It snowed yesterday, and as it snowed I looked out my window at the streetlights and tried to imagine being one of the many people who lived right around here 7,000 years ago. For them, winter must have been principally the season of death and famine. I imagined living through a winter before the invention of the stove. Every new snow must have seemed like an absolutely indecipherable mystery, a purified proof that it was no use trying to understand the forces of nature that dominated their lives. I understand now why these primitive societies developed such complex mythologies, and why those myths are so often obsessed with the weather. To someone whose source of heat is an open fire pit, and whose food requires warmth and rain, the weather is life and death.

Oscar party

We hosted an Oscar party tonight. As an opportunity for creativity, my roommate Emily proposed that it be a potluck, and each guest bring a dish themed to one of the movies nominated for an award tonight. Emily made meat pies (Sweeney Todd). I made “Poison Apple” Pie (Enchanted, borrowed from Snow White) and chocolate-glazed strawberries (Across the Universe, “Strawberry Fields Forever”). Guests brought Ratatouille, Belgian Waffles (“In Bruges”), blue cake (apparently from Juno), and a number of other dishes.

I followed the simplest recipe for apple pie from, but it made about twice as much filling as needed. I ended up making two pies, and due to the huge oversupply of food, only half of one was eaten tonight. I’m not sure what to do about the other.

The House Jacks

Tonight I went to see the House Jacks in concert, along with a bunch of Chorallaries. They are amazing.

Until yesterday, I had only heard the House Jacks on CD. If you’d heard them recorded, or on the radio, you’d probably think that they were an electronic rock group, using a wide variety of instruments, including electric guitars and synthesizers.

At the concert yesterday, I learned two more things:

  • if you saw them on the street, dressed in their uniform of gelled hairdos, all trim save for huge biceps accentuated by short-sleeve t-shirts two sizes too small, you might think that they were a gang of California faux-surfer dudes (and part-time models).
  • If you heard them talking, in between songs, you might reasonably expect that they were a team of professional stand-up comics.

In fact they are none of these things. The House Jacks are an a capella quintet, who sound like an entire rock band using nothing but their voices and microphones. They are each astonishingly talented musicians, and together they create a performance so amazing that I cannot understand why you have never heard of them. For example, toward the end of the show, they took audience requests for arbitrary songs (typically from the last 30 years) and performed them, immediately, without discussion or rehearsal, often blending successive requests into each other and improvising parody lyrics. There were over a dozen requests, and they never turned one down, even the request for the theme song from some Japanese videogame.

Wes Carroll, who knew the theme song for the videogame, is the House Jacks’ vocal percussionist, and also a former Chorallary (that’s why we were there). What I didn’t expect is that he was also friends with all the smartest people I knew from MIT, who were also there.

For $18, it was an amazing experience, but also kind of embarrassing. I got a distinct feeling that I don’t measure up.


I graded my first problem set today. It was actually kind of fun. I got to use my red pen and everything. It was pretty easy, mostly because the answers were almost all right, or nearly so. I suspect the difficulty of grading problem sets is directly proportional to the difficulty of completing them, and inversely proportional to the resulting scores.

So I guess we have an incentive to make the problem sets easy. It certainly does feel different though. I will have a new perspective if I ever have to do homework problems again.


Another favorite pair of pants unexpectedly acquired a large tear. That’s the third this winter. If I’m counting correctly, this leaves me with two pairs of pants that are not Dry Clean Only.

Something must be done, and soon. And that something is buying pants.

Have some Celery


This is a maximum-intensity projection of a 3D image of celery, taken with a 1.5T Siemens scanner (Martinos Center Bay 2). The motion-blur-like effects are due to the projection along the stalk axis, which is amazingly straight, but not perfect. These images were taken in the hope that celery would exhibit anisotropic diffusion. Unfortunately, the diffusion appears to be quite isotropic, and the T2 of celery is so short as to make diffusion imaging extraordinarily difficult.

First Actual Scan

I’ve spent the past week or two making MRI scans of celery and trying to improve my code’s workingness. Today I got to try it out on the 7T scanner, one of the most powerful MRI machines in the world. My professor signed up to use this machine all weekend, in order to acquire some very high-resolution images of an ex-vivo brain hemisphere. My advisor said I could probably borrow ten minutes at the beginning, before they started the multi-day main imaging sequence. In my eleven-minute scan, I made a 128x128x8 voxel image of an ex-vivo hemisphere at 0.5mm resolution with 8 different diffusion directions.

The images are badly corrupted, probably because the slab was too narrow, and 8 partitions was too few. Once I have an hour or two of scan time, I can fix that.


I was in the office past 9 last night, working with my advisor to kill one last remaining bug in my code. Thanks to a heroic effort on his part, it is now fixed, though neither of us has any idea what the problem really was. As I left the building I realized I didn’t have my umbrella, and when I got home I found I didn’t have my keys either (thank goodness for roommates).

After the storms of the past few days I am literally under the weather, constantly drinking water to ward off laryngitis. Hopefully it won’t get worse. Some key equipment has just been fixed, and tomorrow we are running our first high-resolution ex vivo tests. It’s quite exciting.