What is retreat?

Thursday morning I woke up early and rushed through my morning routine, then walked to Harvard Square. I found a crowd of my fellow Biophysics students, and we boarded a coach bus to take us to our hotel in Maine. The hotel, near Kennebunkport, was beautifully located at the mouth of a river, with views of the ocean and a harbor. The interior was certainly a cut above standard hotel fare, though probably not a four-star hotel.

The retreat, as it is called, was mostly filled by poster sessions, lectures by students and professors, and excellent, rich buffet meals. I did get to take a walk to the world’s smallest suspension bridge (claim not verified) and play a few hours of Mafia with the other grad students.

The most distinctive part of the retreat every year is the costume party. Michele, the administrator, is amazingly creative and driven, and her parties are unlike any other. At this party, each attendee (student or faculty) was given a hat, lei, wreath, or bandana, which divided us into four teams. The theme was “Survivor: Lord of the Drosophila”, and the teams had to compete in a series of challenges on the mock set that had been constructed around the room. The losing team had to draw straws to see who would be kicked out.

And therein lies the problem. Competition parties are fine, but competition parties in which people are gradually kicked out, with nowhere to go but home, are doomed.


My paycheck cleared today, ans I inaugurated my new account by buying a bicycle helmet and lights, a cable for my new printer, and a cable for my phone.

Tomorrow is the Biophysics retreat (costume required).

Set Up

I think it is fair to say that my laptop is officially configured. I still don’t have power management totally working, and there’s still a problem when removing the laptop from the docking station, but it sounds like that should be fixed within a few months. As it is, I have installed my first game, which I think is the threshold of “set up”.

The game, by the way, is pretty cool. It’s called Neverball, and it’s based on tilting a platform around to control the path of a ball. The game is designed to played with a mouse, but I can do one better: my laptop has an accelerometer, and it is configured so that tilting the laptop actually tilts the platform in the game. So the laptop is the controller.

It’s pretty nifty.


My to-do list is getting doner and doner. I set up a bank account with Bank of America (account # is in the mail), I’m almost ready to finalize my classes (which is good, because tomorrow is the deadline), and I just got a haircut (for $10!). My laptop was shipped from China yesterday and is expected to arrive tomorrow. The tracking system tells me that its total shipping weight, including docking station, power supply, etc., is about the same as the weight of my current laptop alone.

I met someone who has the same one a few weeks ago, and he loves it.

Second Day

Today was the second day of classes, which should mean that I’ve now visited all the classes I’m going to take. That’s not to say that I know which ones they are. What I do know is that I’ve got some tough decisions. Harvard really doesn’t seem to offer anything like the high-performance-computing-for-physics class that I was looking for, at least not this term. I probably could have cross-registered for something like that at MIT, if I’d been thinking ahead, but I guessed wrong, and the class I’d been attending at MIT was not at all what I was looking for. My other classes are biochemistry and molecular biology, and I suppose I’ve more or less worked out which versions of those courses to take (Harvard has more variations on this theme than I can count). Unfortunately, they’re at the Med School. I guess I’ll just have to get used to shuttling back and forth between campuses.

Hooray for bicycles.

Oh, today was the RSI welcome dinner. I knew one person there, and another who I dragged in. I know there are many other Rickoids from my year at Harvard alone, but they all lamed out. Boo.


Today was the first day of classes. It was very busy, despite only containing one real class (Molecular Biology).

This evening was the gala dinner for first-year grad students in medical sciences, including PhD, MD, and DMD. Biophysics was there, mostly on a technicality, but we didn’t mind. It was held at the immensely posh and stereotypical Harvard Club of Boston. The keynote lecture was hilarious, and extremely off-color. It was fun.

Tomorrow should be more hectic still, as I have more classes to taste than is physically possible.


I had been putting off calculating my car’s fuel economy, but after I arrived in Boston I filled up and reset my odometer. Today I filled up for the second time, 228.5 miles later. I bought 10.27 gallons of gasoline, or 22.25 mpg. Given that I was occasionally using the air conditioning, and almost all of the mileage was in the city around Boston, I think that compares favorably to the EPA estimate of 23 mpg in city driving, 30 mpg on the highway.

I also got my car “inspected”, which appears to consist of checking that the warning lights work and the gas tank door opens.


Tomorrow is the first day of Harvard classes (ack!). I have decided to drop my MIT class in order to focus on topics I’m less familiar with. I am hoping to take a class on numerical algorithms for scientific computing, but it seems like Harvard doesn’t really offer what I’m looking for (but MIT does). That was frustrating, but not nearly as frustrating as the terrible Harvard subject listing. This is one area in which they definitely need to take a hint from MIT. Harvard’s course listings do not list the locations of the courses, nor do they link to pages that give the locations. The locations are only available in a separate PDF file, listing out all the courses. The only course I’m sure I plan to take this semester is Biochemistry 2100, which is listed as meeting in building “Consult Department”.

How can there be a course scheduled on Tuesday in an unknown location? How has this university survived for 300 years?

Getting closer

Yesterday was very productive. I visited every bank in Cambridge collecting information on account types and interest rates. Eventually, I made an account online at Bank of America (they paid me $50!). So that was one major item off my to-do list.

While I was in the Harvard computer lab I decided to look for free stuff at Harvard and sure enough, there’s a Harvard Furniture and Recycling Center, or something like that. It doesn’t have a website, and it’s only open from 11-2 on Saturdays, but I decided to check it out anyway, and sure enough, there were a bunch of swivel chairs, good as new. I was in Allston by this point, so I biked back to my apartment, then drove back to the recycling center to pick up the chair. One was already gone (even though nobody knows about this place), but I got the one I was looking for anyway.

It had been raining, and my chair was very wet, so I borrowed a roommate’s enormous fan and subjected my chair to gale-force winds for several hours. I’m sitting on it now, and I cannot describe how much more useful it makes my desk. Free!

Last night was a Harvard party. It had a moderately inane “Boston” theme, a little like a geographical haunted house (it occupied the whole grad-student center). The highlight was probably seeing the head of my department in full pirate regalia, eyepatch included. I got bored after about an hour and biked back home. I hung out with my roommates for about 15 minutes before a friend called, saying he was at the party and wondering where I was. After some deliberation, I biked back. The party had transitioned into its second phase, an enormous dance party occupying the whole cafeteria floor. I danced until 12:30, when it closed. It was a lot of fun, barring two unfortunate incidents.

I dropped my bottle of Nantucket Nectar on the dance floor and it shattered. While I have mastered the art of picking up shards of broken glass, it is always nerve-wracking, especially in the dark, to pounding music, on a slick black floor. Later, my glasses flew off my face while I was dancing and somebody stepped on them. I was able to bend them back, mostly, but a few adjustments are still required. It appears that they used Flexon for everything but the critical corner pieces.

Today my friend Paul came in, and together with a few other friends we wandered around Boston, visiting the pro-marijuana Freedom Rally (surprisingly dull, bad music) and Barnes & Noble (no free internet). I must have walked at least five miles today.

Tomorrow: Chorallaries rehearsal, and whatever’s left on that list.