Developments

A lot of stuff has happened today.

I had an idea last night, related to my research, that was eating me alive. I felt like I had finally figured out something very important, and it was very hard to fall asleep, even after writing it down. When I woke up this morning I vowed to do something about it. I biked to campus, got my hair cut at the Student Center barbershop, then went upstairs to the computer lab. The room was filled with Rickoids working on their papers. I fired up Matlab and started working on my project, but I had made only modest progress by 2 PM, when I had to leave. I left the student center at 2:05 and biked the 7.7 miles from there to my professor’s house in Newton. He was having the lab barbecue, where I had plenty of great conversation and meat. It was a lovely party, with surprisingly many people from the lab and hospital.

I left at about 6 and biked back to MIT to get back to work on my project. After I’d started working I encountered my friend Vivek, who gave me a student’s paper to read. I read it, marked it up, and then got back to work. I was getting somewhere, and by 9:30 I had definite confirmation that I was on the right track. I ran into the student and talked to him about my comments, then went back to work, polishing up my results. My idea had worked even better than I’d expected.

Original
Original head image

Sine-wave reconstruction
Simple reconstruction

My reconstruction
Ben’s reconstruction

Currently there are people partying in the neighboring room in a loud, drunken manner. I’ll have to go investigate, since I won’t be able to sleep.

Work work work

Work has been fun. I left my computer running a simulation over the weekend. I suspect it’s already finished, and will probably crash before I come in on Monday, but I’m hoping it doesn’t. If it hasn’t crashed, I should know whether my crackpot idea for highly accurate field measurements will work.

I biked over to MIT after work today to do another 40-minute erg. This one was a lot easier and faster than the last one; it was actually fun! That was weird. Afterward, biking home, I found myself in the midst of a huge crowd of cyclists, cutting off both lanes of traffic and moving pretty slowly. I asked a guy in the crowd what was going on, and he explained that it was some sort of bike-in. It runs every Friday afternoon from Copley square down Massachusetts Avenue, or something like that. I’m not sure what it’s for. Probably just to create a public nuisance.

Tomorrow afternoon is the lab barbecue. I still don’t have any way to get there. I also don’t have any idea where to get my hair cut, something I hope to do before the party. Oh well.

Workout

I did my first workout of the summer today. I was able to get into the campus gym without any problems except getting there, and I did a solid 40-minute erg. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep this up for the rest of the summer, so I’m in good enough cardio shape to start crew in September without looking like a complete fool.

Now I have two hours ’til bedtime and no idea what to do.

Dinner party

Today we finished cobbling together a rackful of computers. I spent much of the day in the computer room of the MRI suite, reconfiguring cables and testing connections. The room is built like a supercomputer room, with a raised floor to allow for air conditioning ductwork underneath. The climate control machinery, along with the computers and liquid helium compressors, make a white-noise din that makes every conversation a yelling match.

I had planned to start working out today, but realized as I was falling asleep last night that I had to cook for a potluck dinner tonight. As soon as work ended I dashed off to Shaw’s to buy ingredients. I ended up making 17 reasonably tasty cornbread muffins. I also saw that another friend at the dinner had brought strawberries, and mixed up a quick milk-and-chocolate-chips sauce to dip them in.

One of the dinner-ers has a car, and he drove us and the food to the banks of the Charles river, near Harvard, where we met with more guests as the sun set. We ate at dusk, passing each course around and chatting amiably. It was a great deal of fun, though dinner was interrupted rudely by a shirtless, tattooed, stoned man who claimed to have spent the previous two years in Iraq as a Navy Seal, substantial beer gut notwithstanding. A more charitable member of our dinner party offered him a drink, and he proved harmless enough.

After dinner we drove back to AEPi and spent some time on the roof, talking some more. It was a fun summer evening. Unfortunately, I’m covered in chocolate.

Wonky

I spent the day assembling a Dell rackmount network attached storage system with a few coworkers. It was enlightening, since up to that point I didn’t have the clearest sense of how rackmounts really work. I conclude that they really work pretty well.

This evening I had dinner with my parents and grandparents, which was lovely as usual. After dinner my parents and I walked down to the Fenway movie theater and watched “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, which was quite a movie. It has some of the best child acting I can recall, and I have long been a fan of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. “Charlie” was nothing if not entertaining, with truckloads of whizbang in every scene. It lacked some of the emotional punch of the original movie, and the implications of homicide were less subtle and less true. The animation was often less than convincing. It was nevertheless fun and worthwhile. I noted as I brushed my teeth that the movie’s unabashed moral, the Value of Family, jived nicely with the rest of my evening.

A note to my readers: I am now officially scared about graduate school.

