I just got a letter in the mail from the IRS. On the back of the envelope was a big, bold logo saying “STIMULUS PAYMENT”. I opened it up and read the enclosed letter:

Dear Taxpayer:
You are entitled to an economic stimulus payment of $600.00 as provided by the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008.

Sweet! Wait, where’s the cheque?

You can expect your payment by 7/5/08. If you do not receive it within six weeks of this notice, please contact us…

Hey you, over there! You want $600? I’ve got it right here, waiting for you. Not!

On the other hand, it will be very much like a birthday present from the IRS.

Starfleet Command v. Bush Administration

We had another Star Trek marathon here today, and one of the episodes we watched was the famous Chain of Command, in which Captain Picard conducts a secret mission to determine whether the Cardassians have a secret bioweapons laboratory. He is captured, after which there is the following diplomatic exchange:

Captain Picard was not acting
under my orders.

And if we wish to execute him?

Under the terms of the Selonis
Convention, Captain Picard must —

The Selonis Convention applies to
prisoners of war… which means
you would have to acknowledge that
he was captured during a mission
authorized by the Federation. Do
you wish to make such an


Riker throws a look at Jellico, but keeps his mouth

Then he will be treated as a

The Cardassians proceed to torture Capt. Picard, far past the point where he could possibly have any useful information, just for the purpose of degrading him. Sound familiar?

This episode first aired in 1992. It’s good to remember that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rove didn’t invent this terminology, or these rhetorical tactics. Their phrasing, and philosophy, is so old that in 1992 it was a cliché suitable for a TV drama. The key here is: it’s a cliché for the villains.

P.S.: Script is from here.


Bad: My only appointment for the day failed to occur, because I was waiting about 100 feet away from the person I was supposed to be meeting, just out of sight due to construction fencing.

Good: Some friends were going to see Kung Fu Panda and dragged me along. It was very fun, and definitely lifted my spirits.

Hey Dad: see this movie. You’ll love it.


I got a serious brain short-circuit today. I went to NW14 in search of Prof. Griffin, with whom I had an appointment. I went to the office listed on the website, but he was not there. I waited around, trying to read the scientific posters and ignore the incredibly loud construction noise, for about twenty minutes. Eventually I gave up, decided he wasn’t coming, and went down. I recalled a sign indicating that the main offices were on the third floor, so I thought I’d drop in there to see if they had any advice.

The floor plan for the third floor, displayed in the stairwell, showed another office for Prof. Griffin, so I went there. This appeared to be his real office, where his assistant works… but still no Prof. Griffin. I waited around for another twenty minutes or so, making small talk with the assistant, before eventually giving up and going home. On my way out I saw a sign for Prof. Cory’s office and thought “oh… crap”.

I hadn’t scheduled an appointment with Prof. Griffin. I had scheduled an appointment with Prof. Cory. They both work in the same field, in the same group, in the same building, and I had been making appointments with both of them subject to the same scheduling restriction, because they were (I presume) going to the same NIH-NSF study section, leaving on the same flight this afternoon. I had gotten an e-mail from Prof. Cory but misread the From line. Ugh.

I sent out some apologies; hopefully I’ll be able to reschedule. What a mess.


I’m back in Boston. I came home just in time to interview a parade of potential roommates, scheduled so close together that we generally had more than one with us at a time, which made the interview process a bit awkward. We’ve got another round tomorrow; hopefully that’ll be it, so


is now.

Drive home

I went home to CT for the weekend to see my brother. The weather on the drive home was very unusual, a patchwork of tiny thunderstorms, so that it was often the case that I could see clouds, clear sky, the sun, rain, lightning, and a rainbow, all at the same time.

Ice cream

This afternoon I went to play soccer with some friends. The time was vague, and the place merely implied; a park near my apartment. I biked over to the park, locked up my bicycle, and looked at the field. It was empty. I peered down the sidewalk, but did not see my friends.

I paced for what seemed like a rather long time, and just as I was getting up the nerve to go back home, I saw another friend. He was walking his bicycle toward what was becoming a rather large throng of bicyclists, many holding ultralight road bikes and wearing MIT or Harvard cycling jerseys. He explained that they were going to get ice cream, from a store that just happens to be about 10 miles away. My soccer playing friends were still not there, so I guessed that I had gone to the wrong field. This fortuitous bicycle trip seemed like a suitable substitute.

The jersey-wearing folks were amazingly restrained, and did not leave us in their dust. The ride was beautiful, passing out of the city into suburbia, scenic forest overlooks, and even a farm or two. It was unexpectedly hilly, with long dull climbs and short exciting descents. The trip was about 90 minutes. By the time we got to the ice cream place I was quite hungry and tired, and made the classic mistake of believing that the “medium” is actually a medium amount of ice cream (it was a triple-scoop, using the enormous scoop sizing guidelines favored by gourmet ice cream shops). I still ate it all.

The leaders opted to take a different way back, and we were shocked, in half an hour or less, to find ourselves back in Porter Square. It seems that the route was so scenic by choice, not necessity.

As it turns out, I was in the right place for soccer, and the players probably showed up just as we were leaving. Still, a worthwhile adventure.

Roommate Redux

It looks like the plan for a third roommate just fell through, so I am again looking for a roommate for this 3-bedroom apartment.

Cheap rent, great location, friendly roommates, etc. Tell your friends.


It’s extremely difficult to buy Vegemite or Marmite in the US. Prior to visiting England, I had only ever eaten either when Commonwealthians brought it with them. Since I love both, I made sure, on my last day in England, to buy at least a year’s supply.

That was in the spring of 2005. The large jar of Marmite I bought then had an expiration date of late 2006, which seemed like a long ways away. Besides, the stuff is practically a supersaturated salt solution, so surely it is self-preserving…? Unfortunately, apparently not. Yesterday I looked into my cabinet and was dismayed to note that my large jar of marmite, still unopened (I was eating the smaller jars first) was sticky, and bulging ominously. Some unknown process had caused the internal pressure to rise, to the point that the Marmite inside was extruded right through the seal around the lid.

I don’t know what this means, but if I had to guess, I would go with some sort of bacterium producing CO2. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it will give you food poisoning, but that’s an experiment I’d prefer to avoid performing. So let this be a lesson to all you Marmite fans: Marmite will probably go bad in less than 18 months after its expiration date, which is about 3 years after purchasing it.

Luckily, the Marmite situation in the US has improved since 2004, and it’s now possible to buy it in a number of grocery stores, if you know where to look.