September 6, 2006

Oddly-named hires

It seems there is a career in software for me after all.

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September 5, 2006


Friday afternoon, I participated in a panel for new graduate assistants in our CS department. There were far more “experienced” GAs than new ones in the room; while the cohort joining the department with me last year was apparently relatively large, comparatively few (five or six, I think) are coming in this year.

One thing I learned was that the University has gone ballistic about plagiarism this year; supposedly that was the major topic of the University-wide new-TA orientation in the morning. Last year it was hardly mentioned. I was amused to see that the University has now contracted to use to help sniff out plagiarism; I’ve been seeing their bot in my server logs for years now. I can’t imagine what kind of trouble someone could find themselves in by copying indiscriminately from this site, even if the sourcing wasn’t detected.

I’ve also committed to help out on the mentoring project. I raised a few questions with the department chair, who had good answers for them. I expressed reservations about my qualifications, and she pointed out first that they wanted students with a range of experiences, so with the other grad student being post-quals and into dissertation work, they needed someone early in the process as well. (So I was selected for my inexperience—thanks, I think.) The fact that I’m not doing research with any of the project faculty (or any faculty, for that matter) means the students can ask me questions without betraying confusion or ignorance to people they’re trying to work with.

Finally, she pointed out, “We’re trying to help them through a successful graduate school application process. You’ve done that, right?”

I couldn’t really deny it.

Now Playing: Snow is Gone from Live at The Paradise Rock Club (Boston, 12-11-04) by Josh Ritter

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Posted by pjm at 10:25 AM | Comments (0)

September 4, 2006

Ground rules

I’ve been doing this closer to three years than two, and I suspect there are a few dozen people who are reading without benefit of my occasional asides and meta-blogging explanations of what’s going on (when I bother to explain, that is,) so here are a few footnotes:

  • I tend not to identify myself, other people, my workplace(s), or my school(s) by full names. This is not out of any wishful attempt at anonymity. It is an attempt at maintaining something like what Scoplaw once called “googlenonymity”—keeping the links between my little vignettes and the actual people and institutions involved at a level more subtle than what search engines will recognize. So when I write about “The College” or “The University,” this is more than just a tic of personal language (though it is that, too.) I have assigned pseudonyms to a few faculty members; I will obviously not be discussing individual students except in their occasional roles as accomplices. The lone exception, of course, is the cat, who has many names, all of which are pseudonyms.

  • This is not a memoir, nor is it even a narrative. I will mention developments in my life and leave them unresolved. I will discuss resolutions without setting the scene. I will present context without relating it to issues, and I will discuss situations devoid of context. This is not meant to infuriate you, nor am I (normally) trying to hide anything; I’m simply lazy.

  • I try to write only about things which I find interesting and intriguing. However, sometimes when interesting and intriguing things are happening, I am simply too busy to write, and sometimes I think it is more important to continue writing about boring things than to fall silent entirely. So I make no promises about consistency, quality, or regularity.

  • If you want to know, ask. The worst I will do is politely decline to explain.

Now Playing: Almost from All of Our Names by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 5:28 PM | Comments (2)

Going way back

This weekend, at the wedding of a younger cousin, I talked with her other grandfather (i.e. not the one we shared.) Turns out that not only did he get his undergraduate and medical degrees at my current University—a feat now known as a “Double Jumbo” for reasons stemming from the University mascot—but he ran cross-country.

Class of 1936, or thereabouts. I wish the University posted all their old team photos the way the College did so I could see if I could find him.

The bride’s other grandparents were represented by a photo from their own wedding day; they were married in the same church about seventy years ago. The photo was taken at the reception, on the front lawn of the house I knew as theirs. In black and white, our grandfather looked even younger than than the ten or so years younger than this photo, with even more hair; our grandmother looked startlingly like the mother of this weekend’s bride.

My older niece was easily distracted, playing with her necklace; the younger, rapt. I whispered, “Promise you’ll invite me when it’s your turn?” She nodded solemnly.

Now Playing: Leave Them All Behind from Going Blank Again by Ride

Posted by pjm at 5:04 PM | Comments (0)

September 1, 2006

Multiplayer Game Of The Year

I’m a bad geek.

When the Nike+ iPod kit was announced earlier this year, I dismissed it. Another unnecessary gadget in a sport that’s delightfully gadget-free, I thought, not to mention the promotion of running with attention-reducing headphones. I’m generally able to keep myself engaged with just my own rhythm, and if I’m lucky, the chink of small change in the key-pocket of my shorts.

