Friday, June 30, 2006

"Deutschland vor, noch ein Tor !"

I refer of course, to this, which led to a sound presumably not often heard in the Stata Center, the local home of the Comp Sci intelligentsia: lots of cheering and groaning from people huddled around a TV showing a [gasp !] sporting event.

Of course, there was also a typical MIT aspect to it: two of the folks watching the game were German and had set up a Linux server in Cologne that was streaming a synchronized version of the Gerrman-language broadcast of the game to their laptop, so they plugged in their headphones and listened to the German commentary while watching the game being broadcast in Spanish on Univision. Talk about merging media streams ...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Bye-bye, Black Stars

Well, the expected happened. Despite the lopsided score, I think Ghana played well -- they out-hustled the Brazilians and created lots of opportunities to score but just couldn't convert them. Not to take anything away from the Brazilians [they showed the requisite flashes of offensive skill to make sure things went their way], in the end, I'd say Ghana was more a victim of bad luck than being outplayed.

Xxxtreme cancer therapy

Fight cancer with radioactive scorpion venom. [Further studies have shown that the efficacy of treatment is increased if patients also get a concentrated dose of Red Bull at the same time as they're being injected with ... radioactive scorpion venom !!! Extreme to the max !!!]

Monday, June 26, 2006

It pays to have rich friends

... even if you're already sitting on a pile of loot, because sometimes these friends will give you a truckload more money, making your foundation ridiculously well-funded.

I suppose it's only a question of time before Bill will once again be accused of being a monopolist and stifling competition in the charitable foundation market via underhanded practices like giving away too much stuff for free.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Next stop: round of 16 !

Ghana beats US, 2-1. Suh-weet. Brazil, here we come ! [And I don't want to hear any guff about the penalty -- without it, the score would still only have been 1-1 and Ghana would have advanced.]

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Public transport child discipline

Oh, if only this were truly an option ... I would gladly try out various child control techniques, both in order to have a more peaceful ride, and as practice for my own upcoming challenges in this area.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Sushi Mallet, 11/1998 - 6/18/2006

We had to put one of our cats, Sushi, to sleep yesterday.

He'd been lethargic for a few days, so we took him to the vet [a friend of ours, thankfully], who, after a chest x-ray, diagnosed him with having fluid around his lungs, making it hard for him to breathe. Apparently, the poor little guy had so much fluid in his chest cavity that he was only using 20-30% of his lung capacity. After reviewing the possible causes [heart disease, cancer, an infected puncture wound and, the cover-all, "fluid accumulating in the chest cavity due to unknown causes"], it became clear that getting a clear-cut diagnosis would be a long and very expensive process [ultrasound, blood work, hospital stays, chest punctures and draining], and that he would, in all likelihood, be diagnosed with something incurable.

So, with heavy hearts, we had him euthanized.

My eugoogly for the little furball:

Sushi was complicated, even for a cat. He liked the idea of being petted -- he'd follow me [and just about anybody else] around, striking seductive "wouldn't you like to pet me ?" poses. However, the sensation of being petted apparently often fell short of his desires, judging from his propensity to give
you a reproachful look and make a quick, squirming exit, or, if he was in a particularly ornery mood, depart with a paw-swipe. This gap between theory and practice was possibly due to the fact that he would only tolerate a very specific way of petting him: smacking or rubbing the bit of his spine just in front of his tail, and, very occasionally, rubbing his ears. Anything else was just no good. Picking him up and/or trying to hold him was also a no-no -- definitely not a lap cat, much to Christina's dismay. However, when he was in the right mood and you got that ear-scratch just right, you were rewarded with an amazingly loud purr.

Occasionally, he'd get the cat crazies and charge up and down the hallway, sounding and looking like a tiny cat-pony. He loved chasing a feather on a string; when he finally "caught" it, he'd put it in his mouth and drag it away head held high, as if to say "Behold the mighty hunter !"

