Archive for June, 2008


Your significant other’s family tree

While we’re on the subject of tests of knowledge, I thought I would mention another one that came up for me recently.  My parents were visiting to help us with the new baby and my mom asked me a couple of questions about my wife’s side of the family while Heather was asleep.  I thought about it for a minute and determined that the best way for me to answer the questions would be to draw Heather’s family tree (starting with her grandparents).

I was able to draw the tree on her dad’s side with little difficulty, though I couldn’t remember the name of one of her cousins.  Her mom’s side was a little hazier mostly because we have had less interaction with them.  I got her aunts and uncles but I wasn’t able to name all of her cousins (and spouses and their children).  Anyway, I’ll pose this question to my readership: assuming you have a significant other, how well could you draw out your significant other’s family tree (on both sides) starting with his/her grandparents and ending with the youngest generation?

In my family tree, the youngest generation is two generations younger than me: I have a first cousin twice removed (that is, a grandchild of my cousin).  So, while putting together the family tree of your significant other might be an interesting challenge, if you have a complicated (or even large) family tree, it might even be an interesting challenge to write down your own family tree…


A little embarrassing

If you know me or if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you probably know that I am a graduate student in Materials Science and Engineering.  If you don’t know what that is, I’ll help you out.  It’s basically the study of the science and engineering of materials (i.e. metals, plastics, ceramics, etc.).  Obviously, things that are built, must be built out of something, and that something has to be one or more of the known chemical elements.  So, the periodic table is pretty important to materials scientists, just as it is important to chemists.  That said, there are lots of elements in the periodic table that are not in wide use in engineering applications, either because their properties are not attractive for building things or because a cheaper element has sufficiently similar properties, so materials scientists may not think about those elements very much.

When Adrian posted about the trivia site the other day, I was intrigued to find that they have a quiz to test your knowledge of the periodic table.  I figured that since I am a materials scientist, I would have no trouble.  I was wrong.  I was especially embarrassed that on my first try, I couldn’t even fill in the top row of the transition metals (curse you, Scandium!). I also didn’t do so well on the non-metals (other than the halogens, the nobel gases, and those in the first row), since I spend most of my time thinking about metals or metal oxides and I don’t work on biological materials.

If you’re interested, try taking the quiz.  I think you’ll find it harder than you might anticipate.  However, don’t worry if you can’t get the bottom three rows (that is, the bottom row of the main table, along with the lanthanide and actinide series).

Personally, I think that the bottom row of the main part of the table is a curiosity of little practical value.  Most of those elements have a half life of less than 1 second, so they are of no value to engineers.  Furthermore, the elements in the lanthanide and actinide series (in separate rows at the bottom) are also not widely used, so I wouldn’t worry too much about those either.  There are some exceptions: Americium is used in smoke detectors, so you probably have some where you live.  Also, if you have any decent headphones, they probably use magnets containing neodymium. Obviously, uranium and plutonium are pretty well-known as well, though I’m quite sure you don’t have any of those at home – unless you have really old dishes with an orange glaze since uranium oxide used to be used for orange glazes in pottery and dishes, etc.

Anyway, this is all to say that you can be proud of yourself if you complete the periodic table with the exceptions of the last three rows.  If you can fill it all in, you’re a major chemistry dork.


Electronics going belly-up

My receiver/amplifier has been acting strange for the last few months.  Sometimes, if it’s been on for awhile, the sound just cuts out completely and we have to turn it off and then back on in order to fix the problem.  Sometimes, it seems like the volume just randomly changes, though I can’t tell if that problem is related to the receiver or the crappiness of MIT cable (which has been out all week!).  So, a replacement is in our future but I’ve been holding off because once I graduate we’ll have more money with which to buy a proper A/V setup and I don’t want to buy something now only to find that it won’t work with the other components we plan to upgrade.

