Monthly Archives: November 2007

Blah

In order to get an access card to the building in which I’m starting work, I have to meet all the medical qualifications of hospital staff. That means not only getting two Tuberculin tine-tests, but also proving vaccination against Hepatitis B, Measles, Mumps, Rubeola, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, and Varicella. My immunization history has been handwritten, passed on paper from office to office, and so Harvard is missing pieces of this record. Thus, today I had an antibody titer to confirm my MMR and Varicella immunity. Hopefully, this will serve as proof of immunity, permanently inscribed in my Harvard medical record, which is considerably more organized and accessible than my records at any previous primary care provider.

This is all silly, of course. My job is programming; a vaccination against computer viruses would be equally productive and considerably more relevant.

TV

The TV in my apartment apparently broke during Thanksgiving, and so my roommate bought a big flat-screen to replace it.

So if you want to come over to my place, you can watch movies on our Bose surround-sound system with a big LCD flat-panel screen.

Change

Today I started my third rotation, at The MGH/Harvard/MIT Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging (we call it “The Martinos Center”). I am working with Profs. Bruce Fischl and Andre van der Kouwe (and perhaps others, but mostly them). My current plan is to learn how to reprogram the MRI machine, and then write a special MRI program (pulse sequence) for the purpose of imaging dead people’s brains at super-high resolution.

Braaains.

That’s pretty much it for news. It’s increasingly possible that I’ll be TFing* a course in the spring.

*: In Harvard lingo, a Teaching Fellow is a grad student who is like a Teaching Assistant at any other university, but also has to grade the homework.

NCFOM

On Friday night, I took a detour through Providence on my way from Boston to Westport. Paul was there, with friends from undergrad and grad-school. We had $10 dinner at a restaurant with a $45 atmosphere; I guess Providence is really a lot less expensive than Boston (or Westport).

It had already been decided to see No Country for Old Men, but first we had to get there. Paul had gotten the address, assuming that I would drive there using my GPS. Unfortunately, my GPS navigator wasn’t working, and so instead we tried using 1-800-GOOG-411 (Google’s free information hotline) to call the theater. GOOG-411 is completely automated, as was the theater’s answering system, causing Paul to remark that the first robot had passed him of to a second robot, thus proving that we are definitely living in the future.

The second robot’s vague directions were insufficient to get to the theater, but we made it in time, with a little help from a gas station attendant. The theater was fairly crowded, and some work was required to find four seats together.

No Country for Old Men is a strange movie. In fact, I think it’s almost an anti-movie. The Coen brothers seem to have conspired to invert as many Hollywood standard constructions as possible. For example, all of the most pivotal scenes occur off-camera, with the important details implied in an offhand fashion, while enormous screen time is spent on atmosphere. The total effect makes the movie very technically impressive, but not especially rewarding to watch. Hollywood’s storytelling rules exist for a reason, and by going against them, the movie is thought-provoking, but not emotionally satisfying.

On Saturday, I bought a Magellan RoadMate 1200 at Circuit City for $125. For the price, it’s quite extraordinary. So far, it seems to do everything one would want from a basic GPS car navigator, with a well-designed interface. Its single flaw is a decision to announce, in English, every action taken when you press a button. This is because all interaction is via the touch-screen, and some users may find it easy to press the wrong button. The voice is intended as a sort of confirmation that the button you pressed was the one you intended to press. This gets old very quickly: every time you press an arrow button it says “next” or “back” in a strident tone intended to be audible over any automotive cabin noise. Anyway, I’ll test its capabilities on the drive back to Boston tomorrow.

I spent the rest of the weekend wandering around Westport with Paul, his friend Jon, and sometimes Rebecca. It was fun.

Enchanted

My cousins are in town for Thanksgiving, and after lunch today, we went to look at movies. “Enchanted” was convenient, so we saw it.

Review:
Enchanted is an interesting balancing act. The cartoon universe is a perfect amalgam of Disney’s Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, with a dash of Bambi and Beauty and the Beast. It is a highly effective parody by magnification. Cinderella had a coterie of animals who helped her, so Giselle (our curiously named, presumably German heroine) has an entire regiment, too many to fit in her treehouse apartment. Everyone is happy all the time, and everyone sings, even the ogre, who doesn’t particularly seem to mind having been caught by the prince during the ogre hunt. The dialogue is aggressively silly. It’s very funny.

