. I have gotten Kari and Tamara to do this since I did it, and they also enjoyed it.

That's all for today.

October 24, 2005

Snow, No!

A few days ago, there was snow at the end of the extended weather forecast. Now, there's not. This makes me very sad.

Meanwhile, it's a cool forty-something degrees outside and raining. I haven't seen the sun in a little less than a week, and according to the forecast, I won't see the sun for another little-less-than-a-week. Which is nice, as I was getting tired of seeing sun all the time.

My windows are slightly foggy, so hooray for chilly weather.

It's definitely autumn here, and the trees seem to have gotten the memo, as their leaves have largely turned brilliant reds and yellows and started to fall, covering the streets, sidewalks, and parked cars with collages of October color. There are some particularly amazing colors on the trees on the CMU campus in front of Warner Hall. I'd take my camera up there for some pictures, but it's raining, and I don't want to risk damaging my camera.

As the leaves are changing color, the students are becoming more stressed while the second half of the semester begins. In my classes, we are changing topics rather severely, so it's almost like starting them over with different material but still having to remember the old stuff.

My VLSI CAD exam last week went well, as I got a 98 on it. I was hoping for a 100, but I guess I didn't quite know what I was blathering on one of the problems. My Computer Security exam is today at 4:30, and I'm not expecting my grade to be quite so high as a 98, but it shouldn't be terribly low, either. I'm struggling with the formal logic verification for secure authorization crap we learned, like, the first two weeks of class. Everything after that is peachy keen, though.

Eh.

I don't know what happened to the haunted hay ride, but I suppose it was cancelled because of the rain. Perhaps Katy found something out and just didn't tell me. At any rate, I totally forgot about it over the weekend and just remembered it this morning.

This is the first on my Google quote of the day list: "The only thing that sustains one through life is the consciousness of the immense inferiority of everybody else, and this is a feeling that I have always cultivated." -- Oscar Wilde.

I like that quote in what is probably an inappropriately perverse manner.

Back to studying...

October 19, 2005

Weather, Class, & Other Sundries


As you can see, the weather here is turning from pleasant and warm to wet and chilly. I'm looking forward to wearing my coat, though I wish I had a less bulky outer garment, like a leather jacket or something. I've never pictured myself as a leather jacket kind of guy, but maybe it's time to find out. At any rate, I'll probably cruise through J. Crew on Walnut St. in the near future and see what they have to offer in terms of warm clothing that's not bulky.

I took my VLSI CAD mid-term exam yesterday, and I think it went very well. So well, in fact, that I think a perfect score is a great possibility. Not bad for 15 minutes of studying, I think. The questions encompassed the bulk of what we've covered in class so far: the applications of Shannon cofactors to the Boolean difference and proofs thereof; canonical binary decision diagram optimization; SAT solvers and algorithms that apply to specific applications; and a few other things.

My VLSI CAD class is my favorite class here, and it's rather a shame, I think, that I can't see myself doing anything even remotely related to it in the future. From what I can tell, the class content really only has industrial applications, not academic applications, and I'm finished with industry for a good long time, now.

I've been putting a lot of time, lately, into a project for my VLSI CAD class, as well. It's due tomorrow by midnight, so I still have a little over 35 hours to work on it. It is finished insofar as I don't have to pound out any more code, but there are some bugs I need to fix. The nature of the project is such that I can't tell directly from the program's results where the bug might lay, so I'll probably spend a long time this afternoon, tonight, and tomorrow just staring at my code. Fun times.

I ended up having coffee with Boris on Sunday, by the way, and that went very well. We spoke of old times and new, comparing our journeys to CMU graduate school. It turns out he was doing a summer internship at Intel in Hillsboro, a suburb west of Portland, during the not-quite-a-year I lived in downtown Portland. It's rather a pity we were out of contact then; I certainly could have used another friend while I lived there. He and I have plans to run together soon, and I'm looking forward to it, as he says he knows some cool places to run. Specifically, he mentioned Schenley Park, which is just south of CMU and very large (not quite as large as Memorial Park, for you Houstonians), and I'm excited about that.

Katy has arranged two events for us in the near future: a haunted hay ride this weekend with her friend Vanessa and a Pittsburgh Opera performance, tickets courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh, on, er, the 28th, I think. The hay ride seems cool, but I'm afraid it might end up sucking because of the rain. The opera is Strauss's Ariadne Auf Naxos, and I know nothing about it. I'm disappointed that there will be subtitles along with (usually above) the stage, but I suppose that's a good way of getting new patrons that wouldn't otherwise go to the opera, so I'll deal with it. I'm all for getting more people involved in the arts.

In other news, Tamara has submitted her dissertation to her group of very boring, old men, and she is expecting to defend it the first week of November. Hooray for Dr. Tammy! ;)

So, yeah, all you Texas people should take a good look at that forecast image and figure out why you're still dealing with temperatures in the 90s in October.

That is all.

October 14, 2005

Oh, Nothing

"He's turned his life around. He used to be depressed and miserable. Now he's miserable and depressed." -- David Frost.

I have nothing to say, really.

Except, maybe, that I found Boris, and he's apparently in the robotics department here at CMU. I sent him a Facebook message last night, but he hasn't yet responded.

Oh, oh, oh. Have you ever used Google Scholar? Well, go use it. Then, go to Scholar Preferences, and enter the name of your university. Then, when you search for an article, it will tell you if your university has it on file! This is way too useful. And totally obsoleting everything everyone ever knew about walking. Because you now have even less of a reason to move your ass from your chair (couch, in my case) to get that article your need for your research. Wow. This is either really cool or really terrible. Judges?

October 12, 2005

Vietnamese Ducks

These are live ducks being transported to market by some jackass on a motorcycle in Vietnam.


Image seems to be property of the AFP.

Grrrrrrr.

Spam-a-lot

Since midnight on March 1, 2005, I have received 29305 emails at my personal account, of which 21949 have been caught by my spam filter and either filed as spam (5545 of them) or automatically deleted (16404 of them). I estimate at least another 3000 or so have made it past my spam filter (it was very generous until a few months ago, when I learned how to make it do Bayesian learning), so let's put the number of spams I've received at 25000. This means 85.3% of the email I receive is spam. Statistically, then, if I receive five emails, it's only 73.5% likely that one will be legitimate.

