Doctorow

I went to a book-signing today with Cory Doctorow at the Harvard Coop. He read a passage from an upcoming book, and then answered questions from the crowd of maybe 20.

Cory Doctorow is a great reader. His dramatic rendition fits the text perfectly, far superior to the classic dull author voice. He’s also very impressive answering questions, able to spin any question into a monologue and focused, but never boring or repetitive. It’s quite a skill.

I can’t say whether he’s as good a writer, not least because I’ve never read any of his books. Hopefully all this travel will give me a chance to pop some pages off my reading stack to make room.

Mini MRI

A few months ago my advisor got tipped off to an MRI scanner being discarded at one of the nearby hospitals, maybe Children’s. For reasons unknown to me, they couldn’t sell it to another hospital, and they were looking for someone to just take it. After months of negotiation, my lab finally got clearance to install the thing in one of our offices. Officially, we bought it for $1.00.

Yesterday was delivery, and we spent a few hours freeing up space in our storage room, discarding seven old CRTs and a bunch of computers, though more remain. Then the machine arrived.

It’s a miniature MRI machine made by ONI, designed for imaging extremities, especially knees. It’s a liquid-helium superconducting magnet, but only 1.0 Tesla. It looks a little like an industrial washing machine minus the squared-off external case. Something about its aesthetic makes me wonder if it’s a lab-assembled prototype, predating commercial release.

It’s sitting in the storage room now, next to cardboard boxes of Dewar tubes for liquid helium and copper vent pipes. It’ll live there, at room temperature, until we can punch enough holes in the walls to start the real installation.

Once it’s done, we will be the somewhat rare lab that can do scans, at least on small animals, any time, for as long as we want, without having to leave the room.

Travel countdown

I’m packing for Sweden now. I just checked the weather forecast, which looks to be upper 40s and sunny. Warmer weather would mean less cloth to carry, but I’ll manage.

This Saturday at 3 PM at Dudley House/ Lehman Hall is Voicelab miniature concert. The full-size concert is next Saturday (May 8th) at 7:30 PM at Harvard Med School. I’m still not sure exactly what room it’s in, but I’ll try to post when I know, assuming I can get access from the hotel.

Seasonable

It’s been cold and wet for a few days, and I love to say it’s unseasonably bad, but really that’s not true. The last three weeks have been unseasonable, and the cold wet is really the norm for April.

I hope Stockholm is better. I should probably just check a weather report!

Dell Latitude 13 battery

The most attractive replacement laptop I’ve managed to find so far is the Dell Latitude 13. It’s not perfect, though, and the most worrisome flaw, to me, was the “non-user-replaceable” battery. Apple is famous for this; you can’t replace the battery in an iPhone or a MacBook without sending it back to Apple. They do this supposedly in the interest of sleek industrial design, though I’m sure the profit margin on the repair doesn’t hurt. I bet more than a few users just buy a new one when the battery wears out.

I scoured Dell’s website for a replacement battery, but they don’t sell one. Today I called up their Small Business Sales Accessories department. They quickly offered to sell me a replacement battery for about $109, no questions asked. They even confirmed that the part number is the Sanyo 449TX, and it’s not available through dell.com. It’s “non-user-replaceable”, but unlike Apple that just means you need a screwdriver.

So now I’m leaning strongly toward the Dell. I can’t say I feel like there’s much of a rush to order, though, seeing as Dell’s estimated ship date isn’t until after I leave for Sweden.

EDIT: Ordered. The estimated ship date seemed to be moving back a day every day, so waiting to order just makes it worse.

Cleanup

My roommate and I did a deep clean on the apartment this evening, in preparation for finding a new third roommate. In the process, I emptied 36 ounces of carpet shampoo spot by spot. It seems to have been more effective than the first time we tried it.

The place looks halfway civilized now. I might need to buy some more carpet shampoo though.

NEFFA

I left my passport in Connecticut. I typically leave it with my parents, to keep in their bank’s safety deposit box. That’s usually a fine place for it to live, but not when I’m going to Sweden in a week (at least, if the airlines have cleared their passenger backlog by then). Luckily, my mother was coming up for the weekend to dance at NEFFA, the New England Folk Festival Association [annual convention], in southeast Massachusetts.

After a brief afternoon picnic to make the most of the beautiful sunny weather I drove down to meet her. We wandered around the fair, held in a public school complex, and visited a few different sessions. I got my first taste of contra dancing (I can see why my mathematically inclined friends enjoy it) and observed a few other dance styles.

In other circumstances, it might have been very enjoyable, but for me it was mostly stressful. NEFFA is not for novices, and it has a very specific idea of what “folk” is. It was as if I had stumbled into not only an art convention, but a painting convention, a landscape painting convention with an unwritten rule that this really means only oil painting on canvas. NEFFA seems to be a “northern and eastern European early 20th century group social dance” convention. Popular dances of other times and less white cultures, like Flamenco, Capoeira, or Breakdance, were completely unrepresented. The musicians were all tremendously talented, but their attempts at other styles like Swing or Cajun still sounded like old-fashioned New England folk.

It was not a place to be a novice in these styles, or an aficionado of some other form
of music (e.g. collegiate a cappella), no matter how well it might deserve the title of “folk”.

When I got back to the parking lot my car’s headlights were on, which I wish I could blame on someone else. I had to get a jump start from a stranger. By the time I got home I had an awful stomach ache and was totally exhausted.

Today looks like another beautiful day, though, and I feel great, so I think the weekend will still end up a net positive. Plus, I have my passport, so a week from now I’ll be in Sweden.

Bad day

Today was a bad day for computers. In the afternoon, at work, my laptop died in rather spectacular fashion, with video corruption causing many letters (e.g. w) not to be rendered, and eventually triggering a kernel panic and epileptic display noise. I rebooted, and the system locked up hard in less than a minute.

When I got home I tried to do some work on the house machine in the living room, which serves this weblog, but that was broken too. An IO error had triggered the disk to be remounted read-only, possibly because of a power failure yesterday (all our clocks were blinking). I rebooted and said “yes” to about 10 prompts from manual fsck with scary names like “corrupted bitmap” and “broken inode chain”.

The server now appears to be fine, as evidenced by the fact that it just served you this page, but my laptop is probably toast. As a replacement, I’m tempted by the Dell Latitude 13. It’s the only dual-core 13″ Ubuntu machine that Dell sells, and it comes in at less than half the price of my X60s in 2006.

Gel

I arranged a song called Represent for VoiceLab, and we’ve been practicing it all semester. As our performance dates approached I have become more and more nervous about it. Each rehearsal where it failed to gel, or the soloists got lost, or the background skipped a measure, I wondered if it would ever work. Last night it finally worked. We crossed a threshold, and the song snapped straight from ? to !.

We’ll be singing it at 3 PM on May 1st in Lehman Hall at Harvard, and at our 7:30 PM concert (location TBD) on May 8th.

Mail

I read through like two weeks of junk mail today. My to do list feels about a mile long. I have to finish my presentoster for ISMRM by Friday … if I get to go at all. My flight’s in 10 days, and Stockholm’s airports are still closed. One imagines they’ll have a heck of a backlog when they finally open.