Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cancellor of the Exchequer

It's kind of late in the year to be making resolutions, but I am getting fed up of getting nickel-and-dimed by my bank, phone companies and sundry other big or small corporations who surreptitiously chip away at my meager bank account (and limited attention span) unrelentingly, so I've decided to go on a canceling campaign.
Starting today, I will cancel something every day and simplify my life a tad.  I will remove myself from mailing lists, go on "no junk-mail" and "do not call" lists, cancel old credit/store cards and accounts, find a decent cell phone company and put my money in a local savings bank. I give myself until the end of May to get it all accomplished, given that I am driving to Santa Fe next week.  But I can do a lot on line, so I will keep at it.  Just one cancellation a day would be enough to gradually reclaim control over my privacy and over my finances.  I recommend you do the same.  It's liberating and actually FUN!

It started a bit subliminally about a week ago, when I finally got tired of erasing the same types of messages from my in box day in and day out, so I began to unsubscribe from a slew of mailing lists and forums that I somehow had been enlisted in, more or less consciously, for years.

I am pleased to announce that I no longer receive emails from Orbitz,
Kayak, Informaworld, Microsoft, Unity-FM (how did I ever get signed-up for this one?), allrugby (another odd one),, Lending Tree, and my old mortgage company.  I have been on an unsubscribing rampage.  There are many more to come...  As part of my new habit, before deleting a message from my inbox, I check to see if it's something I want to unsubscribe from.
There are "nice" ways to let one unsubscribe - where all it takes is a reply with the word "unsubscribe" on the subject line - and "not-so-nice" ways, when the company actually requires you to sign in just so you can change your user settings and thus stop receiving spam.  I'll get around to canceling those as well, but first I have to request for them to send me a password.  How bogus is that!?

Just before writing this piece, I canceled my Netflix membership.
I enjoyed the service, but I am not in Spencer enough to fully get the benefits, plus I much prefer to read a good book to watching a movie by myself.
It was exhilarating!  After I hit submit, I jumped up and acted as if I had just scored the winning goal in the World Cup Soccer final...  weird but true.

Truth be told, a big impetus towards this anti-profligate new hobby of mine was provided by my discovery of Mint, as I was filing my taxes with Turbotax Online, thanks to which I have been doing my taxes completely on the web for a few years (another thing I recommend you look into).  Mint is not perfect yet, but it has some really great features.  It's another tool I recommend, counting on its becoming ever more powerful.  One of the niceties is that Mint's mobile app alerts you whenever there is a "fee" levied to your account.  Very revealing.  Every time a "nickel and dime" is taken out of my account as a fee, it's like getting stabbed (or more precisely "pricked") a little.  It's painful, but useful.  It generated a "reaction" in me that has led me to become the Lord Cancellor of the Exchequer*.  Wicked Mint!

It's addictive.  Speaking of which, I am going to also unsubscribe from smoking hand-rolled cigarettes.  The Easy-Way... again.  I don't need to smoke any more.  I have a new habit now... and its side-effects are actually good for me!

Who's next on the chopping block?  
I'll keep you posted...  (look for #canc in my tweets!)

* Maybe, being a "Lord", I can crash some of the parties that Kyle has been giggin' at in Oxford!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Carnevalentime days...

It's been more than a month since I last blogged.  Valentine's day and Martedì Grasso have come and gone.  Being Valentineless and removed from Carnival festivities, these were just two ordinary days for me, while I am sure they were special to many people out there.  I only noticed that I missed "Fat Tuesday" today when I saw students with ashes in the middle of their foreheads. 
I have been busier than I expected, as I transitioned from the end of the Venice projects to the start of the two Santa Fe projects for this spring.  This is the second and last interim year before the onslaught of 24 students (!) when the first official Santa Fe Project Center term starts in the Spring of 2011...
I have to get better at switching hats.

The Doge toque stuck around too long as I reviewed the final submissions and graded the 7 projects that took place in Venice last fall.