Since I made my spam filter start using Bayesian learning, I really only get about five or six spams in my inbox a day, I get somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 spams in my spam box a day, and the rest get shuffled off into the bit sink of /dev/null. I also get about one or two emails a month that are incorrectly flagged as spam, but I don't care so much about that, because if you're sending me an email with tons of capital letters or lots of exclamation points or something in it, I probably don't want to read it, anyway. On the other hand, Debra's flight information to Washington ended up in my spam box a few days ago, but I think that's because she attached some HTML that was almost entirely images, and I have that flagged as a Bad Thing. I also hate HTML email.

In other news, I bought a much-needed 1 GB RAM upgrade for my laptop yesterday, which will bring its total memory up to 1280 MB. Running all my engineering stuff, plus a web browser, plus OpenOffice, made it take about four minutes to close a spreadsheet. Swapping to disk is bad, bad, bad. This is also cool because it means none of my computers will have less than 1 GB of RAM. Nerd.

I also finally finished my nearly 20-hour VLSI CAD homework at 3:30 this morning, and I only didn't know how to do one tiny bit of problem #3, which was about creating conflict graphs for a DPLL SAT thinger. I believe that was covered in the class I missed when I was feeling exceptionally crappy.

Debra would like everyone to know her address is 1234 Dodgy Street #60, Denton, TX, 76203, and her phone number is 972 555 9928, and her social security number is 111 11 1111. That is all.

October 10, 2005

Let's Trade

Do you like free stuff? This may just be your opportunity to become the envy of all your friends.

All you have to do is buy me a new server to put in parallel with my server in Los Angeles.

Why, you ask? Well, there are several reasons.

  • Most importantly, I'll have redundancy for the web sites I host. If one hard drive dies, the other computer's drive system will act as an identical backup until the dead drive is replaced.
  • Almost as importantly, if I screw up the configuration of something on one server, and if that mistake affects network connectivity, I'll be able to use the other server to log into the broken server via serial cable.
  • If I update software on one server, and if that update is not compatible with its current configuration, it'll be simple to roll back the changes using the other server's configuration.

What do you get out of it?

  • Free web hosting for the rest of your life.
  • Free redundant DNS, free email, free FTP hosting, free whatever other Internet services you want.
  • I'll set up a fully customizable blog like this one for you, for free.
  • I'll tell all my friends you're a great person and that they should all buy you a few drinks.

Of course, the server needs to be pretty decent in terms of current computing power standards. A PDP-11 just won't cut it, though that would be pretty cool to have, anyway.

Here's what I want in the server.

  • 1U rackmount form factor.
  • 1+ GHz processor.
  • 1+ GB ECC RAM.
  • Two gigabit ethernet controllers.
  • One remote terminal serial port.
  • One CD-ROM drive.
  • At least one 40+ GB hard drive.
  • A RAID controller would be nice.
  • Blinky lights.

I don't care whether it's used or new or refurbished or really dusty; I'll fix anything that's wrong with it when it gets here. Just as long as it gets here.

So, leave a comment, tell me you're going to ship a new server to me, and when it arrives, your rise to fame will be so quick you'll have no idea what happened.

Bit Flipper

I've been wondering something for a long time and have never bothered to research the answer. It's a really useful trick in computer programming, though from an application programming standpoint, there are other ways to do it that are just as good (the Assembly XCHG operator on most machines these days, for example). It's also a really useful thing to know if you're about to walk into an interview for a programming position.

The question is this: given two integers, how do you swap their values without using temporary storage?

The answer is this: xor the second into the first, xor the first into the second, then xor the second into the first again.

I wrote a little C program to make sure it worked. :)

#include <stdio.h>

int main(int argc, char *argv[])
{
int a = 123456;
int b = 654321;

a ^= b;
b ^= a;
a ^= b;

/* output: 654321 123456 */
printf("%i %i\n", a, b);

return 0;
}

Technically, this works because of the symmetric difference property of the logical exclusive disjunction. The symmetric difference property also does other interesting things about which I already knew, like making an xor operation look exactly like an addition modulo 2 and like being the only reason RAID 6 maintains parity integrity.

I came across this while looking for ways to express the xor function in boolean algebra other than the normal way, (a' b) + (a b'). The expression I ended up using, by the way, is (a' + b')(a + b). It is already in conjunctive normal form, which is what I need for my application.

Wow, wasn't that an exciting post?

It's definitely leftover Thai red curry time.

October 09, 2005

VLSI CAD Break

As the title suggests, I'm just taking a break from my VLSI CAD homework to write this entry. I like this class because it has a very obvious "real world" application, and it seems at some point during every lecture, I think to myself, "hey, I could use that to do this one thing that would ordinarily take, like, a week, and shorten it to five minutes."

Oddly, I'm finding my lecture notes from UTD's EE2310 class coming in handy as reference material, as well. By lecture notes, I mean Powerpoint slides I downloaded from the professor's web site; I only actually attended one EE2310 class: the first one. Thank you, Dr. Dodge, for letting me skip the final exam and giving me an A for the class, even though I never did any of your homeworks or quizzes, because now, your notes are useful, and I like useful things.

In other news, it looks like there may be a fair bit of travel in my relatively near future. My parents, sister, aunt, and uncle are coming here for Thanksgiving. The weekend after that, I'll be in Washington. The weekend after that, Tamara is graduating with her Ph.D. in Dallas, but I haven't decided whether I'm going to attend that, yet. The weekend after that, I may be starting a week of skiing in a very cold, as yet unpublicized location (I'm not going public with this until I confirm my plans.). Then, I'll be heading to Houston for Christmas. As Virgin Atlantic says: Go Jet Set, Go!

I ate Chef Boyardee ravioli about an hour ago, and I feel like dying. Ugh. If I can do an appreciable amount of the rest of this homework (I'm about 32% finished now) soon, I'll be joining Katy for dinner at her house, and hopefully, that will ease my stomach a bit. Then, I'll come back home and work on homework again. At least I have a cool, new draftsman's lamp to dispel the darkness.

This is Walter Cronkite. Wait, no, it's not. Good night.

October 07, 2005

What Is Your World View?

You scored as Materialist. Materialism stresses the essence of fundamental particles. Everything that exists is purely physical matter and there is no special force that holds life together. You believe that anything can be explained by breaking it up into its pieces. i.e. the big picture can be understood by its smaller elements.

Materialist

88%

Existentialist

69%

Cultural Creative

63%

Postmodernist

63%

Modernist

56%

Fundamentalist

38%

Romanticist

31%

Idealist

0%

What is Your World View? (updated)

The HTML generated by that quiz for this entry really sucks.

