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July 31, 2004


I don’t know how I wound up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, but long before my sister-in-law arrived at East End Beach at the end of her two and a half mile swim, I was ready to crawl back in.

My nieces, while waiting, had waded in to the ocean and were pretty much soaked with no dry clothes available, plus sand all over them and through their sandals. As mother and brother and I rounded them up, hosed off the sand, and found a quiet place, I recognized my own crankiness in them. They were tired and hot (or cold) and clammy, and someone else had been the center of attention for a few hours now. They didn’t know quite what they wanted, but it wasn’t this.

I’d love to say my own mood magically changed while I was lugging Sasha up off the beach, her thumb in her mouth and her gaze unfocused in the distance, but it didn’t. But I recognized it for what it was, a mood, and let it go. I know what it is, and I can keep an eye on it before it boils over. It’s a start.

Posted by pjm at 2:48 PM | Comments (0)

July 30, 2004

I'm squishing your head

I like my job, really I do. Often they come to my office and put up intriguing little problems like, “Would it be possible…?” and “How would we…?”

And then every now and then we’ve got fifty-eight chapters of soul-crushing boredom, fishing files out of here and inserting them into presentation slides there. Honestly, sometimes when I think of the sheer volume of PowerPoint slides we’ve inflicted on the world, it makes me feel like a drug dealer. We’re just giving the people what they want, of course.

But it’s not so much the PowerPoints—I’m sure they’re quite good, as slideshows made for classroom use go—but just the complete and utter desolation of challenge in the work. I think I faced more interesting problems in the summer when I worked retail. I long for something that has some challenge. New software, new problems. It occurred to me that a wiki would be a really cool way to document all the stuff I do as a reference for when I’m gone; that’s hanging just out of reach and looking tantalizing.

Even optimizing the applications we’ve got now and making it better would be an interesting challenge. Even figuring out a way of automating something otherwise boring and repetitive would be an interesting challenge. This is un-automatable hand application of cherries to chocolates, and not even ones I’d want to eat.

Now playing: Other Side from Golden Age of Radio (Bonus Disc) by Josh Ritter

Posted by pjm at 3:58 PM | Comments (1)

Knowledge workers of the world, unite!

It’s System Administrator Appreciation Day. Not that I expect my co-workers to be aware of this, but they don’t make me feel under-appreciated on a regular basis, so I don’t really mind.

Still, I think to celebrate we could do something about the anti-scientist attitude in the popular press, don’t you think? Didn’t we get enough in high school?

Now playing: Mother Earth Is A Vicious Crowd from Mental Jewelry by Live

Posted by pjm at 11:17 AM | Comments (0)

July 29, 2004

Understating the damage

There’s a bit in yesterday’s SANS Newsbites about the indictment of a man accused of breaking into the systems of a large corporation, stealing information, and selling it to his customers. Despite also noting that this same corporation was broken into the year before, this article didn’t include the sort of caustic comments the editors sometimes include in this newsletter.

Perhaps it should have. See, I recognized the name of that company. They’re a data storage company. My previous employers were working with them. My previous employers’ business was heavily based on direct marketing.

The company run by the accused, which has supposed to have benefited from this stolen information, is “a bulk mailing concern.”

After connecting the dots, I think it’s reasonable to expect that if you ever gave an email address to my previous employers, that address is now available to any spammer willing to pay for a list.

And, since there isn’t anything exceptionally unusual about the information security practices of either my former employers or the large corporation which was the target of the theft, it’s probably reasonable to assume that any email address you’ve ever given to any company (i.e. not a private individual) is available to spammers, regardless of any “privacy” policies involved.

Now playing: Honest Joe from Wah Wah by James

Posted by pjm at 10:59 AM | Comments (0)

July 28, 2004

Maybe it's just an amusing sound

While I was in my RSS aggregator, reading Wolf Angel’s post about reduplication, my mail client grabbed a message from a friend in Boston.

It turns out this is one of the friends who is intellectually unable to say my first name only once: she must repeat it twice for it to sound right. (She’s not alone in this, for some reason.)

I guess that means that’s really my name, yep, no doubt about it…

Now playing: Do It Again from A Decade of Steely Dan by Steely Dan

Posted by pjm at 5:05 PM | Comments (0)

Peaks to Portland

People are starting to find this page with the search term “Peaks to Portland swim” because I mentioned that particular bit of lunacy in an injured-runner tantrum last month.

First, the disclaimer: I have no connection with the Peaks to Portland swim. I’m a poor source of information about it, and I’m sorry you all ended up here.

Unfortunately, the organizers (the Greater Portland YMCA, as near as I can tell) haven’t seen fit to put up a permanent web page with information about the event, so I can’t even direct you to a more useful website; this is the best I’ve seen.

The summary, for those looking just for an overview, is that a hundred or so aerobic monsters, sometimes including my brother and/or sister-in-law, swim about two and a half miles from Peaks Island in Casco Bay to the East End Beach in Portland.

This year’s edition, featuring only my sister-in-law, is this Saturday, unless there’s a weather delay.

Update: If you’re looking for results, as of Monday the only place I’ve found them is the PPH story from Sunday. I don’t know how long it will be online, though.

Now playing: Kid On The Train from Spirit Touches Ground by Josh Clayton-Felt

Posted by pjm at 1:38 PM | Comments (2)

More horizons

I wonder if there’s some coincidence to the fact that my favorite views in Amherst tend to look roughly east. Today, coming back from PT, I looked east from North East Street over the Amythest Brook conservation area to Mount Orient. You can’t actually see the mountain in this wet weather; though the visibility is good, the ceiling this morning was quite low, and the brook itself, normally invisible until it meets Fort River near the Pelham Road, was traced out in tendrils of vapor on the hillside.

It’s a stretch to call it a mountain at all, even from an east-coast perspective; it’s the front row of the Pelham Hills, and much more of a ridge. Like many hillside streams in New England, there used to be a small-scale vacation resort in there somewhere, in the days before trains and automobiles, and if you look in the right places you can find traces of the carriage roads. Along this stretch of North East Street, farms run back towards the hillside with nothing to block the vista. One of them has a llama pasture by the road, with a handmade sign: “Llama llookout.”

We used to run through the conservation area and the neighboring private-but-tolerant land in college; the Robert Frost trail goes up to Mt. Orient and follows the ridge into Shutesbury, but there are other trails which aren’t on any map that I know of. We called the RFT “Upper Ridge,” and there was also “Middle Ridge” and (surprise!) “Lower Ridge” which barely had any hills at all. I ran them looking alternately at the back of the upperclassman in front of me, or the rock I didn’t want to trip over, and found when those seniors graduated that I really didn’t know my way around in there. I could run Upper Ridge by following the RFT blazes, but the lower, easier and less rocky trails were as much of a mystery as a one-way back street in Boston. There must be branches of the trails which go more east into Pelham; I remember once emerging from the woods somewhere on Lower Valley Road in Pelham and running down, down, down the road into Amherst. It was one of my first runs with the team, and one of the longest runs I’d ever done; the twenty-fours I did for my 2002 marathon were a long way in the future.

Since we moved back to Amherst, I haven’t been in shape to run in Amythest Brook yet. No doubt it’s not as thrilling as I remember. But this morning, looking over the farms at the wisps of cloud tracing the contours of the hills, with the dry burning of the iontophoresis contact still prickling on my calf, I really missed being out there.