Since my last blog entry, a lot has happened:
  • I traveled to Santa Fe for 10 days in January to arrange for the project topics and find accommodations for the 8 students who are going to be there in less than a month (March 13-May 2).  We will be working with the City of Santa Fe on the planning and re-design of Saint Michael's Drive and we will also help the City decide whether it wants to purchase the Municipal Power Infrastructure from the local utility company PNM.  The students will be staying at two very convenient and comfortable homes near the Santa Fe Complex.
  • While in Santa Fe I had to administer the last rites to my beloved black Subaru Forester, which was broken beyond reasonable repair after serving our family for almost 300,000 miles of hockey practices and games, school drop-offs and pick-ups, MIT classes, family outings, work commutes, chauffering Nick around well past his "driving permit age" and countless errands and journeys, including the mythical cross-country trek Nick and I took last year to drive it down and leave it in Santa Fe. RIP Black Forester! You have served us well.  The silver lining is that Nick and I will have to repeat the cross-country escapade again this year, as we plan to drive the Northern Route to Santa Fe March 4-13 and back again in May on route 66?
  • Steve Guerin and I had a series of intensive brainstorming sessions (the famous "Tesuque rounds") on non-wireless mobile cryogenic gradient landscapes, the fruits of which will only manifest themselves in 10 years or so...  Our paper abstract to the Forest Fires 2010 conference in Kos, Greece was accepted.  The full paper is due in a week. Among other things, we also managed to give a successful presentation to a number of City Officials, where we made the pitch for the creation of the Santa Fe Urban Platform.
  • Meanwhile, Chris Murray and I have surreptitiously migrated the Venice 2.0 web site and Gallery to Bluehost.  Our development server will remain in Venice, but our production server is being outsourced. I have begun to toy around with WordPress templates to try to design a personal web site at, which will become my central blogging platform.  This blog will be fed only news related to Venice once we have automated the RSS feeds, probably using Yahoo Pipes.  My personal life and my many other projects will all be featured in my new site and their respective blogs will be updated accordingly.
  • I got back from Santa Fe just in time to be there when Nick turned 19.  It didn't seem too different from his turning 18.  He is still trying to find a direction through work or school into independent adulthood, as he gets more and more into playing guitar and chillin' with his buddies.  Jackie, Nick and I celebrated his birthday together as a family, a bittersweet reminder of the bygone days.  Jackie, meanwhile, has decided to move back to the U.S. and take up abode in Northampton, one of the most charming and lively little towns in Massachusetts.  There, she will also make strides towards independence, as she gets trained to become a Bikram Yoga instructor and pursues personal growth and self-expression through other endeavors.  I hope we can maintain harmonious family relations and get together as a family on a regular basis as we all adjust to our new lives apart.
  • Once I returned, the Venice IQPs were mostly completed and graded, with only one team choosing to extend the project another term to put the finishing touches on it.  Overall, we had a good group of students, though no project stands out as truly outstanding.  Another dry year for the IQP Awards?  We have 28 more students already lined up for next year.  Seven new potential IQP winners... 
  • This month, I have been occupied with the preparation for the two SFe teams.  We meet twice a week and we're making good progress toward the project proposals.  You can read the team blogs here and here.
  • Just yesterday, my mardi gras celebration consisted in getting off a Letter of Intent for a major NOAA grant ($1.2M), based on CitizenPipe and PicturePost.  The three main institutions involved in the research will be WPI (City Lab), UNH - EOS -CSRC, and the Santa Fe Complex.  We will work with BudburstCoCoRHas, the Santa Fe Indian School and the Institute of American Indian Arts.  Let's keep our fingers crossed.  Full proposal due April 6th.
  • Luckily, through all this, I have returned to my WPI yoga routine and I have begun to cross-country ski on my frozen lake, to make up for the lack of adequate snow coverage for snowshoeing.  Nature is my gym... Exercise and nature are really a tonic that I cannot do without...
I am sure there's more to say that I forgot, but I have to get up early tomorrow to drive to NYC to meet a wealthy Turkish-Italian entrepreneur who is interested in our solar photovoltaic research in Santa Fe...

Let's see if I can keep up with blogging in the next couple of weeks...

Happy Carnevalentime days to all!