That's it for today. :)

October 05, 2005

Interesting Interests: Part Deux

In my previous entry, I briefly mentioned, in the context of a complaint, the fact that Little Bush's current nomination for the Supreme Court has no experience as a judge. Having reread it, I believe it's a bit harsh to let that go without historical qualification. I'd just like to note that something like 35 of the 110-ish justices that have ever served on our highest court also had no experience as a judge prior to their terms. So, it's not unprecedented, but I still don't like it.

Now, I forget the other thing I was going to write. Hmmmph.

Oh, well, this isn't it, but it's something else that's sort of interesting. Debra wants me to meet her in Washington, D.C., from December 2 to December 4, as she'll be there for some anthropology thinger-or-other. I called Amtrak, and they have a Capitol Express from Pittsburgh that costs $39 and leaves here at 4:15 AM. The bad news is the train takes nearly eight freakin' hours to get there. If I go, I'll fly, but I need to think on this a bit more. That weekend is immediately before my final exams, after all.

Also, I bought new running shoes last Friday and have run twice since then. They've been reasonably short runs, though, as I don't want to kill my feet with new shoes. It feels quite good to stretch the old leg muscles again. It's refreshing to note how many other runners I see while I'm running, as well; I probably come across about one other runner per minute.

Kari says the 2005 Portland Marathon is this Sunday. Apparently, Pittsburgh had an annual marathon until a few years ago, when they decided they were too poor to fund it. Sad.

It's leftover pizza time.

October 04, 2005

Interesting Interests

Here's just a quick news update, as I found more than a couple particularly interesting things in the news today.

First, Vancouver has been rated the best place to live, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. The top ten cities include three from Canada, four from Australia, two from Switzerland, and one from Austria. The bottom ten cities include places like Tehran, Karachi, and Dhaka: probably nice places to visit if you know what you're doing but definitely not high on my list of spectacular locales.

Also, in a succession to the X-Prize, which SpaceShipOne and its team won about a year ago, Peter Diamandis, who bootstrapped the X-Prize, has started a new venture called the Rocket Racing League. This looks really cool and certainly has the potential to press aviation in the same way the X-Prize did.

In other news, don't you think a Supreme Court justice should have at least some experience as a judge?

Right-o. That's all for now.

September 29, 2005

Silly Questions Thing

This silly questions thing looked amusing, so I'm going to give it a shot. It's from Taylor.


1. when you look at yourself in the mirror, what's the first thing you look at? My hair -- it's the most easily messed-up part of what I can normally see in a mirror.
2. how much cash do you have on you? $10 in $1 bills.
3. what's a word that rhymes with "TEST"? Stressed.
4. favorite plant? Garlic -- because I need to kill more.
5. who is the 4th person on your missed call list on your cell phone? Dad.
6. what is your default ring tone on your phone? Ring tone #4 or something -- I have no idea; it's always in vibrate mode.
7. what shirt are you wearing? A black cotton sweater over a white undershirt -- boring but warm, and that's important today.
8. do you "label" yourself? I put a different color Post-It Note on my forehead every morning, flip to a random page in the dictionary, and write the first adjective I see on it.
9. name brand of your shoes currently wearing? Kenneth Cole -- they're my flip-flops, and I'm sitting on my deck.
1o. bright or dark room? Dark.
11. what do you think about the person who took this survey before you? She's my sister, and that's a good thing, if you're in the business of being my sister.
12. ever "spilled the beans"? I don't really know how to interpret this one. Probably, yeah.
13. what were you doing at midnight last night? Drinking my fifth Red Hook ESB, I think.
14. word for word: Eh?
15. do you ever click on "pop ups" or banners? I click on banners, usually on tech sites, if they look interesting -- like if they're about an Intel Developer Forum or something. Yeah, I'm boring and nerdy.
16. what's a saying that you say a lot? "Are you still talking?"
17. how many stairs are in your house? None inside, but 42 outside. Seriously.
18. last furry thing you touched? Dorian Gray.
19. how many hours a week do you work? If work is defined as employment, zero.
2o. how many rolls of film do you need to get developed? What is film?
21. favorite age you have been so far? Probably one or two or so -- things got complicated after that.
22. your worst enemy? I don't assign priorities to enemies.
23. what is your current desktop picture? On this computer, it's a photo of a bleeding woman with wings standing at the edge of a cliff.
24. what was the last thing you said to someone? I said, "you dropped..." as I picked up a girl's Pitt ID and handed it to her.
25. if you had to choose between a million bucks or to be able to change a major regret? I'll take a million bucks, thanks.

That wasn't as exciting as I imagined it would be, but there you go. Some little slice of insight into my life.

September 27, 2005

Pittsburgh Parking Authority

Below is a picture of Pittsburgh Parking Authority car #988 parked in front of a fire hydrant on the northwest corner of Neville St. & Winthrop St. at 12:47 PM EDT today.

Click to enlarge.

I took the picture with the camera on my phone, which is why it sucks. Anyone have any good ideas on how to clean the lens?

Just some illegal amusement to lighten my day after spending about 15 hours doing a VLSI CAD homework assignment this weekend and this morning. With any luck, someone from the Pittsburgh Parking Authority will stumble across this picture and reprimand the person who was impudent enough to do this.

September 26, 2005

Family & Shadyside Market

My family in Houston is fine, with respect to Hurricane Rita. My mom and sister didn't end up visiting Pittsburgh last weekend because Delta cancelled their flight at the last minute, despite the airport still being operational at their departure time. I guess it rained a lot during the hurricane, and the winds were pretty severe, but there was no damage, and their power didn't even go out. My mom even called it a "non-event" while we were on the phone before she went to bed that night.

I visited the Shadyside Market for the second time today. It's down the road a bit, on Walnut Street near Aiken. I felt somewhat odd just going in there for toilet paper (I actually went grocery shopping yesterday, but I hadn't realized I was out!), so I also bought some food items.

Shadyside Market is the sort of place where the older, well-to-do residents of my neighborhood go and buy a handful of high quality items with hundred-dollar bills, while talking with the staff about how poorly the Steelers did last weekend, how's your wife, etc. As such, I felt a bit off the mark as I walked in with a backpack, an umbrella, and clothing that was half-soaked from a downpour on Neville as I was walking to catch the bus to Shadyside. I then got my merchandise and paid with a credit card, which is something small business don't appreciate very much. My primary bank account is held at a bank that doesn't even exist in Pennsylvania, though, and I don't like paying the fees associated with using another bank's ATM, so whatever.

Anyway, I enjoy Shadyside Market, and next time I'm in there, I'd like to purchase some meat from the butcher, but I'm going to have to work on becoming more comfortable in the store.

Also, Dorian is sitting on my lap, which is always a good feeling.