Fun with friends

Yesterday was pure fun. Paul, with an entourage, and Christina both came in to Boston. We went to the Museum of Fine Arts (free for MIT students!) and wandered around the Roman and Greek collections. I have discovered something interesting: the Egyptians seem to share our (or at least, my) modern sense of feminine beauty. Their stylized sculptures of women are strikingly beautiful.

After the museum we sat outside on the steps and chatted, then made our way to Harvard square. We spent the night wandering in search of a restaurant and a DVD to rent, and eventually wound up eating take-out in Erik’s apartment and watching “Arrested Development”. It was a great day.

Car!

Today I skipped work early and took the T out to Wonderland, its northernmost point, where I met my grandfather. We went out to try more cars. Our first stop was the Volkswagen dealership.

The VW dealer was smoking outside when we arrived, and smelled like smoke for a long time afterward. After much talking and pondering of showroom cars, I got to test-drive a New Beetle.

VW “New Beetle”:
This funny-shaped two-door hatchback has just about the merriest styling I can imagine. It also drives nicely and solidly, as I would expect from a VW. It loses, however, on several counts. It has less rear-seat space than a Mini. My knees were pressed against the seat in front of me, and my head against the ceiling. It has only slightly more trunk space than a Mini, and its geometry is so poor that the amount of usable space is probably similar. Between those two factors, the lack of any good interior storage compartments, and the below-average reliability according to Consumer Reports, the Beetle’s fate was sealed.

Acura RSX:
The RSX, previously known as the Integra, is a four-seat, two-door hatchback based on the Honda Civic. Acura is a sub-brand of Honda, even to the point that the RSX’s window glass says “HONDA” on the stamped corners. The RSX has wonderful borderline-racing-style seats that cup the driver and front passenger, and my test-drive confirmed my suspicion that it would handle like a refined sports car. It shares the Scion tC’s coupe/hatchback mix, and seems to have even more trunk space, if such a thing is possible. It also had more tasteful interior design than the tC.

I had really hoped to like the RSX, but a few things were just not right. The passenger-side seat’s footwell didn’t seem to have an angled region at the end, leaving the passenger in a very awkward position. The rear seat had only slightly more room than the Beetle’s. There was enough room for me to sit without hitting my head, but only if I leaned all the way back against the seat. Since there are no rear headrests, this is decidedly uncomfortable. For shorter passengers, this would have been much less of an issue, but I have no reason to suspect that I will only be moving short passengers.

Scion tC:
That’s right, I test-drove the tC again. The tC and the RSX are frequently mentioned in the same sentence, given that they are the two moderately priced two-door 4-5 seat 160hp sport-styled hatchbacks on the market. Having driven the RSX, theoretically more upscale than the tC, I wanted to drive the tC again for a direct comparison. I concluded that the RSX is, as I expected, the better handling car. With the RSX I felt a more direct connection to the road, and generally sportier. On the other hand, the tC drove much better than I remembered, probably because, after all these test drives, I’d stopped driving these cars like they’re Volvos. In fact, it was only slightly less sporty than the RSX, and would probably be proportionately more comfortable on long drives. It also has an enormous amount of rear-seat space. Although my hair is pressed against the rear windshield if I sit in the back, the rear seats actually recline, and when they’re reclined there’s no way anyone will lack for headroom. The tC also had more trunk space than I’d recalled, and the driver’s seat was better than I’d remembered.

I bought a tC. It isn’t perfect, but I’m pretty sure that it’s the best car I’ve looked at so far. It was also cheap enough at base ($17,715 for the automatic) to add leather seats, side airbags, an alarm system, floor mats, and mudguards, and still come in lower than the base RSX. Oh, and at Grandpa’s urging, it’s in light gray-blue. It should come in some time in the next 6 weeks.

I’m psyched.

Dinner out

Work is keeping me entertained. I’m going through the official (re)hiring process now, and I had to have a TB test, so now I have a lump on my left forearm.

I went out to dinner with my cousin and his parents, who are in town for the BU orientation. That was fun. Yay family.

OK bedtime.

Socialized

I have been doing socializing. It’s fun. Last night, I cooked brownies, sort of, as my contribution to a shared meal with some of my fellow residents. Today I went to a couple of cool lectures on “molecular imaging” from the organization that funded my project last year. They were fun lectures, delivered by pizzazzful, brilliant New Yorkers. Afterward I went over to Simmons, current home of RSI, where I watched most of “School of Rock”, then brainstormed for their t-shirt design and proselytized about Linux.

Now it’s bedtime.

Car stories

My grandfather picked me up this morning and we went car shopping. I test-drove five cars in total.