The rest of the movie is an exploration of the collision between Disney-fairytale logic and “reality” (or at least, Hollywood reality). The magical powers retained by the fairytale characters are retained, in comically modified form, in modern day New York. The results are genuinely funny. I was very pleased to see a complete answer to the question: “what if Disney’s animated musical numbers actually happened in real life?”. The production value is generally extremely high.

The movie’s basic problems are generated by audience-targeting. The movie’s basic focus is on the emotional dishonesty (in fact, lunacy) of the stories we tell to our children. And yet, this is a Disney movie, marketed to children, and is itself constrained by those same social constructs. The plot, which could have been genuinely interesting, is instead so predictable that it is essentially irrelevant, a backdrop for the various collision scenarios. The children’s appeal also limits the subtlety of the film; references that should be nothing more than a passing shot are instead given 30 seconds of screen time, to ensure recognition.

The other problem is the strength of the satire. Enchanted could easily have become a complete deconstruction of the Disney format, in which parents show their children shallow, unoriginal animated spectacles in order to delay their realization that the world is basically a crappy place, full of suffering and death. That would have been great. But Enchanted is a Disney film, and they are not willing to make a movie too critical of their own work. So instead it is light satire, and ultimately comes down in favor of fairytale endings. It feels a little dishonest.

The reason I am so focused on this movie is in part that Enchanted is very nearly science fiction. Much of science fiction is structured as an exploration of a universe where people’s capabilities differ from our own in a few very specific ways. In sci-fi terms, in Enchanted, there is a parallel universe in which the laws of logic and physics are more flexible, and people from this universe can occasionally transit into our own by mean of a sort of wormhole. Once here, these people experience a mix of their universe and ours. From our perspective, they have extraordinary powers; from theirs, our universe is incredibly difficult to mold, and unforgiving.

Speakers

My roommate Emily just donated me her broken stereo. The CD player’s mechanism is jammed, and it caught an unknown CD inside. I extracted the CD, and got the broken stereo in return. The tape deck’s broken too. The amplifier and speakers are still fully functioning, though, and the speakers are each about a foot high. They will make a perfect addition to the basement cinema back home.

Fun

Had lunch today with another OLPC volunteer visiting from California. My roommate threw a dinner party with yummy turkey tacos, and then it was off to the annual RSI Boston Bash. I also did a little OLPC demo there in the basement, where one friend helped me take this picture from one XO of another one running Matlab over SSH: XO running Matlab

The picture quality is very low, in order to save space on the laptops. Perhaps it should be compressed a little less.

Nope

Last night was pretty much a repeat of the night before, except my earplugs hurt enough to actually wake me back up. When I took them out, I heard more mouse noises. This time, I actually spotted the mouse, under a small baseboard heater. I quickly blocked off the heater and proceeded to use an entire roll of packing tape sealing it off. The mouse disappeared, presumably into a hole under the carpet. After that, I was able to sleep. No more mouse noises.

I went looking for mouse-hunting info today. I found a great site, with quotes like

Mice’s reputation as dirty animals is 100 percent accuMousee.

and

You may hear mice gnawing, climbing, scMouseching, squeaking and fighting right above your head as you try to sleep.

True.

Mouse?

Just as I was falling asleep last night, I heard some nondescript noise in the far corner of the room. It sounded like a mouse. I turned on the lights, and it seemed to stop, but I saw no mouse. Of course, I might not have seen it, since the lightswitch is past the foot of my bed, and I can’t see a thing without glasses anyway. After looking around for some evidence of a mouse, I gave up and turned the light off. Repeat 4 times. I don’t know how late it was by this point, perhaps 4 AM or 5 AM. Desperate, I went to my bag of earplugs (bought for China), inserted a pair, and went happily to sleep. Sleeping with earplugs makes my ears hurt, but it’s better than not sleeping at all.

Anyway, tonight I’m going to bed early. I am barely awake. Hopefully, no mouse.