September 22, 2005

Hurricane Rita

Rita is expected to make landfall in the Houston/Galveston area Friday night. The mayor of Houston and the mayors of surrounding areas have ordered mandatory and voluntary evacuations.

My mom and sister are flying here Friday morning on Delta, from Houston. My dad is staying with the house.

The house, while on relatively high ground and built only seven-ish years ago, was not constructed to withstand category five hurricane force winds. I am worried.

I try calling them every ten minutes or so on the four phones among them, only to receive the "all circuits are busy" message. The T-Mobile message is actually something like "due to the hurricane in the area you are calling, ...," which is interesting.

Debra's family is staying in Houston. Stephi's family is driving to Dallas (now a 24-hour drive, apparently).

Good luck to all.

September 15, 2005

Displaced Students

It looks like even the top-tier universities are happy to help with the educational needs of students that have been displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

From CMU:

We have spoken with a small number of Tulane students and have offered them the opportunity to take the fall semester here as non-degree students, with attendant student supports, including housing and dining. We are also in close contact with the Association of American Universities (AAU) and other colleges and universities involved in helping students from the affected area, in order to ensure that we act in a coordinated fashion to provide the most relevant support to students in need.

From MIT:

MIT is hosting 14 undergraduates from affected areas, and has accepted 15 graduate students. For the fall term, MIT will waive tuition and fees for visiting students displaced by the hurricane and will provide free housing in available rooms in fraternities, sororities and independent living groups.

From Harvard:

Harvard University has made a commitment to enroll 25 additional Visiting Undergraduate Students for the Fall 2005 Term from colleges and universities that will not reopen this fall due to Hurricane Katrina.

From Stanford:

Stanford has completed the application process for its temporary undergraduate admission program for students affected by Hurricane Katrina and has offered admission to 36 undergraduates. We look forward to greeting those students when classes begin in late September.

Isn't that neat? :)

September 08, 2005

It's September Now

In fact, we're well into September, with only 21 days until October. I keep imagining October here will look like October in the northwest did, but I don't want to get my hopes up. Regardless, autumn begins soon, on the autumnal equinox, which should happen on September 22 or so.

That's all I feel like writing now. I didn't want to leave the September page on this thing blank forever. :)

August 30, 2005

Photos: Katy and Dorian

By popular demand, here is a photo of Katy. By virtue of being cute at the right moment, here is also a photo of Dorian.

Click to enlarge.

 

August 28, 2005

Nearly Final Furniture

The long process of finding furniture is nearly complete. I still need storage for glasses, though I may have figured that out already, and I still need curtains.

Here's what I have or have on order:

Dakota Bed (headboard only)

Dakota Bench

Dakota Nightstand (qty. 2)

Enise 6-Drawer Dresser

Dura Pella Living Room (sofa only, in red)

Dura Pella Sage Living Room (recliner only, in bright purple)

Cosmopolitan Dinette (table, chairs)

Astonica Calvino 42-Inch Dining Table and Dining Chairs

The images above may be protected by copyright laws on behalf of Pier 1 Imports, Roomful Express Furniture, Amazon.com, and/or other organizations. It is believed they can be used here in this fashion due to fair use copyright laws.

Of course, I have tons of other furniture, but this is the big stuff. I will have real pictures available when it all shows up here. Most of it is still waiting to be delivered. :)

News from Allegheny County

Queste notizie sono importanti. Colto prego.

La signora con quale recentemente ho speso molto tempo non può riferirsi ancora dal termine con cui sta riferendosi il passato pochi anni. Siamo molto felici circa questo. Grazie, ognuno. Quello è tutto.

P.S. Il mio italiano salta le capre.

August 27, 2005

Goings-on, Briefly

I have DSL now, after a pretty decent guy came out here, worked out that the line was not connected from the pole to the house, and then fixed the problem. I wonder why the line wasn't connected?

Its speed isn't quite what I wanted. Comcast cable Internet here gets well over 700KB/s, but my Verizon DSL doesn't even top 200. Check it out:

Yesterday was CMU ECE graduate student orientation, which I attended from 8:30 AM until 5:30 PM or so.

For a couple hours in the morning, we split into our academic groups, and this was the most rewarding and informative part of the day. I am in the applied physics group, along with only three other people, so I saw presentations from a few of the applied physics faculty members. CMU does some really super-cool stuff in the applied physics field, and I'm excited about becoming a part of it. The faculty members also seem pretty cool. Hooray!

Oh, and free Indian food, pizza, beer, wine, you name it. CMU rocks.

August 25, 2005

An Oily Telephone Dinner

Oil prices are up to a record $68 per barrel today, in part due to concerns over Tropical Storm Katrina (we're already on K?!). This doesn't bother me so much at the moment, as I've driven my car a total of less than ten miles in the past four days. Being within walking distance of many shops and restaurants helps this, as do the 500 and 71D buses that run along Fifth Avenue and have stops only a two-minute walk from here.

I have been in contact with Verizon rather a lot lately, as my DSL doesn't work, and my telephone jacks provide no dialtone. As I discovered today, the jacks at the exterior network interface box also provide no dialtone. I've been testing this with my old brick laptop's modem, since spending $10 on a one-off telephone seems absurd. Verizon is scheduled to turn up here Saturday, between 8 AM and 6 PM (f'ers), for a look.

I received a Verizon bill in the mail today. I think I'll call them and tell them I disagree with their policy of billing customers for service they don't have.

And, dinner. The CMU ECE department is hosting a dinner for graduate students at the Carnegie Museum tonight. Its purpose is to provide an atmosphere for people to socialize and meet other graduate students and professors. I'm not a socializing kind of guy, but I'm going to attend anyway, since it seems like it's probably the right thing to do.

Tomorrow is mandatory graduate student orientation. I think I will arrive late and leave early. A day of presentations doesn't sound like a lot of fun, regardless of how esteemed CMU is. Maybe they'll have free beer or something. After the orientation is a happy hour on campus, sponsored by the ECE Graduate Organization (EGO), of which I am now a member. Certainly, there will be alcohol there. Good.

After the graduate dinner tonight, I'm doing something-or-other with Katy. I can't wait. Things have been very repetitive at home lately, and her fresh perspective on things is always welcome.

Some of my furniture showed up here today. Two greasy Pittsburghers, speaking fluent Pittsburghese, brought a chair (not four, as the other three were apparently on back-order), a dining table, and a couch up my three flights of stairs and were visibly not happy about the ascent. I wonder if they are unionized labor?

I think I know more about unions than many Americans, but I still want to learn more, as I'm now in a city full of them. Very little has ever impressed me about them; maybe I can find some ray of light somewhere in their vast, complicated web of spun crap.