Now playing: Sit Down from James by James

Posted by pjm at 1:16 PM | Comments (0)

July 27, 2004

Hackers and Painters

Yesterday at PT I finished Paul Graham’s book, Hackers and Painters. Maybe I’m particularly receptive to non-fiction due to my high levels of John McPhee lately, but I was very impressed with Graham’s book.

If you’ve heard of Paul Graham recently, it’s probably not because of his biggest project, creating the software that would become Yahoo! Store; more likely it’s because of his 2002 essay, “A Plan for Spam” which first proposed the statistical-analysis approach to email filtering used by nearly every modern spam filter.

It’s hard to pigeonhole the book. It’s not about something in particular; it’s subtitled “Big Ideas from the Computer Age,” and that’s pretty much the size of it. Why geeks are unpopular. Why applications are going to move off the desktop and on to web servers, paid for on a subscription model. The difference between “making money” and “creating wealth” and why you can create more wealth in a startup than working for a regular company. A lot of thoughts about programming languages.

It’s not entirely a computer book. There are some bits that aren’t immediately clear if you’re not a geek, but when he does really jargony things (like use “diff” as a verb) he at least provides an endnote. I think I would get more out of the languages section if I knew more about more of the languages in question. If I wanted to peg the level of jargon, I’d put it close to Eric Raymond’s How To Become A Hacker essay; the tone is fairly close, as well.

It’s full of little moments—acknowledging, for example, how chasing a challenging bug can be rewarding, at least for a little while. (I managed to squash one this afternoon which had been on my to-do list for quite a while.)

Most of the essays in the book are also available on Graham’s website, along with some others, but I found the book format much easier to deal with. It’s a good place to look to see if you’d like his style; both it and the book are likely to expose you to some new ideas.

Now playing: Alleluia from The Honesty Room by Dar Williams

Posted by pjm at 3:44 PM | Comments (0)

The whimsical approach

There was a bag crammed in my mailbox this morning, containing my membership premium for Daring Fireball: a t-shirt.

I probably would have responded to John’s membership campaign without the shirt (my running career has left me with a plethora of t-shirts) because of his stellar plug-in for Movable Type, Markdown, which I’m using to write this post; it’s not only hugely useful in letting me present well-presented posts without having to letting the marking-up part of my mind get in the way of the writing part of my mind (which has a hard enough time without interruptions), but also has been ported to PHP, a prospect which will probably lead to me rolling it out on some sites at work, helping the non-technically inclined folks in the office take some of the site-maintaining load off my position.

But the thing that really makes the difference between simply using someone’s work and looking forward to it is the whimsical touches I find on Daring Fireball. For instance, he links to Movable Type’s coming 3.1 version, which will include, in John’s words, “an option to publish live using PHP (i.e. to fry pages instead of bake them).” Best Perl-vs.-PHP characterization I’ve ever seen.

And, of course, there were the suggested levels of membership: $10.24, $20.48, $30.72. Yes, that’s one, two, or three kilopennies.

Now playing: Yellow Brick Road from Five Stories by Kris Delmhorst

Posted by pjm at 12:04 PM | Comments (0)

If only we all had retractile claws

Yesterday Iz got a rabies booster, Just In Case, after the episode with the bat. Based on a visual exam of the Great Striped Hunter, the vet didn’t think the bat was rabid (or, at least, Iz hadn’t picked up rabies from the bat.) However, they suggested that next time, we kill the bat and bring it in to confirm it wasn’t.

Something seems wrong with that. Maybe it’s just me.

Posted by pjm at 6:45 AM | Comments (1)

July 26, 2004

I take that back

I just read the information sheet about the iontophoresis—you know, the one I signed off on a week or so ago. It includes, underlined, the statement, This is not a treatment that you should nap through!

I guess I need to bring an exciting book, next time.

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

Posted by pjm at 8:21 PM | Comments (0)

What I did with my summer vacation

You might remember my wrestling with Logwatch. Once I got the new and up-to-date version working nicely on all three servers, I ran in to a problem where one of them was producing daily reports which were inconveniently long for email. (I would have to move on to another application and wait for that report to load in the mail window.)

So today I opened up the processing scripts and tried to figure out why the blizzard of log was getting dumped directly to my mailbox, and not nicely packaged.

I found it.

And—you won’t believe this part—I fixed it.

Now the question is, was this just an issue with me? Or should I send a patch to the author? If accepted, that would rank as my first-ever code contribution to an open-source project. However minor (the patch file doesn’t even make 2k, and most of that is context.)

Now playing: Cut In Two from Somewhere Else by The Church

Posted by pjm at 3:53 PM | Comments (1)

Something I like about physical therapy

I get to sit still for fairly long periods of time, often with a book, while they heat my foot, or have the iontophoresis going. I almost took a nap, this morning.

Posted by pjm at 1:43 PM | Comments (0)

July 25, 2004

Where am I?

Somebody has a weird obsession with our street sign.

I’ve lost track of the number of times it has disappeared. The one at the east end seems pretty safe, but on the more heavily-travelled road to the west, the sign has vanished… well, at least three times that I can recall, maybe more, mostly in the past three months. It vanished again today—I clearly remember seeing it last night, but this evening it’s gone.

They just take the sign. The post is untouched. Once they left a fragment of the sign which wouldn’t let go of the post. The town gamely replaces it every time.

I’m not clear on why, either. If it was something about the name of the street, and people wanted to have the sign (maybe someone’s name?) you’d think they’d get the east end too; or it wouldn’t happen as often. Plus, I don’t see what the appeal of this particular street name would be.

Thankfully, I know where the turn is, but it would be murder if I needed to give someone directions. “Well, it looks sort of like a driveway, and there’s no sign…” I’ve talked to several people who’ve lived in this town for years and have never heard of this street.

One hopes we’ll never have to give directions to a 911 dispatcher while the sign is missing.

Posted by pjm at 9:01 PM | Comments (0)

Retail, and how not to do it

A few weeks ago at a race, A. won a gift certificate to a store in an affluent suburb of Springfield. Yesterday we set out to redeem it. The store bills itself as a “sports” store, but the packaging of the certificate and the outside of the store led us, correctly, to conclude that the only “sports” they had in mind were golf and, perhaps, shuffleboard. Polo, perhaps, but only watching it. I meandered around looking at clothes which looked about twenty years too old for me, then finally looked at a price tag. Wow. That was the first time I’d ever really seen someone selling khakis for that much. Or ties, for that matter, but I’ll admit that I’ve had a career path which hasn’t required ties so far, so I don’t really have a good feeling for the going rate.

A. observed that the size of clothes that fit her in this store had a lower number attached than in most places. Apparently, part of what you pay extra for is flattery.

They also had another nice touch: soft chairs by the door. I undoubtedly followed the example of hundreds of men before me by sitting down and dozing lightly for a few minutes before we left.

One of our next stops was in downtown Springfield, where we hoped to visit Edwards Books, an independent bookstore introduced to us by the recent book Shelf Life. It’s in a mall visible from the highway, but on a Saturday afternoon at 3:30 it had… closed half an hour ago. As was the rest of the mall. On a Saturday afternoon?