Cabel Sasser, however, does not have my history. While I was running track and cross-country in high school and college, Cabel was learning programming. When I was working for a running magazine, Cabel was launching a company that makes the best Mac FTP client ever. (I promise, the names are totally coincidental.)

And the Nike+ is making Cabel into a runner:

Despite all of this, and all three mighty paragraphs of setup, I recently had a small epiphany. I’ve found myself totally enraptured by a new kind of online gaming experience, one that’s got excitement, thrilling rivalries, stats and achievements, mind-blowing graphics, and seriously perfect music. And sweat. Ridiculous amounts of sweat.

My online game of the year? Jogging on the streets of Portland with the Nike+ iPod kit.

Now, if only there was a similar gadget to make me a better programmer.

Now Playing: Jason And The Argonauts from English Settlement by XTC

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Posted by pjm at 10:23 AM | Comments (0)

August 31, 2006

In the shadow of the dam

I’m developing a taste for an odd sub-branch of non-fiction: industrial disaster histories. Yesterday I finished In the Shadow of the Dam, Elizabeth Sharpe’s book about the collapse of the Williamsburg reservoir and subsequent disastrous flood in the Mill River valley. The dam and its reservoir were created (along with two still-extant dams on the West Branch of the Mill River, in Goshen) to provide a more constant supply of water to the many water-powered mills and factories in the villages downstream.

I’ve mentioned this flood before, in the context of a drive up Route 9 to ski at Notchview, but when I was training for a marathon in 2002 nearly all of my long runs were done in and around the Mill River valley; most of my runs of sixteen miles or longer would include sections in Florence, Leeds, Haydenville, or Williamsburg. I know the sites of each of the memorials placed for the victims of the flood (starting in 1999, an amazing 125 years afterward,) and I know the villages themselves pretty well.

What I didn’t understand until I read the book was how much the flood changed them. It’s one thing to imagine rising water flooding a town and sweeping away things not anchored down; it’s another to consider the water tumbling, rather than flowing, down the valley, carrying an immense amount of wreckage and scouring the stream bed (and many sections which weren’t stream) down to bedrock. Some mills weren’t rebuilt because their sites simply didn’t exist anymore; the entire village of Skinnerville, between Williamsburg village and Haydenville, essentially ceased to exist.

As a result of this, it’s not really easy to stand in downtown Haydenville, for example, and imagine how the flood changed things; you can just find the places where the flood didn’t reach, and the places where everything has been built since 1874.

So the closing images are among the most striking ones, where Sharpe tells what it’s like to drive up the river valley today. She mentions the acres and acres of debris spread on the meadows between Leeds and Florence, and how, in the 1970s, a large piece of machinery began working to the surface on a fairway of what is now the Northampton Country Club; it was from one of the upstream mills, but a century later, nobody could tell which one.

Probably the most famous building involved in the flood is open to the public. The Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke includes details about how the house was renovated in its lifetime, and how the city acquired it for the museum; it doesn’t mention that the house originally stood in Skinnerville. His factories swept away by the flood (and a foot of muck deposited on the ground floor of his house,) factory owner (and stockholder in the company which built the Williamsburg dam) William Skinner relocated his family and his business to Holyoke. He also had his house carted there, where it stands on a hill, well clear of trouble should the immense Holyoke dam go the way of the Williamsburg reservoir.

Now Playing: You Dreamer from Why The Long Face by Big Country

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Posted by pjm at 11:09 PM | Comments (0)

Negative data is still data

This afternoon, I passed through the campus bookstore to see if I could figure out what the text was for my Compilers class. (The sooner I know the text, the sooner I can try to order it online. Online bookstore fulfillment for textbooks can be slow this time of year.)

Both that class and the one I’m TAing—in fact, nearly the whole CS department—are listed as “No book order placed.” I know that’s not right about Software Engineering; I have “desk” copies of the two books.

I was passing through the CS building afterward, so I looked in on Professor γ and let her know about the missing books. Hmm, a puzzle, she was sure she’d made that order—but now she’s checking up on it. Better to find out today than on the first day of class.

Posted by pjm at 7:52 PM | Comments (0)

August 30, 2006

I'm already "old school"

Well, that didn’t take long.

This afternoon someone noticed my hat—a year and a half old and already faded to an indistinct blue-brown—and joked, “They’re gonna take that away from you; it doesn’t use the Official University Font.”

Seems you can’t get hats in this design anymore, or for that matter those traditional block-letter sweatshirts; they’re pushing visual brand identity now. So I’m holding on to this hat; it’s going to be a collector’s item, right? Scarcity drives up demand?

Now Playing: Guitar Song from Strangest Places by Abra Moore

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Posted by pjm at 1:56 PM | Comments (0)