I also need to learn more about how to clean furniture. I suppose there are special (natural) chemicals I can pick up for this purpose at (Whole Foods) a grocery store. Which reminds me: I miss Central Market, and I've decided someone really needs to tell them to put a store in Shadyside.

In related news, I'm putting off taking pictures again until more furniture shows up.

August 23, 2005

Furnituring, Still

I'm still furnituring, but I did manage to order patio furniture and a wall-mountable stemware rack. I still need a good spot for glasses and a dresser or chest of drawers or something for clothing, and I'm not interested in spending over $1000 like all the stores want me to do!

My mom is going to be in hospital for a few days starting Thursday. She's having her other knee replaced this time. Yikes. She's doing it now so she will able to walk when she and the rest of the world visit me here in Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving. How sweet, right? :)

I've managed to severely hijack my neighbor's wireless network, so I can again send and receive email through normal means. And, you can, too, if you access your email the same way I do. Be sure to use https instead of http, though, because I only opened the https port for web access. Hopefully, Verizon gets their act together and sets up my DSL "for real this time" soon.

August 22, 2005

Furniture Woes &c

I have no idea how I'm going to store my glasses. I looked at Ikea today for something that might even remotely work for glass storage and found nothing. I looked at department stores, furniture stores, and even on the Internet. Nothing. Please, someone, tell me where to get something in which I can store my glasses.

In other news, I bought new bed rails, two wine racks, and three tables that will serve as a cool desk-type-thing. It's promising.

I spent this evening (and into the wee hours of the morning) with Katy again. We checked out one of the bars on Ellsworth Street, just a couple blocks from here, and it turned out well. Several pints of Arrogant Bastard Ale and Franziskaner Hefeweizen later, we came back here, and everything again turned out very well. Silly lesbians.

Right-o.

August 21, 2005

Lofty Decorating

In order to unpack after moving house, one must have appropriate storage for most of the items that are to be unpacked. Thus, Debra and I have spent the past few days searching the suburbs for furniture that performs such a function. Debra flew back to Texas today, so now I'm on my own.

So far, I have an occasional table, a kitchen counter thing (which will nicely double as a butcher block, I think, to go along with the sweet cutting board Tamara got for me) with drawers and shelf space, a coffee table, and an end table, all from Ikea. I ordered a sofa, a chair, and a dining table and chairs from a furniture store. Venturing into Pier 1, I found a swanky headboard for my bed, along with other matching bedroom stuff, but it turns out they're having a bedroom sale starting a week from now, so I'm going to put that off until then.

Now, I need a desk, a bookcase or three, more shelving, a file cabinet, a dresser, bed rails, and patio stuff, as far as furniture goes. Beyond that, I also want to get curtains, another something-or-other for the bathroom, and more stuff for my office.

I want the most basic desk you can imagine: a long piece of finished wood supported by two other pieces of finished wood. I've decided buying another dining table is actually the way to go for this.

In the morning, I plan to head down the street a few blocks and check out the shops on Walnut Street, which include Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn, for shelf-type stuff and patio furniture. Then, I'll go back out into the 'burbs for a dining table/desk.

It's coming together very well. You should visit and check it out! And, for those of you who suck and won't bother visiting me, I will post pictures here after everything is arranged.

In other news, my car was rear-ended at a stop light on Carson Street last night while Katy, Debra, and I were trying to find parking for our new favorite martini bar. It ended up being a hit-and-run; the dude didn't even pull over with me. There was no damage, though. Oh well.

After parking at Ikea this afternoon, I watched a big pick-up truck trying to park, and he hit the front of the car in the adjacent spot. He got out and didn't bother leaving a note or anything.

I guess Pittsburgh is the land of crappy drivers. It's time to be even more defensive while driving, parking, etc. I'm glad I have off-street parking at home.

August 18, 2005

Ersatz Design

First, Tay, yes, the one from Kingwood. She's all grown up now, and she's given up that ridiculous Christian Science crap, and she's become a lesbian or so. Her mom came to Pittsburgh today to help her move into the house she just bought, and her mom never really liked me too much, so I'm going to stay away from them until it's safe again. On the other hand, I'd like to see her again soon, and I plan to do that as soon as it's possible.

I hired a bloke from down the street to help me move the rest of my boxes out of my U-Haul truck today, so that happened quickly and effortlessly. Hooray for craigslist.

After that, Debra and I ate lunch and spent a few hours looking for furniture. As suggested by my neighbor Beth, we visited Arhaus and Weisshouse on Highland Avenue, which respectively had furniture that was not contemporary enough and too retro. I wish I could bring myself to spend a ba-zillion dollars on an interior designer, and then everything would just work itself out.

After Arhaus and Weisshouse, we went to Ikea.

I have maintained (and still do) that Ikea sells slightly-better-than-cheap furniture that is largely readily breakable and is not particularly good value in the long run. That said, I spent over $600 there and plan to spend even more there in the next few days. One storage thing I bought had broken pieces, so I'm going to return or exchange it tomorrow, but overall, I'm satisfied with my purchases. Also, the cashier said she had just been in Plano and Frisco for eight days, helping to open the new Frisco Ikea store. Weird.

Oh, and now that I don't live in the suburbs, I am returning to my dislike of them, which is not a really good thing at the moment, since there's a giant shopping center (not unlike all that crap around Preston & 121, for those of you familiar with that area) about 12 miles southwest of downtown, in Robinson Township, that has Ikea and Target and all that stuff.

When we got back from the 'burbs, there was a parking ticket on the U-Haul truck. My first $25 tax payment, I guess. Oh, well.

I am the hero of Valhalla. Good night.

August 17, 2005

Pittsburgh: Life Anew

So, I'm now living in Pittsburgh. The city is wonderful, my neighbors rock, and nothing has really gone wrong yet. I'm loving it.

I'm using my downstairs neighbor's wireless Internet access until I get my [bloody] Verizon DSL on August 24 (or sooner?). It's working reasonably well, but I can't get any email sent to my normal account until I get the DSL, at which point it will all flood in from Los Angeles, where it is presently being stored. If you want to send me email before then, please do so at cwetherbee gmail com.

OK, that's really all I can write now. I need sleep. Good night.

Oh, and Katy is amazingly amazing. I had martinis with her tonight. I haven't seen her in six years, and I think the last time I saw her, she ended up hating me or something (because that's, by default, what people do the last time I saw them), but she's super cool now. Or something. More on that later, I suppose.

Adieu.