Well, this is the American urban core, isn’t it. The security guards who gave us the news (and pointed us back towards our car) observed that there weren’t any other going retail concerns in sight of Edwards. Every other space was either empty, or offices. “How much money are they losing on this mall?” I wondered aloud. “Lots,” answered one of the guards.

So we continued up to Northampton, and strolled around the sidewalk sale. I counted four open bookstores, and those were just the ones we walked past.

Posted by pjm at 3:08 PM | Comments (0)

July 24, 2004

I'm a sucker for a vista

I think that spiritually, the difference between this

Looking north up the Connecticut River from the Mt. Toby fire tower, July 11, 2004

and this

Lighthouse at the Cuckolds, off Newagen, July 17, 2004

is that for the first, I had to walk a mile or so up Mount Toby and wait my turn to climb the fire tower, whereas the second sort is available more or less constantly from the time one heads out nearly anywhere in the Gulf of Maine.

Posted by pjm at 11:30 AM | Comments (3)

July 23, 2004


I don’t think a non-geek would understand my glee at learning that I can install the W3C’s HTML validator on my Mac. Less time spent hammering on validator.w3.org is more time spent debugging. Or something.

No word on whether the CSS validator will also be available.

Now playing: Antenna from Starfish by The Church

Posted by pjm at 2:32 PM | Comments (0)

Our hearts in aerosol

The clinic where I go for PT has the weirdest graffiti. Not that we have a lot around here; generally it’s along the lines of “War” or “Bush” scrawled under the imperative on “Stop” signs.

Out on the eastern edge of the Happy Valley, though, this place has “Forgive” in white paint by the front walk.

On one of the parking spots next to the building, it says, “All of this world is beautiful.” The message spills out of the spot and into the rest of the lot.

There’s another one on another parking spot, but it’s often covered by another car, and I haven’t read all of it yet. It doesn’t appear that anyone is making any effort to clean it away.

It reminded me of something I saw a few weeks ago, visiting home. I’d say I come from a “small town” in Maine, but it’s only so in population; it covers a great deal of ground and some significant chunk of tidal coastline. (More than the entire state of New Hampshire, we were proudly told in elementary school.) I was riding with my parents along a route often traveled by tourists en route to a state-park beach when we saw a few trucks parked beside the road. Two people were standing in the bed of one truck, doing something with a road sign.

The next sign down the road was obscured with some particularly ugly, racist graffiti. The people with the trucks were attempting to clean it off the signs, not waiting for the state to get around to it.

I can’t know where the sign-defacers came from, but given the prickly reputation of those of us native to that state, and my memory of some of those I attended school with, it’s not too hard to guess.

I’ve been thinking about that, lately.

Now playing: City from Gold Afternoon Fix by The Church

Posted by pjm at 9:03 AM | Comments (0)

July 22, 2004

Battened down

It’s not that I don’t have anything to say. It’s that I don’t find any of it very interesting. I’ve spent the day wobbling back and forth between magnetic resonance imaging and a particularly exacting sampler disc, and pretty much everything else that has crossed my mind seems either too complicated to get a grip on, or too trivial to talk about. (I know, that’s never stopped me before.) Maybe the time to think about things and the opportunity to write about them will overlap in a few days.

Yesterday, swimming in Puffer’s, there were sections that were cold, but there were other large pools within the pond that were as warm as bath-water from the sun, and I could reach down through them and touch the cold layer underneath.

Now playing: Happiness by Elliott Smith

Posted by pjm at 4:08 PM | Comments (2)

Head in the oven

Between moving around, giving blood and the consequent weakness, and the physical therapy schedule, today is the first day I’ve biked in to work for a while. Just now, looking out the front door at the hazy sunshine, I thought of an advantage to riding, this time of year. At the end of the day, I don’t have to go out and get in a car which has been sitting in the sun all day. And I don’t have to do the little dance with the windows: leave them open for ventilation? Close them against the thunderstorm which is forever hovering over the horizon?

No worries. Just stash the bike in the basement.

I seem to have lost momentum on replacing the bike. This has the advantage of saving some money, and perhaps reducing some overall consumption of natural resources. But perhaps I should replace the tires; I can see the cords in the sidewall of one of them.

Now playing: Blues For Your Baby from Too Close To Heaven • The Unreleased Fisherman’s Blues Sessions by The Waterboys

Posted by pjm at 11:18 AM | Comments (0)

July 21, 2004

Titles, explained

I offered to tell the “…and a bat” story. I’ll try to keep it short. It’s one of those “personal language” phrases, and it relates to a race my father and I ran while I was in college: the inaugural running of this race, in fact, at the end of my sophomore year.

I was in pretty good shape that year, and I managed to get away from a pretty tough competitor and win the race. (I therefore set the course record, and held it for at least two years, if I remember correctly.) The prizes were all donated by a local bakery and a candy store. Division winners got a pie; second place was a bag of cookies. Everyone, down to third place, got a milk-chocolate bat. (I think the candy store was offloading its Halloween inventory.)

As they announced the awards, they announced what everyone was getting, starting from third place and working on up to first in each division. A chocolate bat. A bag of cookies, and a bat. A pie, and a bat. And a bat. And a bat.

As overall winner, I got a second pie. And, of course, a bat. But for the rest of the week, whenever we were going through a list of items, we would wrap it up with, “…and a bat.” As in, “Not much in the mail: a magazine, two bills, and a bat.” You could say that bat lasted longer than both pies.

In fact, two years ago, when I won my age group at the same race and went up to choose my pie from the prize table, I heard my father behind me saying, “…and a bat.”

Now playing: When I Was A Boy from The Honesty Room by Dar Williams

Posted by pjm at 4:35 PM | Comments (3)

The way it's supposed to work

All three of my internet-facing servers at work reported, in this morning’s status emails, that they had rejected repeated attempts to connect through SSH from the same IP address. From the log summaries, it looked as though someone had essentially just started trying logins and passwords, using some common “role” usernames, but also trying root just in case they could hit the jackpot and guess the superuser password. (Some systems, including mine ours, won’t let remote users log in directly as root for just this reason; instead, you need to log in as a particular unprivileged user, then request elevated privileges.)

I checked the IP address at ARIN, and discovered it belonged to a particular American university. (This was a surprise; I was expecting an anonymous Romanian or Chinese netblock.) I sent a terse, but cordial email to the technical contact listed, explaining what I’d seen.

Within half an hour, I had a response from an individual at the university: they’d shut down that system yesterday morning. Given the time my servers file their reports and when the university reported the IP went dark, they must have hit me in the early morning, and the university had the system shut down within five hours of the earliest time they could’ve probed my servers.

Those guys are on the ball. I’m impressed. If we could get that kind of response from all ISPs on spam runs, there wouldn’t be a spam problem.

Now playing: See Your Lights from Forget Yourself by The Church

Posted by pjm at 11:41 AM | Comments (0)

...and a bat

(Remind me, someday, to tell the story of why this title is amusing to me.)

So, it was an eventful night.

Cat’s perspective: Best. Toy. Ever.

Cat’s staff perspective: The first clue that there was some rambunctiousness happening out in the big room was the crash which was one of the dining-room chairs falling over. I woke up, concluded that Izzy was up to some mischief, and went back to sleep.