He was also a pain in the ass, due to the fact that he sometimes thought outside the box, specifically, on our bed and couch, when he was upset about something. Our first experience with this was when we came home from our honeymoon and found that he'd been using our bed as a litterbox for a few days. Mattress, comforter, sheets -- all ruined. We're still sleeping on the futon mattress we had to use that first night back from our honeymoon. As a result, we had to Sushi-proof the house: never allowing him inside the bedroom without one of us,
always closing the bedroom door [after making sure he wasn't hiding under the bed], putting pillows on the couch at night etc. It also meant that anytime we wanted to go away for a couple of days, we had to find somebody to stay in our apartment [not just drop in once or twice a day] who was willing to follow a long list of rules -- he didn't do well with no human company, and would make his displeasure very clear.

He loved drinking out of cups and glasses. He viewed glasses of water anywhere near him as an open invitation to drink out of them, or dip his paw into them, thereby ensuring that you had to go get yourself another glass. Feeding him was also not entirely straightforward -- he didn't like eating with our other two cats, so we had to set his plate down a few feet away from them, and he'd only eat dry food if it was sprinkled on top of his wet food.

For all his quirks and oddities, though, he was a good cat, and I'm glad we had him.

Rest easy, Sushi. I'll miss having to close the bedroom door.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


After today's Ghana-Czech Republic game, the Czechs better pay their goalkeeper Cech a tidy bundle, because he was the only thing that kept the score from being totally lopsided. I hope the US goal is a bit more ... permeable during Thursday's US-Ghana game.

Oh, and it'd be nice if, the next time Ghana plays, the commentators have more insightful things to say than a continuous permutation of:

- "Wow, what an upset it would be if Ghana won"
- "This could be great for the Americans"
- "Teams that score first in the World Cup have a 26-2-2 record [of going on to win the match]"
- "Ghana seems to be playing much better than they did against Italy"

I mean, seriously, there was an utter lack of technical commentary about what was going on on the field, besides the occasional computer-generated statistic about shots-on-goal or number of fouls.
The last time I actually watched more than 5 minutes of a football match was during the '98 World Cup [I know, I'm a bad German-Ghanaian for not keeping up with football], and I could have announced that game equally well.

In any case: go Black Stars !

Friday, June 16, 2006

Obligatory BillG post

Well, it's finally happened: BillG announces that he's leaving "The Soft" ... in a while.

I think it's telling that Ray Ozzie, a relative newcomer to the company, instead of an old-timer, is taking over as Chief Software Architect. It seems to indicate that enough people have finally agreed that a breath of fresh air is needed as far as the company's technical strategy goes, and that this would be best served by not promoting from within. I only hope that there is enough internal goodwill towards Ozzie, and that he has the political savvy to manoeuver effectively through the intricate political web at MS, to get a fair crack at turning things around.

Predictably, the "I remember when Bill ..." stories are starting to emerge. So, in that spirit let me share mine:
- My friend Brandon and I almost got "arrested" by the Microsoft security guards for rollerblading in circles around Bill's car in a Microsoft garage for a few minutes and waving at the cameras trained on the car. This was our way of attracting the attention of campus security on a weekend [when we'd failed to find them by any other means] because we wanted to give them an employee badge that somebody had lost. Needless to say, they were not particularly pleased with the manner in which we chose to locate them -- their parting words were something like "Next time, just pick up a phone and call xxxx" [the extension for campus security, which is written on every phone ...], with the unstated ending "... you @#$#@ retards."
- On another occasion, I was bombing around campus on my rollerblades [again], gathering speed in order to jump across a stretch of grass, and noticed a man walking towards me, coming at the bit of grass from the opposite direction. As I was accelerating, my train of thought was something along the lines of "That looks like ... nah, it can't be ... but it sure does look like ...", at which point I hit my take-off point, jumped and realized that it was indeed Bill, that I was flying through the air 3 feet away from him, and had just barely missed taking down the richest man in the world hard. I almost wiped out on my landing and looked back at him with a "Dude, so sorry !" expression, but he just shook his head slightly and kept on walking.