August 08, 2005

Free Government Massage

During my travels this past weekend, I received the free government massage in Dallas, Boston, and Baltimore, as a result of having the mysterious "SSSS" symbol on my boarding passes. I just Googled something involving SSSS and found a Today's Engineer article that says the following.

One-way air tickets are considered suspect and carry an "SSSS" code on boarding passes, requiring a full-body wanding of the hapless passenger. This also applies for round trips, using different carriers for the two legs, and even to code-share flights where one carrier issues the ticket, but a shared carrier is used for one one-way segment. The second carrier must issue a "SSSS" boarding pass. The logic seems to be that a terrorist planning a suicide mission would not buy a round-trip ticket if he did not plan to use the return part, in the interest of economy.

I was travelling on two one-way tickets. I guess that's why I got the symbol.

It doesn't explain why I would have gotten the symbol on the return flight from Pittsburgh the first time I visited, though.

Anyway, read that article. It contains all kinds of interesting stuff on airport security.

July 30, 2005

Ear Pattern Recognition?

Here's a snapshot from the BBC News web site's Technology page at 11:05 CDT on 2005 July 30.

So, what happens when there is so little inside one's ears that no pattern can be distinguished?

July 28, 2005

Tempest Tea

Tamara and I frequented a tea house called Tempest Tea in Highland Park last winter. Apparently, there's more to that name than meets the eye, and I was unaware of it until this morning.

A fellow Mensan wrote a post to my Mensa mailing list that contained the phrase "more tempest than teapot," which inspired my reply of "what does that mean?"

Our resident librarian directed us to this page at Wikipedia. The Teapot Dome scandal involved the illegal leasing of oil reserves in Wyoming and California by Senator cum Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall (R-New Mexico) to private corporations in exchange for no interest personal loans and other bribes.

Thus, the phrase "tempest in a teapot" (not mentioned at Wikipedia) was coined, and its use means something like, well, that's an awfully big storm for such a small space.

Naming a tea shop Tempest Tea was clever, indeed.

July 27, 2005

Movin' Out

The process of moving out is getting up to speed now, as I have posted things I'm selling to several web-based bulletin boards. I've had several bites, but nothing has been sold just yet. One bite in particular was from a person who is moving to Dallas and is interested in looking at all the stuff I'm selling. Hopefully, he'll be able to show up here this afternoon.

Debra and her sisters were a great help yesterday, helping me pack books and other stuff in return for me cooking dinner, which will happen Friday-ish. They are holding a garage sale in Houston this weekend and next weekend, so they're also going to add some of my stuff to the sale, and we'll do some sort of profit-sharing scheme. Great!

It's a reasonably gloomy day here, with thunderstorms occurring throughout the morning and high temperatures down to a welcome 83 degrees. I could watch the rain all day.

July 25, 2005

Google Style

It seems every other week Google has some new and fantastic idea come to fruition. Very recently, they have added a feature to Google Maps that overlays roads on satellite imagery. Here's mid-town Manhattan.

Click to enlarge.

Now, really, how freakin' cool is that?

Last week(?)'s moon imagery was pretty neat, too, but lacking in quantity, apparently because Nasa would not release any more of it.

Oh, and buy my stuff so I can move to Pittsburgh easily!

July 23, 2005

Failure

Retired teacher Liz Beattie of England will be attending the Professional Association of Teachers's annual gathering in the coming days (July 25-28 in Buxton, Derbyshire) to present yet another putrid exacerbation of the already particularly fetid meme of political correctness. Hers comes in the form of an idea that the word "failure" should be replaced in educational vocabulary with the concept of "deferred success." What a load of rubbish that is. Even the bag of bricks Education Secretary Ruth Kelly thinks it's trash.

From a logical point of view, it's clear that failure is precisely that; it has absolutely nothing to do with success. If a student has earned a low score on an exam, what has he done? He has failed to grasp the concepts. He has failed to perform at an acceptable level. He has failed at his attempt to apply his knowledge. This is not success, and it's foolish to try to convince anyone that, in every case, this is really deferred success. Just get real.

The phrase "deferred X" implies that everybody is confident that X will happen at some point down the road. Is the pothead teenager that sits at the back of his English class, consistently performing poorly because he just doesn't care, going to be successful at some point? Likely not. A likely career path for this gentleman is to drop out of school, get arrested for selling drugs, and spend some time behind bars, before eventually cleaning up and mopping floors at the grocery store until his retirement, at which point my tax dollars will be subsidizing his new muscle relaxer habit. Maybe this is Liz Beattie's idea of success, but it's certainly not mine.

July 22, 2005

Pi Day

According to Wikipedia, there are two days held in honor of the mathematical constant pi: Pi Day and Pi Approximation Day. Today is the latter.

Using American-style dates, Pi Day occurs on 3/14, and Pi Approximation Day occurs on 7/22. If you can't figure out why, I don't like you.

That's my geekish moment for this morning.

I have something to say about the optical resolution of the human eye, too, but I need to look into it a bit more.

Oh, and remember Pure Pwnage from a couple days ago? I got Arin hooked on it, and our favorite episode is number six. But, you really need to watch all the episodes leading up to it first. :)

July 19, 2005

Random

Hmmm, items of news.

I resigned from my job Monday morning, which leaves me free to do whatever I want for the 20 hours per weekday that I'm not in class. I wish I could give an exit interview to my boss there; I have tons of criticism (not quite equally matched with praise) for the divison in which I worked. I will keep it all to myself, though, and continue to maintain a low-profile, quiet exit. I'll miss the cash flow, though.

Star Wars Revelations is an independent film made for about $20,000. It bridges the gap between episodes 3 and 4 by explaining, for instance, what's happening to all the Jedi left after the Temple explodes. Because George Lucas is completely cool with people playing in his backyard so long as they don't make any money off their work, the only way to get the film is to download it. There are a number of ways to do this; I opted for the whole two DVD set, which was about 8 GB of data in total. Check it out: Panic Struck Productions.

If you're really into gaming, you'll find the Pure Pwnage videos amusing. I watched episode 4 this morning, and so far, it's my favorite. Each episode is in the neighborhood of 60MB-100MB in size. Check it out: Pure Pwnage.

Also, a guy on my Mensa mailing list, in response to a post about Dune, says we've managed to stumble upon one of his secrets: sometimes when he drinks espresso with cinnamon, he imagines it's actually melange. I tried it last night, and he's absolutely correct. Sip your cinnamon espresso, close your eyes, pretend you're on Dune. It really does work.