Toyota Camry Solara:
The Solara, available as a coupe and a convertible, was the first car we tested. I was looking at the coupe version, which is essentially in my price range. The exterior of the car has the most rounded, swooping lines of anything we saw today. Like every car on the list, it has split-folding rear seats and a four-cylinder engine. Driving it was nice, smooth, but not remarkable. It had some of the same feel that I got with the Toyota Matrix, which I test-drove back in Westport a week or two ago, where the accelerator response is initially sluggish, then shoots out from under me. This may be because I am used to driving a Volvo with very tightly sprung pedals. The visibility was poor, but not substantially better or worse than any other coupe I tested. The Honda salesman said that coupes generally have worse visibility, and I believe him. I will be doing a lot of lane-changing with mirrors. Incidentally, the Solara had a velvet-type cloth interior, the sort that seems most likely to get stained, but there is a leather option. The steering was perhaps somewhat lose.

Toyota Scion tC:
Scion is Toyota’s new youth-targeted brand. It started in 2005, and currently only offers a total of 3 cars. The other two are four-door squashed station-wagons, but the tC is the “touring Coupe”. It has the same 160HP engine as the Camry and likely shares a lot of the mechanics. I prefer the tC’s styling to just about any other car I’ve seen, though the $440,000, 205MPH Porsche Carrera GT we saw at the Porsche dealership also looked nice. The amazing thing, though, about the tC, beyond the BMW-style headlights and such, is that it’s actually a hatchback. The long, sloping rear window lifts up, and the back seats fold completely flat, leaving more usable storage area than a larger sedan. The tC had similar handling to the Solara, but slightly sportier. Although it is styled like a sports car, it is in fact a “touring” model, supposedly meaning tuned for long drives. The Solara and tC both felt great for highway driving. Although the tC is 16″ shorter than the Solara, it has virtually the same wheelbase.

Honda Civic Coupe:
The Civic Coupe might reasonably be considered a competitor to the tC, in terms of size. The steering and driving felt tighter than either of the Toyotas. The acceleration stuck out to me the most, on both the Civic and the Accord. Although both cars, as we had them configured, were underpowered compared to the Toyotas, they behaved at least as well at low accelerations. It was only when I pushed them, like trying to accelerate up a steep hill, that I understood why that horsepower might be handy. The Civic had a surprisingly sporty feel, and the styling, while conservative, was not bad. The interior materials were perhaps not quite as high quality as the Toyotas, but the difference was small.

Honda Accord Coupe:
The Accord is probably the biggest car we tested. It is at least as long as the Solara, and the rear end appeared to be significantly higher. I have been impressed with the Accord’s styling, which looks extremely geometric, composed of a few simple curves. As with the Solara, though, I can’t decide whether I really like the way it looks up close. The driving experience was very similar to the Civic, as is the interior. The only difference is more rear seat room and somewhat more trunk space. In all the coupes we tested, I was surprised at how narrow the trunk opening is. Although the seats all fold down, the area connecting the trunk and passenger compartments is nowhere near as big as the trunk’s cross-section. I suppose it must be the intrusion of the wheel wells, but it’s still frustrating to me.

Mini Cooper:

The Mini, now again something of an icon, is hard to buy. It’s not quite as hard to buy as a Toyota Prius, for which the base models are no longer sold, but there’s still a waiting list. I tested one out anyway, the base model with a paltry-sounding ~110 HP. The Mini is described as a hatchback and a sports car, both of which are sort-of accurate. With the rear seats up, the storage area is about big enough for a load of groceries, but not groceries from Costco. With the rear seats down there’s a pretty substantial amount of room, though still not huge. The exterior of the car has styling that is so distinctive it’s difficult to discuss. You’ve seen it, so I don’t need to. The styling question is: is this car a fad, with styling that will look about as cool as snap-bracelets in a couple of years, or is this look going to last?

The interior of the Mini has the best materials and designs of any car we tested, by a long ways. It’s the only one of these cars that looks like artists and sculptors were called upon to tweak the cockpit to perfection. Their choices, like a huge, clock-like center speedometer, are occasionally silly, but always deliberate. The car’s handling is kind of odd. It has a definite sports-car solidity to the controls, and the wheel is so stiff that if you turn it it will stick where you left it. At high speeds it is fun to drive, and even this base model has plenty of “pep”. The problem is at low speeds, where the handling is so sensitive that maneuvering in a parking lot was actually scary to me. The Mini was the only car today with a Continuously Variable Transmission, i.e. a gearless automatic, and it seemed to accelerate just fine. It isn’t perfect, but it’s at least as good as all the other transmissions.

Tomorrow: lunch with relatives.