I did have a couple more "official" interactions with him, once as a member of a small group of folks who got to talk with him for an hour, and once by sitting in on an executive review he was a part of. Neither of those was particularly memorable, though -- in the first case, the conversation confined itself to fairly neutral topics, like "How big a threat is Linux really ?" and in the second case he didn't have any of his famed "That's the stupidest f@@#$ng thing I've ever heard" moments.

As I've said before, I think Bill's philantropic legacy may very well end up being as big as, if not bigger than, his contribution to "putting a computer on every desk". The bit I admire most about him is his sense of noblesse oblige [or, in SpiderMan terms, that "with great power comes great responsibility"], and his willingness to act on that. I've occasionally though that his wealth and influence must, in some ways, be a burden, because he basically has no excuse to not try to fix things that are broken in the world. And, short of giving away all his money, there's always the "... but you could be doing more" accusation. The average Joe, on the other hand, can hide behind the "What can I, a nobody do, to fix XXX ?" excuse. Bill doesn't have that escape hatch, and the impressive thing is that he realizes that and doesn't try to half-step by semi-randomly giving away money here and there -- instead, he's opting to devote all his time to fixing large problems.

Meanwhile, the Slashdot Linux/Unix fanatics, much like the US military and intelligence agencies after the fall of Communism, are starting to realize that they're going to need a new mortal enemy. My favorite comment from the few I read:

Let's see:

Gates - creates world's most successful company, becomes world's richest man, leaves day job to spend billions on charity.
Us - Made lame borg jokes for 5 years, finally released a browser that's better than IE if you ignore all the unfixed copy/paste bugs. Convinced a few people that Unix sucked less than Windows.

Dude, I think *he* won."

Yes, he did.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Thesis Odyssey: Ithaca in sight

Due to reasons I previously alluded to [to wit: "not feelin' it"] , I decided over the last couple of weeks to radically reconfigure my thesis project. No more yeast for me -- I'm a proud phage man now. More specifically, phage T7, a little critter that infects E.coli. I'm going to be mucking around with its genome, as described here -- v1 of the new genome was completed a while ago [and was the first official paper of the Endy lab at MIT] and work is now underway on v2, which is what I'm picking up and going to make the focus of my thesis. It's full-on, non-apologetic synthetic biology and will even give me a chance to write some code [because existing tools for genome redesign are non-optimal/non-existent], both of which are things I'm pretty excited about.

Of course, this means I have to learn a bunch of new biology [i.e. read about 2,567 more papers] and experimental methods, disband my existing thesis committee and form a new one, and reschedule my qualifying exam, so it's not all gravy.

Now, if you were too smart for your own good and wanted to upset me, you could ask impertinent questions like "Gee, Alex, how come you've been whining and moaning about not being able to find a decent thesis project when this one has been right under your nose for the last 9 months -- wasn't that a bit of a waste of time ?". And I would give you an answer involving the phrases "target fixation" and "too much action, not enough thought".

But you're not going to ask me questions like that, right ?

Christina: marine apex predator

At 31 weeks, Christina's pregnancy has progressed to the point where she's like a shark: once she's on her feet, she has to keep moving, or she becomes extremely uncomfortable.

This shark metaphor extends into other areas of life, like going to the bookstore. I like to leisurely wander through the store, stopping for extended periods of time to examine the contents of a bookshelf. Christina, on the other hand, can't stand still, so she paces around, which in turn makes me feel like I'm in one of those Discovery channel programs that show sharks swimming around, coming close to the camera and showing their teeth, before moving on with a lazy flick of their tail ... and then circling back around again. After a few such circles yesterday, I snapped at her and told her that I felt like I was at the bookstore with a little child, and to knock it off. Without missing a beat, she responded "You are at the bookstore with a little child."

Touché. And a sign of things to come.

[In her defense, I was dawdling a bit, and we'd been walking for a while before we got to the bookstore :-)]