A few minutes later, there was another crash, this time accompanied by loud chittering. At first, cloudy with sleep, I had mechanical thoughts: I thought Iz had managed to get something snagged in the box fan. Within seconds, I had more realistic thoughts: some other live creature was in the apartment. Armed with the flashlight (both as light and club) I looked out into the living room.

Sure enough, there was Iz, sitting proudly behind the bat he had brought to the floor.

(Remind me, someday, to tell the story of how shocked I was when Iz, a strictly indoor cat, caught a mouse.)

The bat flopped. Iz might be a great hunter, but he’s a horribly inefficient killer. (Last time, I was the one who inadvertently finished off his mouse.) I promptly shut the bedroom door behind me; previous experience with apartment bats suggested to me that any reduction in the bat’s available airspace was a good thing. Then I grabbed an empty wastebasket. Iz had re-cornered the bat under the dining room table. It was about eight inches, wing to wing, and the wastebasket dropped easily over it. Now I’d reached the ultimate reduction in airspace, and I’d also saved it from Iz. I’d far rather catch-and-release a live bat than dispose of its corpse.

Next I fetched my DeLorme Atlas of Massachusetts, and wiggled it under the wastebasket. There was some flopping inside the wastebasket, but eventually I had the bat on the atlas, then the wastebasket over the bat. (This is a macro application of the classic mug-and-cardboard trick for catching and releasing moths, another favorite cat toy.) I picked up the entire assembly, opened the window as wide as possible, held the wastebasket outside, and removed the atlas. I presume the bat then departed, since it wasn’t in the wastebasket when I brought it back in, nor did I see its body below the window in the morning.

I presume it had flown under one of our roof windows and found itself somewhat cornered; determining, incorrectly, that the “open space” was inside the window, it managed to get some of the screen up enough to wriggle inside. (The screens on the roof windows are cloth and attached to the window frame with velcro, so I can imagine a bat working some of the velcro up.)

I’m not sure about the extent of the bat’s cat-inflicted wounds. He definitely did some damage, but he didn’t kill it, and presumably it could still fly. I didn’t take the time to grab the camera, which he’ll probably resent later. (I didn’t get a good shot of his mouse, either.) The outstanding question, though, is rabies: could the bat have been rabid? It didn’t bite either of us, but Iz bit it.

I have to admit I’m a bit proud of him, though. After all, not only did he catch a mouse, he caught a mouse with wings.

Now playing: New State of Grace from Love and China by Nerissa & Katryna Nields

Posted by pjm at 10:34 AM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2004

I do not understand this part of myself

Here’s something I find in my stats every now and then, under “Failure report”:

2: /cgi-bin/FormMail.pl
2: /cgi-bin/contact.pl
2: /cgi-bin/contact.cgi
2: /cgi-bin/formmail.pl
2: /cgi-bin/mail.cgi
2: /cgi-bin/formmail.cgi
2: /mail.cgi
2: /cgi-bin/mailform.pl
2: /cgi/formmail

This is the trace of someone crawling my site looking for web-to-email gateways which they can exploit to send spam. Of course, being a relatively clueful site manager, I have no such gateways, but that doesn’t stop people from looking.

The part I don’t understand is the emotional response I have—it literally makes my skin crawl. The feeling, for me, is like sitting in your home and watching the doorknob jiggle as someone checks to see if it’s unlocked.

I have little fantasies about writing a small script to sit in /cgi-bin/formmail.pl which will accept the connection, and then do … nothing … very … slowly. Or cram the input right back down the sending connection, a few thousand times. Unfortunately, this will probably remain fantasy, since I don’t trust myself to write such a script in a way that won’t bog down my own server. The hosting company wouldn’t be pleased with me, I’m sure.

I don’t understand why it’s become such a visceral loathing, or why I have such a strong urge to attempt payback. It can’t be good for me.

Now playing: Fishing In The Morning from The Beauty Of The Rain by Dar Williams

Posted by pjm at 9:40 AM | Comments (1)

July 19, 2004

Memory management

As I proved at least once this weekend, I have an unusually poor head for phone numbers, including my own. (I can recite all the IP numbers assigned to our company, however, plus the primary and secondary name servers for our ISP, so clearly this is a subconscious articulation of priority: I’d rather talk to computers than people.)

The incident recalled a former roommate who puzzled me on several occasions by pulling out his organizer when he was about to call his girlfriend. “If you have her number memorized,” went the lesson he claimed to have learned from his father, “you’ve been together too long.”

I asked how he avoided memorizing the number through sheer repetition. “I think of other numbers while I’m dialing,” he said.

Now he’s married to her. What I want to know is, can he remember his own phone number?

Now playing: Hey Nineteen from A Decade of Steely Dan by Steely Dan

Posted by pjm at 3:49 PM | Comments (0)

I'm disappointed about the evening gown

It’s too bad none of my users are likely to notice this; some of them could probably write quite good nominations.

Now playing: Heavens from Seven by James

Posted by pjm at 10:02 AM | Comments (0)

Annie's sign

When I drive to work, I pass Annie’s Garden Center; they usually have a pretty good two-parter on their sign. This morning:

Southbound: I have a rock garden

Northbound: Today 3 of them died

Now playing: Less Than Useful from God Fodder by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin

Posted by pjm at 8:38 AM | Comments (0)

July 18, 2004

Big, red bugs

Saturday evening there was a family birthday dinner (not mine) featuring lobsters which, if not running free that very day, had at least been crated and floating live in the New Meadows river less than an hour before arriving at our plates.

I’m not a great fan of lobster (heresy, I know,) but I made my way through one. My younger niece, however, was not fond of them at all, even though she didn’t have one on her plate; she didn’t want to sit next to one (not likely, since the only non-lobstered plate was her father’s) or even smell them. She wanted to eat on the porch, and have someone eat out there with her, but since everyone had a lobster that wasn’t a solution either.

“Don’t tell her they’re big insects,” I whispered to my brother.

She was a bit happier when the lobster wreckage was (eventually) cleared away and replaced with cake and ice cream.

Now playing: Mr. Right Now from If You Lived Here You’d Be Home Now by The Nields

Posted by pjm at 9:45 PM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2004

Around the head

You know how, in some cartoons, you see characters walking around with a little black cloud which only appears to be raining on them?

Today, it seemed like anywhere inland was overcast, possibly raining. Any anywhere on the water was sunny and beautiful. I hadn’t been around to Boothbay by boat for around twenty years. I think if I smile much longer my face will cramp up.

We were the first to find a geocache recently placed on Squirrel Island. Since you need to take a ferry out to the island, I think most cachers have opted not to try, but for us it was the excuse for the trip. The island makes Nantucket look like a crowded, booming metropolis. Dirt roads, sidewalk and boardwalk. My father pointed out that much of the boardwalk was done in mahogany, not pressure-treated pine. Easy on bare feet, but imagine what it must cost. We spotted three pickup trucks as the only vehicles on the island; kayaks outnumber cars by an order of magnitude, and probably outnumber bicycles.

You don’t see many “For Sale” signs outside houses on Squirrel Island. Probably when one goes up for sale, it’s advertised only in high-end magazines. Assuming it’s advertised. I think I would spend my summers there, if I won a lottery. Or two.

