Yesterday, eight days after fradulent charges appeared on my debit card, I received an “Affidavit of Fraud and Forgery” from Fidelity. It says, among other things

Please enclose a list as well as a detailed description of the fraudulent transactions you are disputing. Carefully complete and sing the affidavit and return it in the enclosed envelope, or fax it to the number listed below. Upon receipt of your returned information, we will issue PROVISIONAL CREDIT (temporary credit) to your account while we conduct an investigation of your dispute.

If we do not receive the requested information by August 19, 2009 we cannot issue a PROVISIONAL CREDIT to your account. We will consider the matter resolved and the case will be closed

(emphasis theirs)

It’s not exactly the friendliest letter in the world, presumably to avoid encouraging people to defraud the bank. Despite the fact that we both have access to my bank records, there isn’t any form provided to list fraudulent transaction numbers.

The envelope isn’t even postage-paid.


I got my new debit card in the mail yesterday, a week after it stopped working. I haven’t had a chance to try the new one yet, but I presume it’s all fixed… except that the charges made by the thieves are still there. Supposedly, I will receive an affidavit in the mail, to sign and return, indicating the charges are fraudulent, but I haven’t gotten it yet.


On Friday GE upgraded this MRI scanner from software version 12 to software version 12b. In the process, they erased everything on the hard drive, so I spent the first few hours of scan time today trying to find all the different utilities I use and get them loaded back onto the scanner.

Then I tried to run my sequence, and it didn’t work. Hooray incompatibility.

This should be easy to fix, but it ain’t gonna be fixed today.


My professor’s most famous experiment is transcranial MRI-guided focused ultrasound surgery, i.e. my lab’s usual techniques applied to brain tumors. A system to perform the surgery is currently in Phase 1 clinical trials, using experimental hardware provided by an Israeli company, Insightec. The trial’s currently on hold, so I hadn’t actually seen all the pieces of the treatment system, but today we started an experiment to test performance in a controlled setting.

The system consists of a modified GE MRI bed, with ports for cooling water and electrical power. At the head of the bed, which slides in to the scanner, is a large, deep bucket, lined with 1000 computer-controlled ultrasound transducers. During a procedure, a patient would be situated with their head in the bucket, and a silicone membrane around their brow line to make a watertight seal. The bucket is then filled with chilled degassed water, both to cool the head, which is being heated by the ultrasound, and to conduct the ultrasound waves.

We were testing with an embalmed skull, filled with a uniform gel. At the control panel, this allows us to observe heating very clearly. The goal of the experiment is to map out the precise heating pattern induced by the ultrasound bucket, to determine how accurate the targeting system is.

No punchline, I’m afraid. I guess you had to be there.

Not Responsible

Today was my hearing for the speeding ticket I received in May, driving home from Beverly over the Tobin Bridge. In preparation, before bicycling over I drew up a page of notes on why I felt the ticket was unwarranted, and packed a change of nicer clothes.

The hearing was held in the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse, a beautiful, modern building full of matched acute angles, aligned to the 45 degree corner of the plot. One side is marked by a stone colonnade with diamond cross-sections, seemingly 5 feet wide and 5 stories tall.

I arrived a half-hour early, changed out of my bicycling clothes, and went to the courtroom to wait.

Everything in the building is tall and narrow. The doors are even nonstandard sizes. The courtroom in which the hearing was held had 5 rows of thin, solid upright wooden benches, varnished dark to match the paneling that covered the lower portions of the walls. The doors, wall panels, and even the windows repeated a common pattern: paired tall narrow rectangles. The courtroom had about an 18 foot ceiling, but 20 foot windows, looking out over a busy intersection with an occasional Segway- or Duck-Tour. It seems that the whole building has been done with great care… except the bathrooms, which look identical (apart from the high ceilings) to the ones in my high school.

Seventeen people came for the hearing, not including the judge (he referred to himself as an Assistant Magistrate) and a Trooper, in uniform, representing the Massachusetts State Police. The judge and I were both wearing khakis and light yellow dress shirts; it seemed a good omen.

The judge informed us that we would have to pay our $25 filing fee (recently instituted) upstairs, but I had already paid by mail, so I just waited. There were 17 people in the room, I think, a few of whom were there to provide moral support or transportation.

The judge called people to a desk at the front of the room, where they were seated, and the trooper read off the counts. Each person would then make a case, and the judge would discuss it with them briefly. The trooper would sometimes make an argument as well, such as noting that a speed measurement was made by a LIDAR device that is unlikely to mistake one car for another. The judge would then make a determination. His determinations, in roughly equal proportion, were “Not Responsible”, “Responsible, penalty reduced to $75”, and “Responsible, penalty reduced to $150”. He would also note, in each case, that either the State Police or the driver could appeal the decision. If the driver requests an appeal, there is a fee of $50; at any appeal, the specific trooper in question is required to attend.

For speeding tickets, the judge seemed to care about only one thing: were you exceeding the speed limit in the specified zone? If you said no, and provided a plausible explanation for why you were not, then you got a Not Responsible. Otherwise, you got a Responsible with a reduced fine. I mentally crossed off my diatribe about how horrified the civil engineers would be to see their road, with a design speed of 70+ MPH, designated as a 30 zone.

Halfway through, my name had not yet been called, when the judge left, and a new judge took his place. This one was a woman, at least my mother’s age, with an impervious expression. I became a bit worried.

Eventually, there were only three applicants left in the room, and my name still hadn’t been called. The judge asked for our names, and sure enough, two of us were not on the list. We had both paid in advance, and it seems that they had left out our paperwork. We went to the office upstairs to clear the matter, and then went back to the courtroom.

As a result of this snafu, my case was the very last one heard. Being last gave me a decided advantage. The girl before me had a record 7 pages long, and was one infraction away from losing her license. The judge gave her a “Not Responsible” and a very stern warning.

It was clear that neither the judge nor the trooper wanted to be there any longer than necessary. I began to make an argument based on the idea that (1) I was braking because I could see the officer in the middle of the road and (2) the sightlines are long, so he must have been measuring my speed in the preceding zone, with a higher limit, and (3) I was the third person in the session contesting a speeding ticket from this particular location, but the judge cut me off. “Are you a good driver?” she asked. “I don’t have your record, because of your Connecticut license. Have you been stopped before, in Connecticut?”. “No,” I said, “I’ve never been stopped prior to this.” “Good.” said the judge. “You seem like a nice young man, and you have a clean record. Let’s keep it that way.”


My wallet and dresser were both empty yesterday, so I went to the nearest ATM to get cash, to turn into quarters, to feed to the laundry machines. The first ATM wouldn’t take my card, so I tried another, and then another at a different bank. I tried using the card at a store too; it didn’t work anywhere, so I called the customer service number.

Fidelity customer service helpfully informed me that my account had been disabled due to suspicious activity. I confirmed that I had not spent $1900 at the Home Depot or $5 at Toys R Us, and they informed me that I would receive a new card in the mail in 5 to 7 business days.

That didn’t solve the problem at hand, of course; I still had no money. A friend (name reserved to protect his identity from other moochers) lent me $60 until the new card arrives, which should be plenty.

A few things are surprising here. One is that they deactivated my card but didn’t call me. Another is that the charges seem to have been incurred in Illinois (that’s probably how they knew to stop payment, come to think of it). A third is that a new fraudulent charge has since appeared, from the same Home Depot. This thief does not appear to be very bright.