Heat

One of my roommates finally went downstairs to the landlord’s office to complain in person about our frigid apartment situation. That appears to have done the trick; by the time I got in this afternoon the temperature was exceedingly comfortable.

I’m just cheap enough to suffer the cold rather than pay the higher heating bill, but you won’t hear me complaining about being able to feel my fingers.

Hardware

I think this server, which I got for free from my roommate Simon when he moved out almost 3 years ago, is finally wearing out. Twice in the last week it’s suddenly locked up hard without explanation. I blame the cold weather (is it still weather if you’re indoors?), although servers generally have a reputation for liking the cold.

I’m sure my roommates will be thrilled not to have the perpetually half-disassembled Frankenstein’s monster leering at them with its lone excessively bright blue LED and tangle of wires. Perhaps I can find something smaller and sleeker to replace it. Actually, it might be difficult to find a replacement that is larger or uglier.

Further miscalculation

I should probably have read the forecast more carefully. I expected a snowstorm this afternoon, so I planned to drive back to Boston in the morning. Thus, I was alarmed to see the snow already starting to fall as I ate my Cheerios. I gathered my stuff, jumped in my car, and drove off as soon as possible, hoping to get ahead of the storm front.

Instead, I wound up just behind it the whole way, trapped in horrid traffic bogged down by the snow. There was maybe a centimeter on the ground when I arrived.

Now I’m typing in my apartment while wearing a hat and gloves. The analog-dial thermostat says the temperature is 58 F, which seems a bit optimistic, but the temperature control is set to 70. That seems like a pretty good hint as to why the place is so cold.

Miscalculation

I had planned to come home to Connecticut for this weekend, with the idea to spend the holiday with my parents and childhood friends, all flown back to the nest for Christmas, instead of alone in my apartment in Cambridge. This seemed like a moderately reasonable plan until Thursday, when my mother called me up to say that she’d just caught a great vacation deal, and would be flying out with my father in 24 hours for five days in Cancun. She tried to convince me to come along, but I decided instead to see them briefly before they departed, and spend the rest of the weekend with friends.

As they left, and I tried to get in contact with friends from high school, this began to seem like an epic miscalculation. Phones went to voicemail, and the people who answered were mostly unavailable. A smarter person might have predicted that people coming home to visit would be with their families over Christmas … whereas the disconnected stragglers in Boston would probably have been up for anything. I wondered if a weekend alone in my parents’ cold house was any better than a weekend alone in my own cold apartment.

Thankfully it all worked out, much better than I had any reason to deserve. At one last minute after another, everything fell into place, and I got to see all the people I had most hoped to see.

Maybe for next weekend I will calculate more carefully.

Acceleration

Friday: Attempted to make a new ultrasound+MRI polyacrylamide phantom. The gel process works by combining a bunch of nasty chemicals that cease to be toxic once they have combined into a gel. Except this one never gelled; by Monday it had turned a scary deep brown but was still perfectly liquid. Contents were placed in the “hazardous materials satellite accumulation area”.

Monday: Tried again, and the chain reaction worked perfectly. Turns out “Trizma Base” and “Trizma pH 8″ are not the same thing. Oops. I was never a good chemist.

Tuesday: Characterized phantom ultrasound properties, which look very good.

Wednesday (today): Characterized phantom MRI properties, which look acceptable (and maybe close to the physical limit). My first scan time in months; it feels good to be back.

Thursday (tomorrow): FedEx projected delivery date for my custom-designed ultrasound transducers.

Friday: It’s gonna be tough to keep up this streak … maybe go home and see friends and family in CT?

After a few slow months, it feels like the conductor has pushed the lever, and this project is accelerating.

Storm

Today was the first snowstorm of the season, just in time for the official start of Winter. I’m awfully glad I didn’t trust the mild forecast and bike to work. Sometimes laziness is a virtue.

Unfortunately I’ve also gotten a storm of spam comments (222 at last count), from some bot that has figured out a way around the Bad Behavior filter. I guess it’s time for me to upgrade my spam defenses.

Relatives

I came home this weekend to go to my second cousin Spencer’s bar mitzvah this morning on Long Island. It took me a while to figure out that he was my second cousin, and longer still to work out who was related to whom. I swear that if I am ever responsible for hosting one of these events, I will print out a man-size family tree and post it on the wall. Maybe with name-tags. Color-coded. It’s the only way I could ever hope to keep track of the relations.

Everyone else seemed to be perfectly unconfused, of course, and after an hour or so I more or less had my bearings. Some of the relationships are a little difficult to describe (I met my … step-first-cousin once removed step-second-cousin … who seemed very nice). All in all, it was worth the trip.

Cold

Today was maybe our first really solidly cold day: windy, dim, and with a daily high well below freezing. An early taste of January.

Unfortunately the cold seems to have brought us a small new roommate. I sealed off the trays beneath the burners of the stove with aluminum foil after observing that this was his or her route to the kitchen counter.

Forward march

The DAC process proved incredibly helpful. I got very lucky with my selection of advisors, who all had great constructive suggestions about how to develop and apply my research. It was really an energizing experience, to get so much positive feedback from from real experts in each of the fields that the project touches. In addition to all the detailed pointers from various perspectives, the consistent message overall was: don’t wait to publish. Publish experiments on phantoms (inert objects designed to simulate tissue); don’t wait for animal data.

That’s exactly the kind of advice I was hoping to get.

DAC

Tomorrow afternoon I have my first Dissertation Advisory Committee meeting. For the first time in my graduate career, I will have to convince a group of experts that my dissertation project is sensible, achievable, and worthwhile. If I’m lucky, I will leave with an approved roadmap to completion, and some thoughtful advice from world experts in related areas.

Wish me luck.