My family wants me to visit Massachusetts at the beginning of August for Taylor's end-of-term art show at SMFA Boston (did I mention it's part of Tufts University?). I don't know if I'll be able to do it; I have so much furniture and stuff to sell, and I really should be here on the weekends for that. On the other hand, I would love to go to see her show and the family, especially since I don't think I'll be leaving Pittsburgh often once I get there. Sigh.

July 15, 2005

Heart Prayer

No earth-shattering news, really. I got my countersigned lease in the mail, so I definitely have a place to call home in Pittsburgh for 17 months. And, Taylor's having a blast in Boston at the SMFA.

Check this out, though: link.

"Praying for patients undergoing heart operations does not improve their outcomes, a US study suggests."

You think?

July 11, 2005

Awake-ish-ness

I've been awake for something like 28 hours. I was getting kind of numb and slow a couple hours ago, but then I ate macaroni and cheese (the organic white cheddar kind with the rabbit on the box), and now I feel OK.

"OK" isn't quite the correct, um, acronym (Orl korrect, is it? Army? World War? Vietnam? Something. I forget the etymology and can't be bothered to look it up.). I don't think I could sit in a NYSE board meeting and be coherent right now, but anything short of that, I'm sure I could handle in brief lengths.

Or, maybe the excitement of being a newcomer to a NYSE board meeting would give me the adrenaline rush I need to be completely coherent during it. Of course, I'd pass right out afterward. In the back seat of my car. Car with driver. Because I'd be a NYSE board member.

Anyway, I was reading BBC News this evening after eating my macaroni and cheese, and there was an article about blogs covering the London bombings. Let me see if I can scrounge up that article again... yes, indeed. The article is excellent, but what's better is one of the actual blog posts. If you never read a commentary again, you must read this one first.

Be sure to follow the directions.

You know, stand right, walk left, be polite, only use foul language after your third or so word, et cetera.

So, about staying up for 28 hours... I worked (work work) last night, then got coffee and did moving preparation stuff for a while, then sent emails, then... it's been a pretty productive day. I don't see why people aren't more flexible with their standard interpretation of the "day." During any night, I'll get more done in less time than I would during any day. And, then, I'll have time to relax and do a crossword or something.

OK, that's all.

July 08, 2005

Free Bird

I made a difference in the life of a bird today.

Not more than five minutes ago, actually.

I was walking home, and in a tree outside was something fluttering. I looked, and the bird was hanging by its foot from what looked to be yarn tangled in tree fibers. I ran inside, got scissors, and cut it down. It landed not exactly gracefully and was unable to fly because the leftover stuff attached to his foot was now also attached to a few branches on the ground. I cut most of the rest of the stuff off, and the bird took off, flying directly into the side of the building, falling down, and landing on the ground. I thought, uh oh, and ran back inside, dropped off the scissors, and got a pair of gloves, with which I intended to pick the bird up and take it into the grass. When I approached it, however, it managed to fly off into the sun.

Make a difference every day, right?

London-town

Yesterday, at least four bombs were detonated in central London, so far killing 37 people and injuring over 700 more. At present, Metropolitan Police predict the death toll will rise above 50.

The first bomb was detonated on a Circle Line tube train 100 meters from Liverpool Street station at 0851 BST.

The second explosion occurred on a Piccadilly Line train between Russell Square and King's Cross stations at 0856 BST.

The third explosion happened on another Circle Line train that had just left Edgware Road station for Paddington Station, at 0917 BST.

The fourth was on the number 30 bus from Hackney to Marble Arch in Tavistock Square at 0947 BST.

One group, apparently related to al-Qaeda, has claimed reponsibility for the bombs. Any actual association, however, cannot be immediately verified.

Whatever organization did it is a lot of cowardly simpletons. Honestly, if you're going to kill people, at least give them the chance to kill you, too. Cowards. Pathetic.

June 27, 2005

Sunset on Mars

I don't know if this is really a sunset on Mars, but that's what they said it is. Makes me want to go find out.

http://img43.echo.cx/my.php?image=pia07997lrg4gw.jpg

Now, that's travel.

The Week Ahead

First, the The Thomas Crown Affair I watch is the new film with Pierce Brosnan. I've never seen the old Steve McQueen version, but I'd like to watch it. Many people seem to think the new film is much better than the old film. We'll see.

As for the week ahead, it's going to be pretty normal until Thursday. I leave for Pittsburgh at the crack of dawn and will be there until Sunday afternoon. I've been told I'm not allowed to come back to Texas until I've found a place to live there. Not being allowed back in Texas generally doesn't seem like a problem, but I do have some things to wrap up here before venturing off.

Finding somewhere to live turned out to be incredibly difficult the last time I was there. The streets around CMU are crowded with houses and apartments for rent, but the landlords are private owners, and they tend to not allow cats, not renovate their property, be rude, and do other undesirable things. I must have Dorian with me, and he will absolutely not stand for living in a run-down house where the landlord turns up without notice.

Unless I find a diamond in the rough, I will probably end up with an apartment in an apartment complex that is professionally managed. Given what I have already seen, I like this idea much better than the idea of renting a privately owned house. The problem, however, is that most of these apartment complexes are not particularly near the campus.

Parking near campus is abysmal, but that's OK since I'd rather take the bus, anyway. The bus routes are strange, though, and there's really no easy way of getting from downtown Pittsburgh to CMU on a bus. Maybe I can look a bit closer at the bus routes while I'm there this weekend.

The Pittsburgh Port Authority does not have an automatic trip planner on their web site, so I have to analyze the bus routes "by hand." I've never really had to do this before, so it's going to take a while to assimilate all of eastern Pittsburgh's bus routes.

Anyway, I don't foresee any huge problems in finding a place to live in Pittsburgh; I just don't want to be disappointed in where I live for the 18+ months that I'm there.

Ramble off.

June 26, 2005

Nerd Score

Taylor took this Nerd Quiz thing and got a 12. I got something a bit less popular.

I am nerdier than 99% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Yep. I was completely honest, too.

Also, I watched The Thomas Crown Affair for the zillionth time tonight, after spending five hours drinking coffee with three old friends. When do I get my airplane?

I really need to come up with some time to implement the new design for this site. I did modify the style sheet today, though, and I expect that will make some of the text here a bit easier on the eyes.

June 22, 2005

Amerika

"We're all living in America, America, is wunderbar! ... Coca-Cola, Wonder-bra!"

Today must be song day. This lyric is from Rammstein's Amerika on their CD, Reise, Reise. I've managed to pass it up until today in favor of songs that appear earlier on the CD, but this song is really funny, at first glance. Sort of off-beat for their normal German heavy/death-metal music. This song is like what happened to polka when it was handed in the 1800s to Transylvanian vampire hunters with electric guitars.