To exacerbate our A/V woes, this morning I awoke to the annoying news that our DVD player wasn’t working.  Heather thought she had just pressed some button or something and that maybe I could fix it easily.  I fiddled with it for awhile and I’m now pretty sure that it’s busted.  Bear in mind, this isn’t some cheap $50 no-name DVD player.  This is a $200+ Sony 5-disc changer.  We got it in 2003 as an anniversary present, so I suppose it’s had a good run.  It replaced a Sony 5-disc CD changer which had gone belly-up for the 2nd time (my parents had paid for repairs on it after it died the first time).  Looking back, I think my CD player had an initial life of about 5 years, which was stretched another 2-3 years with the repair.  So, maybe 5 years is a reasonable life expectancy for one of these things.  I don’t know.

Anyway, I looked into getting it repaired.  Rather than having me bring it in somewhere to get a quote, they told me I could just get a replacement.  I give them my busted one and they give me a new or refurbished one and it costs me about $105.  That seemed reasonable.  Then I decided to look at what that $105 would buy me if I bought new.  It turns out that Sony has a single disc HD (1080p) upconverting DVD player with component and HDMI outputs for $80 or a 1080p upconverting 5-disc changer (also with component and HDMI outs) for $130.  So, for $25 less than the replacement cost, I can get a single-disc upconverting player and for $25 over the replacement cost, I can get an upconverting 5-disc changer with HD outs.  I’m pretty sure I’m not going to pay for the replacement.  I just have to decide if it’s worth $50 to get the 5-disc changer.  In any case, I hate the idea of this thing just going into a landfill.  So, I may see if I can just give it back to Sony so they can refurbish it and give it to someone else.  If they won’t take it, I’ll try to give it away at MIT.  Perhaps someone here can fix it, or, failing that, use some of the components that still work for some awesome project that may get them arrested at gunpoint at the airport.


On awesome projects and internet superstardom

Sometimes I get discouraged by the fact that there are lots of people on the internet who are doing lots of cool projects while I don’t have time to pursue the awesome projects that I dream up and that would surely bring me internet superstardom.  It would be nice to be able to pursue those projects, but I have a couple of important other projects in the works:


If these two projects turn out well, I won’t be sorry that I didn’t get to work on all the others.


A note for those looking for Wii Fit

In about mid-May, I decided to buy Wii Fit for my wife for her birthday.  She had indicated that she wanted to be pretty aggressive in trying to lose her baby weight and from what I had read about it, Wii Fit seemed like a good way to kick start and keep track of weight loss progress, so it seemed like a good, um, fit.  However, I knew it would be tough to find.  I thought about going out to try to find it on launch day (May 21st), but that was my daughter’s birthday and we had a whole day of activities planned.  The following day it was sold out everywhere.  Furthermore, the more I read about it online, the more it became clear that it wouldn’t be easy to find.  I had looked on and used their inventory reports to see availability at brick and mortar stores and while they sometimes reported that they had units in stock, when I called, they inevitably told me that they had just sold their last unit.  Plus, the nearest Walmart is not very near, so this wasn’t a great solution.

On Monday, I decided to step up my game.  I did some more digging online and I found the following two sites: and  These two sites have scripts that trawl all the main retailers and can report their inventory status nearly in real time.  WiiAlerts allows you to enter your cellphone number so that when a product is in stock, you can get a text message telling you so.  It paid off for me this morning.  I got a message shortly after I got up telling me that Circuit City had Wii Fit in stock.  I quickly ordered it and about half an hour ago, I got a shipping confirmation from them.  So, if you’re interested in getting Wii Fit without having to pay extra on sites like eBay or Craigslist, check out the two sites above.  They worked for me!  (Queue cheesy smile and thumbs-up gesture.)


Baby updates on Twitter

So, our baby’s due date has come and gone. We are still not at the hospital and the baby is still hanging out in the womb. I’ve been thinking about how to notify friends and family about labor-related developments and it finally struck me: twitter. So, if you’re interested in finding out when we leave for the hospital and when the baby is born, check here for news.


June 2008

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