I don’t know enough about sailboats to identify the class (classes?) who were racing today, but when we came out of the island and headed for home, they had a good breeze and looked like they were having a roaring good time. There was a buoy out, but looking back after we passed through Newagen, I saw several out beyond where I would have expected the buoy was. Maybe they were headed out to Damriscove.

There are three juvenile ospreys in the nest on the day beacon in Newagen harbor. They can whine all they want, but they’re going to have to jump eventually.

When we came in to Cundy’s Harbor for gas, the dock attendants waved us off. “The power’s out,” they explained. Apparently they’d been dark since one o’clock, and they claimed the Wal-Mart in Brunswick was closed as well. Thunderstorms inland, probably, which we could hear from the mooring.

As I write this, there are swells under the chair I’m sitting in.

Posted by pjm at 9:15 PM | Comments (2)

July 16, 2004

Working what you love

I’ve been reading a lot of job angst lately. What do I want to do, what do I like to do, etc. etc. It’s all over the place, so I’m not going to pick on link to individual posts. I’ve been participating, mentally, because I have designs on leaving my perfectly good job and returning to school, but I’m reluctant to put up advice; for reasons which remain a mystery to me, I’ve never had any problem staying employed, and aside from some staggeringly boring summer jobs while still a student, I’ve never had much anxiety about finding work. (Of course, that might be because I’m relatively easy to please, employment-wise; I think I could drive a truck and be happy if I found some challenge in it. I heard a song on the radio this morning about “the Kenworth of my dreams” and knew exactly what he meant.) I don’t feel like I have much to offer in this area, because I honestly don’t know how I do it myself; I just put down roots where I am, suck up what’s in the dirt, and see what kind of flowers I can make.

I think I need to add one bit of personal experience, though.

“Pursue your passion. Then, maybe, you will not distinguish between work and leisure.”

Yeah, OK. Sounds nice. I did that, once. It was fun for a few years; I thought I’d never find a job that great again. Then I found myself unable to distinguish between work and not-work, unable to separate that which I loved and found fun with that which I felt bound to do for hire. I’d turned something I loved into a chore and a burden.

Clearly there are people who can do it; I worked with some of them, and still do.

If you want to make your passion your profession, you need (for one) other channels of release, and you need to not give a damn about the paycheck. If you feel like you’re chained to it, well, it’s not much of a passion anymore.

Now playing: So Alive from Rock N Roll by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 3:38 PM | Comments (4)

Next step

I should’ve looked closer; the 1500m for men is running three rounds. From thirty entered in the prelims last night, Ned was one of the 24 who advanced to the semis tonight.

There’s a whole row of college coaches at the Trials, actually. Aside from Ned, John Mortimer, who’s now the head cross-country coach at BC, finished seventh in the steeplechase, and Robert Gary, from OSU, made the team by finishing third in that event. For the bulk of the spring season, they try to get in shape with a meet every weekend (Gary coached at least one NCAA All-American in the steeplechase,) then they turn up at the Trials and have to race the kids they’ve been coaching. It seems unfair, but then again…

For some reason, I was thinking of the Trials as I somehow, juggling other errands, managed to go without shaving for six days. Why the Trials? Well, I looked a bit more like Broe than Fam. Are these guys going to shave before Athens?

Update: My spy in Sacramento tells me Fam was indeed shaved for the final last night. They’re thinking ahead of me.

Now playing: Seen It Coming from After Everything Now This by The Church

Posted by pjm at 12:08 PM | Comments (0)

Cool tweak

One of my favorite things about Mac OS X is that if one app is hung up working on something, you can flick to another and move on there. So, for instance, if you’re waiting for a very long email to load (say, the comprehensive report on idiots attempting to abuse our e-mail ten or twenty thousand times in the past twenty-four hours) you can write a weblog post.

The really cool thing, though, is that if the mail window is still visible in the background, and you move the mouse over where it is, it changes from the arrow (“click, I’ll do something”) into the spinning beach ball (“hang on, I’m working on it”) to let you know not to bother looking in on Mail yet—it’s still not done. Sweet.

Now playing: Are You Out There from End Of The Summer by Dar Williams

(A song, by the way, about WRSI.)

Posted by pjm at 10:38 AM | Comments (0)

July 15, 2004

Making do

I was too late to swim at the pool this afternoon, so I did two laps over and back at Puffer’s Pond. It was relatively chilly, but I was pleased to find that I was able to cross the pond without exhausting myself, as long as I stood for a minute on either side and let my head stop spinning. The fourth crossing had me flailing a bit, so I stopped there.

After two crossings (over and back,) I found when I put my head up that it was raining. I scrambled up the bank to put my towel and shoes under cover, then got back in the pond for another lap. There was no lightning, and I was already wet. The shower was past by the time I finished and headed home.

Posted by pjm at 9:59 PM | Comments (0)

One more roll

What a difference a few years make.

Tonight (in a bit more than six hours, actually,) the last of my several college coaches will be running the 1500m prelims at the Olympic Trials.

The summer after the season I ran for him, he was fourth in the Atlanta Trials, and lacked only an Olympic “A” standard to run in the Games. He tried several times, but at that point was suffering with PF, for which he ultimately had surgery. The last spot on the team went to someone else.

In 2000, he was the fastest of those with “provisional” marks for the Trials, but USATF opted not to take any provisional qualifiers, and he stayed home.

More recently, he’s been significantly more relaxed about his running. At some point, I read an article where he claimed to be running 30-mile weeks and playing on an over-30 softball team. But I saw him headed to a workout last month, and he was looking pretty sharp. He only had a provisional mark this year as well, but USATF opted to “fill the fields” this time, and he’s in. Odds are pretty good he won’t make the final, but stranger things have happened. After all, somewhere he has an World Championships medal from the indoor mile, which isn’t something many of these guys can claim. Come to think of it, though, he probably won it before a lot of the guys he’ll be running with started shopping for colleges; just from skimming the list, if he’s not the oldest in the field, he’s second oldest. There’s only two guys in there who are older than me.

Aside from being excited for him, I suppose the take-home lesson for me should be that yes, with patience, I too will be running again, but that’s tinged with some envy. He’s running, I’m not.

Physical therapy this morning was interesting. Ultrasound, which I’ve tried before (last fall.) Then what they call iontophoresis, which is a way to drive an anti-inflammatory through your skin with an electrostatic charge, I think. Not unlike a cortisone shot, but much milder and without the tissue damage and eventual muscular brittleness that comes from the shot. They want to stretch me, too.

And they want me there three times a week for several weeks, which is really going to put a wrench in the schedule I’ve pieced together over the past few weeks of not running.

Now playing: Lightnin’ Hopkins from Document by R.E.M.

Posted by pjm at 4:33 PM | Comments (0)

From browser to OS to office suite...

Ben Hammersley has an excellent article in the Guardian titled “The Second Browser War,” which is a great example of why Ben is a professional journalist living in Italy, and I am a freelancer contending for the title of World’s Smallest IT Department. I won’t go through all his details, but a few representative quotes:

However, what would happen if people’s web browsers were capable of running complex applications, with code based on openly published specifications? Two things: first, the operating system would become irrelevant, so there would be no need to upgrade to the next version of Windows, and second, the playing field for everything else would be thus levelled. …

The difference between the two—between Microsoft control or that of open standards bodies—will be the battleground for the next two years, and one that promises fireworks.