Having now listened to it again and paid attention to the lyrics (in German), it's really a political statement about how American culture and politics influence the rest of the world.

Obviously, all countries and cultures have their influences on the global village, and arguably, America's is the most recognizable and the most prevalent. Whether this is good or bad is left for philosophers that have more time on their hands than I do.

Tamara says Rammstein's lead singer sounds like Count von Count from Sesame Street. Heh.

June 21, 2005

A Brief Music Brief

"You're from Mexico, aren't you?"
"Yes. South of Mexico City."
"Good climates. High altitudes."

I don't know where these sound clips originate, but they're in this mix on Digitally Imported's Chillout station right now. The mix is called Letter from Heaven, and it was mixed by Malte. It's a groovy, smooth, sexy, jazzy, funky, big-beat-style mix with so perfect a twist of lime only one of the best DJs could have put it there. If James Bond listened to electronic music, this would be on his iPod. The music is excellent, to say the least.

June 15, 2005

Telecommuter

Escuchame, Mundo! ... That was the overly-dramatic title of this post until I decided to change it to 'Telecommuter', which is rather boring and, er, corporate.

"Escuchame, Mundo!" sounds like the name of a bad Mexican soap opera. One of those things that's on the TV at a good Mexican food joint. Where you walk through the kitchen to get to the restroom. Not unlike that place next to the Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle. I might have still been hung over from the previous night at the Zig Zag (they have a fun martini menu) when I ended up at that Mexican place, and that's probably why I can't remember its name.

Anyway.

I've been working at night lately, and there are several reasons for this.

Mostly, I do it just because I'm more productive at night. I don't know why, but I've always seemed to do my best work at night. I'm able to concentrate better, and there's a certain clarity in my head that's just not there during the day. This, alone, is a perfect reason to avoid the scorching Texas days.

The other big reason is that I get to work at home. I've seen people work at home before, and it tends to turn into watching movies while vaguely paying attention to whatever their job is. That's not how I do it. I may play with my cat a bit or do laundry while I'm working, but really, I'm certain I do more (and better) work at home than I do when I'm at the office. The institutional gray, the lack of good music, the personal facade every good American corporate drone uses, and the constant threat of being caught off-guard by a question from a co-worker (or my boss!)... they stifle my creativity and my motivation.

I don't know how the guys at work are taking this, though. I update the central code repository with new work, so I suppose they see what I'm doing. I also email updates to my project leader fairly often, and I suppose he believes what they say. It's not like I'm making things up in them, after all.

On the other hand, I was never explicitly allowed to work from home, but I've been doing it off and on for about six months now with not even a peep in the wrong direction from the co-workers, so I have to assume they're OK with it.

Oh, well. That's my stress point today. A drink with dinner after class helped a bit, but now I'm worried about it again.

I'm going to sleep now (5:45 AM), hopped up (down?) on Benadryl, and I don't think I'm going to set my alarm. Which means I'm probably skipping class in the evening and working, instead. That's actually a really happy thing. That class can burn.

June 11, 2005

Periodicity

Hi, Rishi. I'll try to live up to your expectations. I view this space as more of a soap box than anything, though. And, uh, what is this about a wedding ring?!

The "hell of a rant" I mentioned in my previous post referred to what I wanted to write about a chemistry course I'm taking this summer. As opposed to every other word being an expletive, as I wanted to write it Monday and Tuesday, I'll just tell you briefly what happened.

I have to take chemistry because I need it to start my master's degree at Carnegie Mellon in August. I took the CLEP test for chemistry earlier this year, in March or April or something, and got two points below what I needed for full chemistry credit. CLEP tests are not repeatable for six months. Thus, I am enrolled in chemistry this summer.

Not only, however, am I enrolled in chemistry; I am enrolled in chemistry at Richland College in the Dallas County Community College District. It's Monday through Thursday, four hours a day of absolute and utter crap.

What would chemistry be like if you had to take it in second grade instead of in high school the first time around? Well, come check out Richland College!

The people in this class are not exactly the brightest crayons in the box. Oh, and speaking of crayons, after we went over the syllabus for an entire hour on the first day of class, we got to color those diamond-shaped chemical hazard symbols! You know, with the red and blue and yellow, they tell you about how explosive something is, etc.... yeah, we had to color those to make sure we knew which color stands for which hazard. Something tells me I couldn't ask a single person in that class about those hazards and get a correct answer.

Anyway, there's megatons of stuff I could write about this class, but I should keep it to myself, as you probably just don't want to read about it. :)

On the other hand, I met Helen in class, and she's pretty cool.

June 07, 2005

Pause

Mmm, I have a hell of a rant to write today. Pity I don't have the time. I'll try to squeeze it in somewhere.

June 01, 2005

Pittsburgh

First off, thank you, Andrew, for your comment. I am excited you have found something worth reading here.

As I am moving to Pittsburgh in August to work on a masters degree in computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, I have been looking for places to live on the Internet. As usual, craigslist has proven very helpful. As has about.com, which I normally find to be abysmal at best.

I've been looking for apartments near CMU and near downtown Pittsburgh; I believe either location would be suitable for me. However, locations near and in downtown Pittsburgh are typically rather expensive, and I have little confidence in the low noise levels some apartment managers and landlords advertise for their housing near CMU.

I now have a stack of papers about a quarter inch high of apartment advertisements, and I plan to pore over them and select the best, say, seven or eight on my flight to Pittsburgh on Thursday. I'll be visiting for the weekend, touring the CMU campus and looking for somewhere to live, and should remain nominally out of communication with the rest of the world for the duration of my stay.

As I know I will be in Pittsburgh at least 18 months (apparently, the M.S. computer engineering requires at least that long), I'm looking for housing I can lease for a relatively long time. Which is weird. First, I've never before been able to definitively say yes, I'll be here for another year... or even six months. I enjoy moving and its subsequent change of scenery, so that's usually what happens. Second, I'm trusting my future landlord, etc., to keep everything in good shape until I arrive in Pittsburgh in August. I'm also trusting myself to make a decision this weekend which I won't regret a few months down the road.

I also need to get my current employer on to my resume and post a part-time employment advertisement for Pittsburgh on monster.com or something like that.

In other news, I sat at Starbucks a couple days ago and designed a layout for this site that promises to be much more pleasing to the eye than Movable Type's default. It will be at least another week (and probably longer than that) before it is fully implemented.

Adieu for now. I need to work out when my flight takes off and then get some sleep.