China

In chronological order, I have visited the countries of

  1. USA
  2. Canada
  3. Barbados
  4. St. Martin (France)
  5. St. Maarten (The Netherlands)
  6. Mexico
  7. Italy
  8. The Holy See
  9. Switzerland
  10. Germany
  11. Israel
  12. Jordan
  13. Britain
  14. Cuba
  15. Greece
  16. Turkey
  17. Brazil
  18. Spain
  19. Morocco

It may not be fair to count Germany, as I have only been inside the Frankfurt airport. Additionally, I have visited the West Bank in Israel, which may or may not count as a country, and I believe I have changed planes in Jamaica, but I am not sure.

The next country on this list will be China. I will be going this summer with my family and a large contingent of Chinese friends; in fact, the entourage will be majority-Chinese. It should be very interesting.

Trip

I came home, to see friends and family, and take care of logistics. I can do my work about as well here as in Boston.

If you need me, I’m in Connecticut.

Excitement

I woke up early this morning to drive my car to the car dealership. Yesterday, in preparation, I had taken out The Children of Men from the Harvard Med School library. I had been quoted over 4 hours for the various maintenance, and the man taking my car was astonished that I intended to wait in the dealership until it was done. Perhaps he took pity on me; it was done by 11 AM, just over two hours. This was a particularly good thing because I had forgotten my lunch at home.

I hadn’t gotten a chance to finish my book, but I decided to make the most of the fact that it’s spring break, so I sat on the couch and read until I was finished.

This evening I’ve been working on my project for my Model of Development class. I’ve just finished the first cut at a program designed to simulate, and eventually reverse-engineer, the patterns that plant cells make when they divide.

Book Review:
The Children of Men is fantastic. It’s well-written, engrossing, and carefully thought out. The characterization, the setting is all supremely believable, to the point that by the end of Omega (the first “book”) I knew exactly what it felt like to watch the extinction of homo sapiens, powerless. I was truly shaken. The book also makes, above all, one dramatic and surprising point: everything we do, from emotion to morality, is conditioned on the assumption of the survival of humanity. Without this assumption, all of our reasons for doing all of the things that we do evaporate. I think I never quite realized how much we depend on the future for the present.

I have not seen the movie made from this book, but from what I can tell, apart from the above they are opposites in almost every way. The characters have the same names but completely different roles. The everyman in the movie is royalty in the book, and the amiable pot-head in the movie is a joyless professor in the book, who kills himself early in the story. From what I’ve heard, even the endings are perfect opposites.

Repair

Tomorrow’s the big day. I’m referring to getting my car repaired (there’s a recall on the driver’s-side airbag sensors). They’ve told me estimated times of 5 hours, and I can’t really leave, so I’m prepared to spend all day there. I took out a book from the library, made myself lunch…I am ready.

Taxed!

I just paid my taxes. It was arduous.

First I tried H&R Block TaxCut, but it wouldn’t file MA taxes for free. Then I tried Intuit TurboTax, but the free version can’t handle Capital Gains taxes. Then I tried TaxEngine.com, but the results seemed very wrong. I just submitted using TaxSlayer.com, whose calculation seemed much more favorable. I have no idea what happens next. I do know that I’m supposed to be paying quarterly estimated tax, so by April 15 I have to make my first tax payment for 2007.

I’m amazed at how little I know. For example, despite having computed all of my taxes, I still have no idea what my assets are (only how much interest they generate). There’s also some incredibly mysterious stuff floating around: for example, I somehow paid $23.27 in unspecified foreign taxes in the country of “Various” during 2006.

I have a distinct feeling that this whole thing is not going to work.

Tax

I’ve been trying to do my taxes. I had it almost done tonight, when I discovered that H&R Block’s FreeFile online system charges for state taxes. TurboTax’s FreeFile system also computes MA state taxes for free, so I’m going to start over using their system. I still haven’t figured out the right way to report income without a W-2. Harvard seems to be the only university in the US that doesn’t supply W-2s.

I upgraded the firmware on my phone. This required Administrator access on a Windows machine, so I went to lab and used my computer there to do it. It took over two hours, and about 5 attempts, before the upgrade finally worked. Luckily, I don’t appear to have lost any of my phone numbers or other info. The upgrade makes things a little faster and brighter, and adds voice-recognition for hands-free dialing.

I took another composite picture:
Snow in the Streetlight
It wasn’t supposed to be a self-portrait.

HDR

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range imaging. It’s a technique for taking impossible photographs. OK, that’s not a very good description.

The idea is really pretty simple. In any given photograph, some parts may be underexposed (too dark) and some parts may be overexposed (too bright). HDR is a mathematical technique for combining many different exposures into a single perfectly-exposed image. My camera has exposure bracketing, which means it can automatically acquire a sequence of 5 such images in rapid succession.

After class today (including two different presentations, which went fine), I decided to try it out. I went for a walk with my camera, in search of something to take a picture of. This proved surprisingly difficult. It was near sunset, and everything I saw was already perfectly exposed. I was looking for a bad subject, and I couldn’t find one. Additionally, I needed something to rest my camera on, since I don’t have a tripod, and all 5 images need to be taken from exactly the same angle. Also, nothing can be moving. Given that I live in a busy neighborhood with heavy traffic, this was quite difficult. As I was walking back I found the perfect scene; my own building. I balanced my camera on a mailbox.

After a lot of computational work, here is the result:
73 River St.

Actually, this picture isn’t much better than the best of the individual exposures, and camera shake from balancing on a round mailbox has made it a little blurry. But it’s a good first attempt, I think.

Presentations

I’m giving two 45-minute presentations on two different papers for my two classes tomorrow. I’d post links here, but the raw powerpoint slides are amazingly uninformative.

Then it’s SPRING BREAK!!