I guess you know which side I’m on, right?

Now playing: What For from Strip-Mine by James

Posted by pjm at 3:08 PM | Comments (0)

July 14, 2004

Thinner than water

I still don’t have the well-trained blood I could have hoped for. At the beginning of the month, I was swimming 2,000-yard workouts without too much difficulty. Since I donated, I’ve had to push myself to make it through 1,000 yards. My form is fine, and I’m strong enough, but I have much less endurance than I’m used to; I just feel drained, and my arms are shaky for a while after I get out.

Tomorrow I am going for physical therapy for my foot. I still associate physical therapy with repetitive exercise, but apparently there’s more to it; on Monday the doctor gave me a prescription for something powerful they’re apparently going to administer at this PT place. Something that sounds vaguely electrical and ends with “-phoresis,” which, thanks to too many textbooks on genomics, I associate with DNA separation. I suppose it’s too much to hope for a freak accident which gives me super powers?

Now playing: Greeting Card Aisle from All of Our Names by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 7:50 PM | Comments (0)

It's not all bad

(This is going to be another one of those comment-out-of-control posts that needs to come here to expand to its full, absurdly verbose dimensions.)

This morning I read a bleak view of the younger generation at Sea Fever. Violent video games, homophobia, and hyperactivity. This is different from “Kids today…” head-shaking; it’s fear and apprehension. Just as it’s easy to forget how much things have changed, even in the years since we left college, it’s easy to miss the consequences of those changes and how they’re changing the way kids are growing up. Every so often you read a story in the New York Times about kids’ sexual behavior or relation to technology (cell phones, the internet, video games) and their parents’ apparent cluelessness about the same technology, and you wonder how parents have any control remaining over how their children are formed as people. Yeah, it’s scary, no doubt.

Thing is, when the kids you’re talking about are yours (or, somehow, your responsibility,) the picture changes. You zoom in on the individuals, and things don’t look so bad. Maybe they’re showing you the good side.

A. has been a volunteer assistant coach for the local high school girls’ cross-country team for the last three years. It’s undeniably an unusual team, with forty or fifty girls out every year. (I don’t think we had as many as four girls in any of my years of high school cross-country.) With that many, it’s not surprising that she’s been in contact with girls who are “messed up” in any number of ways. What’s more surprising is the number who aren’t; the number who, despite being smack in the middle of the emotional war zone of the high school years, have their heads securely attached to their shoulders and their eyes firmly on the road. “I don’t know if I like all high school kids,” she said, “but I really like these high school kids.” Having been drafted for various fill-the-gap tasks over the years (“I’m the Clerk Of Course, of course!”) I tend to share that opinion.

Maybe that has a lot to do with this town, which is almost pathologically obsessed with education, a little hothouse for the elite of tomorrow. Maybe it has to do with the kids who come out to run, versus those who might turn out for other sports. (OK, maybe that link has more to do with the town difference than the sport difference, but there’s an echo.) But I think kids really take a vibe from the adults they’re around, much more than we expect, and the vibe these girls get from their coaches is so unmistakably positive, they can’t help but respond well, and there are more than a few adults who make it their job to give kids a positive vibe. It’s just staggering how this team makes all of them, coaches and kids alike, something more than they were when they went in.

There’s more here, but I’ll get to it later…

Now playing: Good News from Dream Harder by The Waterboys

Posted by pjm at 1:54 PM | Comments (1)

July 13, 2004

So much for an early evening

The outside cat brought me a present. I don’t think he’s coming in until one of us eats it.

Continue reading "So much for an early evening"

Posted by pjm at 9:30 PM | Comments (0)


This being a college town, it’s not entirely uncommon to see student-occupied houses with their doors standing open. Most often it’s multi-unit house with the common door left ajar, but whatever. My curiosity bug gets the better of me, and I always look as I’m going by, like you’d look in a shop window without stopping. I like to imagine the layout of the house from the little corners I can see from the sidewalk. What’s it like to live there?

I was heading out on the ride to work a week or so ago and took a quick look at such an open door around the corner from our house. Peering around from the inside of the door was a squirrel.

Posted by pjm at 1:59 PM | Comments (0)

July 12, 2004

Why I can't watch television anymore

When you haven’t been exposed to television advertising for a while, it’s astoundingly ridiculous. I don’t know how I don’t shout at the TV, watching the Olympic Trials. Start with the kitchen cleaner ad… the one talking about all the “germs” dancing across your floor. Sorry, what’s a germ? Is it related to a cootie? OK, let’s call it a microbe… what kind of microbe? One that might actually do damage, or (more likely) one that my immune system can beat up for practice, thanks very much? Not scaremongering, are we?

And then there was the car company ad… the one with the Dandy Warhol’s “Bohemian Like You” playing. Artfully cut, of course, since they just use the opening line of the first verse. A few more lines would be…

You’ve got a great car,
Yeah, what’s wrong with it today?
I used to have one too,
Maybe I’ll come and have a look.

Actually, the more I think about how gleefully fake that song is, the more it makes sense that it would go in an ad… I bet the band was laughing themselves hoarse when they sold it.

Or maybe the car company was laughing, saying, “Nobody knows these guys! Nobody will notice!”

Posted by pjm at 11:28 PM | Comments (1)

Follow the theme

I like seeing the names of individual machines at various organizations and guessing the pattern they’re named by. Sometimes they’re boring (the Solaris workstations at WSC are named for continents,) sometimes they’re relatively humdrum until the rationale is explained (ours are all birds, but selecting the right bird for the job can be fun.) Sometimes they’re obscure but boring (alternating first names of U.S. presidents and first ladies) and sometimes they’re easy guesses (characters from Lord of the Rings.)

Today I noticed in my access logs that someone came here from a machine named “Reepicheep.” Now, that’s fun. And it has me wondering: is the theme characters from the Chronicles of Narnia, or is it “mice in literature?”

Now playing: Cluck Old Hen from Five Stories by Kris Delmhorst

Posted by pjm at 2:52 PM | Comments (0)

The goal unreached

Here, I could do a cheeky little parody of Langston Hughes’ A Dream Deferred, but somehow…

Due to my dislocation from my usual kitchen cabinets, I’m foraging for food a bit more than usual. And, if you’ll recall, I have a plan for Girl Scout Cookies.

Not having run much since, oh, the end of May, I haven’t hit any more milestones. So, I foraged into the cookies after lunch.

The fifty-five-mile-week box was being colonized by ants.

That’s what happens when you can’t pursue your goals.

Now playing: Rare, Precious And Gone from Still Burning by Mike Scott

Posted by pjm at 2:05 PM | Comments (0)

Many-to-many relationship

I was intrigued, this morning, by an article in Wired News about an HP PC which can be used by as many as four users at once. It’s not a new concept, really; multi-user (“timesharing”) systems were common back in the command-line days, and even I remember sitting in a CS lab with rows of “dumb terminals” (or “glass teletypes,” as Neal Stephenson calls them) which had no inherent processing power of their own; all they could do was open a telnet connection to a big box (VAX/VMS, some form of Unix, whatever) which was secluded in a locked, refrigerated cabinet somewhere and handled dozens of these connections at once. So there’s a start. These HP boxen supposedly run Linux, so they’re at least spiritually descended from the same systems; I can certainly open any number of terminal windows on my Linux servers here, logged in with as many different usernames as I can remember passwords to.

