Does anyone know how to make birds go away? Every summer there are a bunch of birds that hang out right outside my window. Maybe they have a nest around here, or maybe they just visit a lot. Every night I leave my window open, to try to catch some of that marginally cooler night air, and every morning at dawn the birds start chirping like mad. I have to wake up, go to the window, raise the blinds, close the window, lower the blinds, and try to go back to sleep.

In fact, the birds are so loud, and so close, that even with the window closed I still can’t sleep. This morning I grabbed a pair of earplugs to try to sleep longer, which did in fact work.

I’m pessimistic about making the birds quieter*, so I’m also taking recommendations on earplugs. I bought a big box of orange conical ones from CVS a few years ago, and I’m not even close to using them up. They work great, but after a few hours they make my ears hurt so much that they wake me up. Less painful earplugs would be a big plus.


Birds gotta sing, and birds gotta fly.
I gotta love one man ’til I die.
Can’t help loving that man of mine.


Yesterday was the first truly warm day of the year. It was also the peak blossoming of the cherry trees in the median park of Memorial Drive near MIT. To celebrate the season, some friends hold an annual picnic there, which was a lovely way to spend the afternoon.

In the evening, I went to the Spring Weekend concert at MIT. For $15, I got (MIT-affiliate discount) tickets to see Ben Folds, with Sara Bareilles opening. Both are famous piano-pop stars, so I think this is the first time I’ve been to a concert by musicians this famous.

The concert was held in the Johnson Ice Hockey rink, ice-free for the summer, and essentially a long concrete box with stadium seats along one long wall. The stage was at one end, which left the audience divided into sitters, in the stands, facing the wrong way, and standers, on the bare concrete floor in front of the temporary stage. I was there with some other Harvard biophysicists; we were standers.

I only recognized about two songs from Folds’s performance. His music is a bit obscure, and tends to border on atonal. His performance, however, was very impressive. There were five performers, all obviously working hard in the tremendous heat that grew in the strangely unventilated room. Ben Folds particularly could often be observed dripping in sweat, with one hand playing his signature grand piano, the other shaking a maraca, while singing into his microphone. All five kept towels handy.

Musically, I was happier with Sara Bareilles. Her set was shorter, but I knew more of her songs (including a nice cover of “Umbrella” with what might have been a ukulele). She certainly lacked Ben Folds’s outgoing performance, but her singing left no doubt about her talents.

It was a fun night, but at 4 hours long I would have preferred not to have to stand the entire time. Next time maybe I will bring a picnic blanket to pad the concrete floor.


I was in lab today until 10:30 PM. Everything that could possibly go wrong with my experiment did, and over the course of the evening I had to modify or rebuild every component of my apparatus. I’m still skeptical that the ultrasound acquisition actually worked, and there seemed to be something very wrong with the driving electronics, but I didn’t have time to debug that. Nonetheless, I am optimistic. For the first time, the motion artifacts that I see in the images match the effects I expect from my simulations.

That’s a very good sign.


I’ve been extremely tired for the past few days, and going to sleep at absurdly reasonable hours (before 11!). I blame this on a number of factors. Firstly, it’s really hard to sleep on a boat, at a mooring, in a place with perpetual 15 knot wind (so the boat’s always swinging and rolling), very high temperatures (so you have to keep the hatches open), freak midnight showers (so you have to wake up and close the hatches), and ineffectual blinds (so the boat’s totally bright shortly after dawn). Add in the fact that Tortola is 5.5 degrees East of Boston, so sunrise is roughly 20 minutes earlier, and … I need to go to sleep.

Good night.


I hardly know where to start.

I spent yesterday unpacking, resettling, vacuuming, and generally attempting to rejoin the human race. I filtered through well over 1000 unread e-mails, including a few that were genuinely interesting.

Vacation in (well, near) Tortola was amazing. The whole thing had the feel of The Truman Show, with islands that look like unreal set pieces and water so blue another guest joked that Richard Branson must be dyeing it (in order to lure guests to his $47,000-a-night resort).

We went snorkeling every day we were there. On the second day, I figure out how to float upright beneath the surface, controlling my breathing to maintain buoyancy, and simply watched as countless oblivious tropical fish schooled around me. It was pretty great.

My brother came with his Nikon D700, and so was appointed our official Trip Photographer. I’ll put up a link to his pictures once I have it.


I’m back from a week in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, which we (my parents, my brother, and myself) circumnavigated in a Benetau 34, courtesy of Sunsail Charters. It was fantastic.

I am totally wiped. I’ve also been entirely disconnected for almost a week. Next on my to-do list is to check e-mail, but I think I’ll go to sleep instead. On some days I seem to get e-mail faster than I can read it, so I don’t even want to contemplate how long that is going to take.


I’ll be spending the next week or more away in warm places with my parents (and my brother). A sailboat is involved; everything else is unclear to me.

See you in two weeks.

A Letter to K’NEX Support

Dear K’NEX Support,

I am a Ph.D. student at Harvard University. I am doing research in radiology, studying the motion of organs using MRI and ultrasound. Recently, I required a moving platform as part of an experimental apparatus. Because my work is performed inside the magnetic field of an MRI machine, all equipment must be non-metallic. Of course, I immediately thought of K’NEX.

I was given a K’NEX Intermediate Set 50015 at the age of nine, and as I visualized my experimental problem, it became clear to me that the parts would be precisely right. In particular, the large, grooved, pulley-like wheels would run perfectly along the lip of the water tank in which the ultrasound experiments are performed. I promptly bicycled to my nearest Target and bought the 400-piece Value Tub, for use in my lab.

I opened the tub at home, and was sorely disappointed. Only a fraction of the pieces are the large, strong beams and connectors that comprise classic K’Nex. Most are flimsy incompatible half-scale parts and pseudo-Lego bricks, for which I have no use. Also, the wheels no longer have a central groove, rendering them useless for my purposes.

I returned the 400-piece Value Tub. Instead, I went home and rummaged through the basement to find my original K’NEX kit. It worked perfectly, and every researcher who’s seen the construction has said “Wow, we should buy a lot of this stuff. It would be useful for everything we do.”

Unfortunately, I know of no way to buy classic K’NEX parts, like the ones in my Intermediate Set, so I cannot recommend any purchases to them. Please consider selling a kit with these parts. You may even consider marketing it as a scientific supply, where it would seem cheap even at a considerable markup.

Benjamin Schwartz
High Intensity Focused Ultrasound Surgery Laboratory
Harvard Biophysics


I just got back from my first Voice Lab retreat. We spent two days in Plymouth, rehearsing and relaxing.
We rented a small beach cottage (quite cheap in the off season) and filled it with people.

It was definitely productive; we sound a lot better now than we did a few days ago. It was also a wonderful chance to get to know the group better.