In my limited experience with Linux (and Solaris) workstations, as well, there’s a concept of “rooms,” (I hope I used the right term,) four different desktops which can be easily flicked between, so you can keep your email in one “room”, web browsing in another, terminal windows in a third, and text editing in the fourth. Combine that with the recent Mac/Windows “innovation” of “Fast User Switching,” which is conceptually similar except that it assigns each of those four “rooms” to a different user, and doesn’t deal with a number like four—it just opens as many rooms as users are logged on.

Now you’ve got the software basis for sharing a desktop machine. Maybe you want some kind of central authentication, so users can log in anywhere on the network, but that exists in Unix as well; I’ve used it in Solaris.

The hurdle now is hardware. Boxes today come with one set of sockets for KVM (Keyboard, Video, Mouse.) This is called a “head;” systems like servers which often don’t have this stuff plugged in at all (two of our five servers lack video cards entirely, and a third only has one because it’s a recycled desktop) are called “headless systems.” Multiple keyboards and mice are possible (plug a mouse into a laptop; you can still use the trackpad) as are multiple monitors (the most common hardware extension, I think), but they’re treated as extensions of a single user’s input/output; multiple monitors are extensions of the desktop, and both mice still move just one pointer on the screen. So the real hairy engineering trick is the relatively simple hardware task of having four KVM ports and the relatively complicated system-software task of coordinating four users’ I/O to those four distinct ports, producing a true “multi-headed” system. Baby steps, when you think about it that way.

Actually, come to think of it, it’s not far from the “network PC” or “thin client” everyone was braying about six or eight years ago.

The idea behind HP’s machine is cost savings; you can get a class of twenty in South Africa on computers for some fraction of the cost of buying twenty computers. I imagine there are some kernel-level modifications to support the multiple “heads” which mean you can’t just haphazardly update the kernel, but if the hardware is modular enough, supporting four users on one box makes upgrading hardware in the box economic (unlike the current model, where it’s cheaper and more efficient to pitch the box and buy a new one.)

It’s not really a factor for a company like mine, where we’re all in our own offices, and some of us (ahem) really hammer our machines at times, to the point of DOSing other users hypothetically using the same system. But it’s easy to imagine “first-world” applications for this sort of system: libraries, for instance. A company which puts users in cube farms and doesn’t dedicate boxes to them (I think this is called “hoteling,” but I haven’t actually seen it in action) might benefit from a system like this.

But there’s a more obvious market, of course; U.S. elementary schools, perpetually strapped for cash. I’ve been rebuilding PCs here with Win98 (shudder) and then sending them off to the local school district; they’re happy to get them and I’m happy to get rid of them. Selling four-in-ones to schools isn’t going to cut into new PC sales; aside from the hoteling companies mentioned above, most of the entities which could best use a multi-headed machine don’t have the cash to buy multiple systems on a regular basis, and if they do, they could often use it elsewhere. Home users aren’t going to buy these, that’s for certain. (Why bother?)

I do think it’s worthwhile for people to stop thinking about computers as a one-to-one person-to-computer relationship, and think more in terms of many-to-many. We’re starting, with webmail and USB jump drives and suchlike; I carry my music around with me (my iPod spends more time jacked in to computers than playing to headphones) and eventually I’ll carry my home directory. And I won’t think much about how many processors might or might not be behind the “head” I sit down at. (In actual fact, I have one head to two systems here at work: one monitor, a switch, and both a Mac and a Dell. Have to be able to test, you know.)

There, that’s more musing on the tech news than I usually do, and more thinking than I would expect from my current state of drowsiness. Maybe the sugar in my tea is finally kicking in.

Now playing: Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby from This Desert Life by Counting Crows

Posted by pjm at 9:53 AM | Comments (0)

July 11, 2004


When I walk around the nearly-silent house, I can hear my right shoe gasping and sighing. This means the air cushion has ruptured. I should do something about that.

Posted by pjm at 7:23 PM | Comments (0)

Context is everything

It has only now occurred to me that the people finding me with a search string of “Atkins doughnuts” are probably not looking for the cider doughnuts at Atkins Farms.

Maybe they should be.

Posted by pjm at 6:48 PM | Comments (1)

July 10, 2004

Invisible cats and the famous dog

With everyone else (it would appear) traveling this weekend, I am responsible for the entire furry circus.

It started Thursday taking A.’s place feeding a small colony of feral cats, improbably close to a local shopping center. We call them the invisible cats, because we’ve yet to see any of them. Still, every time I’m there, the dishes are empty, so something’s eating all the cat food we leave (which is quite a lot.) I’m told other feeders have seen the invisible cats, but I am not among the chosen. There are, apparently, fewer now than in the winter, because the woman who organizes the feeding is, gradually, trapping them and taking them to shelters. Apparently last time she got a raccoon, but as long as she says there are still some there, we keep feeding them.

Friday I relocated my base of operations to A.’s parents house. They take care of Iz while we’re traveling, so now I’m returning the favor. Their cat isn’t a challenge; like most cats, he just wants to be fed and left to his business, with perhaps a small ration of adulation. The dog, on the other hand…

The dog is a 175-pound Newfoundland. That’s the conservative weight estimate; he could be five or ten over that. In other words, he outweighs me by a not-insignificant amount. He looks like nothing so much as a small bear. Fortunately, that means that even with my lame paw, I’m significantly faster and more agile.

Now, imagine walking this dog. Imagine walking this dog through a playground. He makes a lot of friends, and several of them have met him before. I guess when you’re a big even by Newf standards, you’re memorable. I’m a popular guy for a few minutes, and everyone asks the same questions. Not that this is really anything new.

Posted by pjm at 4:07 PM | Comments (0)

July 9, 2004


I found, amid the snowdrift of papers, cables and computer parts which is my desk, a second-pass page from one of our recent books with a footnote the editor thought I would find interesting.

Many individuals now consider posting data on the World Wide Web to be a means of permanently archiving data. This is illusory. First, it is simply a transfer of responsibility from you to the computer system manager (or other information technology professional.) By placing your electronic archival copy on the Web, you imply a belief that regular backups are made and maintained by the system manager. Every time a system is upgraded, the data have to be copied from the old server to the new one. Most laboratories or departments do not have their own systems managers, and the interests of college or university computing centers in archiving and maintaining Web pages and data files do not necessarily parallel those of individual investigators. Second, server hard disks fail regularly (and often spectacularly.) Last, the Web is neither permanent nor stable. GOPHER and LYNX have disappeared, FTP is being replaced by HTTP, and HTML, the current language of the web, is already being phased out in favor of (the not entirely compatible) XML. All of these changes to the functionality of the World Wide Web and the accessibility of files stored within it have occurred within 10 years. It often is easier to recover data from notebooks that were hand-written in the nineteenth century than it is to recover data from Web sites that were digitally “archived” in the 1990s!

Now playing: Speechless from School Of Fish by School Of Fish

Posted by pjm at 3:03 PM | Comments (0)

Under the porch

A drawback to time in the pool is that you can write off two days of sneezing as the effects of accidental inhalation of chlorinated water. By the time I figured out it was a cold, I’d missed my window of zinc opportunity.

I spent last night largely on the couch, finishing one book and starting another. Watching the cat sleep, and have his sleep be disturbed by thunderstorms. Drinking, sometimes orange juice. Taking phone calls for (and from) A. Rebuilding my blood volume.

I hope my ears stop popping soon. I have a caching binge planned for the weekend. I want to hit everything left within eight miles of home (six caches) and make a dent in the ten-mile radius (eight more, but several are multi-caches.)

Or, I could just crawl under the porch and come out when I feel better.

Now playing: Judas from Wonderland by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 11:47 AM | Comments (0)

The man with the coffee

When I was home, I heard about the death of my high school swim coach, Denny Bunn, by way of an effusive editorial in the local weekly. I’d actually been thinking about Denny (we only called him “Mr. Bunn” when he was substitute teaching) quite a bit lately, as I spent more and more time in the pool. He was the sort of guy who made you miss him when he was gone, and even though he and his wife had left town for Florida several years before, we still wanted to tell stories—to wake him, I suppose.

We told about how he spent some time urchin diving in the dead of winter—cold, dark, dangerous work that Denny was not only overqualified for (we couldn’t say with certainty if, in his time in the Navy, he had been with the SEALs or underwater demolition, but we agreed that it didn’t make much difference) but seemed willing to do on a volunteer basis, just for the challenge.

We talked about how he took a few of us down to UNH one winter to go orienteering—one coach, three kids, and I couldn’t have had my license more than two or three months, so I was six feet tall when he asked if I could drive. He must have known.

We talked about the time we were getting ready for the annual 4th of July weekend triathlon, where his wife was the race director, and some of us did a practice swim in Center Pond. Center Pond isn’t very deep, created, like several inlets on this section of river, largely for the ice trade. Those of us who had spent the spring running were thrashing along, and Denny was playing; then, once, he porpoised and found himself nose to nose with a snapping turtle. According to the story, he then stood up out of the water to show us the turtle, which he had by the hind flippers.

The time we led him out on a big loop through some very rocky trails in West Bath with his dog, Nate, and I worked out that Nate had been on longer runs than I had. (That was before 20 miles became my gold standard for a “long run.”)

How, when I was living in Pennsylvania, one of my co-workers returned from the “Wife-Carrying Championships” in Bethel and asked me, “Do you know Denny Bunn?” One more connection in a wide circle of… friends? Teammates? Training partners? Accomplices?

“We” was always a different set of people. Denny and his wife didn’t have any children—none in the house, anyway. They adopted entire schools.

We didn’t talk about the cookouts at their house. (“The burgers are ready, are there any buns?” “Yes, two.”) Or mention how he convinced me that I could finish an Olympic-distance triathlon on high-school training. How he kept me out for two years of swimming despite my clear lack of anything like an aptitude for the sport; I remember a post-practice discussion on the pool deck which foreshadowed one I would have two years later with my college advisor, as he pointed out that quitting was probably the worst thing I could do in terms of my own stress level. How we had taken a school bus to Bar Harbor to swim against MDI, started the meet at some ungodly hour (9 PM?) then took the whole bus full over to Sandy Beach in the morning and ran screaming into the ocean. In January.

We never figured out how two people with such powerful southern accents turned up in mid-coast Maine and made so many friends so quickly. I suppose we couldn’t help it. We were wondering what we’d done to make them stay.

It’s been years. I imagine, in that time, hundreds more high school kids had Denny pass through their lives, probably with a bigger splash than he made in mine.

Damn, we were lucky.

Posted by pjm at 7:10 AM | Comments (23)

July 8, 2004

How is it working?

I’ve been harping on alternative browsers a lot in the last month or so, in particular Mozilla’s Firefox.

If you’ve taken my advice (or someone else’s) and replaced MSIE with Firefox, and you like it, you can help others by saying so! Head over to C|Net’s Download.com (you’ll need to select “Internet: Browsers” to get the appropriate version for your platform) and review Firefox. As Asa says:

We’re not suggesting any comment for these reviews and we’re not telling you how to rate Firefox, but we’re confident that Firefox users love the application and if all of you who are using Firefox and reading this blog will add a review and if you each get a handful of friends and family to do the same that the Firefox listing will be absolutely buzzing and our friends over at c|net will take notice and that will earn us feature status and the eyeballs that brings.

Now playing: Junior Mint from Yellow No.5 [EP] by Heatmiser

Posted by pjm at 9:02 AM | Comments (1)

Delusions of grandeur

Last night I dreamed I had to make hurried preparations to get to Sacramento, because I’d forgotten I was running the 1500m at the Olympic Trials.

Aside from the usual late-and-unprepared component which is, I think, standard for anyone’s dreams, there’s some amusement in there. The 1500m is the event where, I think, American runners are currently least prepared to face the world, Alan Webb excepted; surely that’s why my subconscious picked it as the event where they’d have to go deep enough to call me up. (Never mind that I haven’t run 1500m in years; even when I was running my best at those distances I was forty or fifty seconds off the Trials qualifying marks.) In actual fact, I think Ned was the fastest non-qualifier for the second Trials in a row.

Probably what really sparked it was A.’s preparations last night for departure this morning, and my finding my track spikes while I was looking for something else. They’re still unworn since I picked them up at the local running store’s liquidation sale last fall. Ahh, shoes with teeth. They’re like lacing wings on your feet.

Now playing: Over Rising from Over Rising by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 8:29 AM | Comments (2)

July 7, 2004

Cheap date

After work this afternoon, I rode up to the new Sunderland Public Safety Complex for the blood drive.

I haven’t donated blood since I moved back up to Massachusetts. I had planned to in the fall of ‘01 (didn’t we all?) but then I heard that they didn’t need as much as they were getting—which was almost worse news than we had been getting, but that’s an old tale. Then I was training hard and racing well, and didn’t want to throw in the two-week speed bump that comes along with giving away a chunk of your oxygen-carrying capacity.

(For one or two days after donating, you’ve got a solid cap on your top-end speed; like a dog on an invisible fence, if you cross the effort line, you get zapped and might as well stop. But for a week or two after that, you’re still replenishing; you can do workouts and easy runs, but everything feels harder than it should. When I donated while training, before, I always thought of it as an oil change: I was giving away some used stuff and replacing it with high-test new stuff.)

So I fell out of the habit. Last week, though, someone sent an announcement of this drive around to the office, and I didn’t have any reason not to go.

Aside from the crowd (they set a goal of fifty, had fifty-three appointments, and most of the people waiting in line with me as we passed fifty for the day were walk-ins) it was uneventful. I was cracking wise with the attendants as usual (“I figured I’d give wholesale here, rather than retail to the mosquitos,”) and at some point made a comment about ten minutes spent horizontal being the best part of my day. “And we feed you, too!” they said. “It’s like a cheap date!” “Well, yes, but backwards.” I think I pumped half my packet full by laughing, which is just as well since they checked me out with a 50 bpm pulse and blood-pressure numbers that always sound low to me. I might’ve taken all day if they just let me sleep.

They were concerned about me riding all the way back to Amherst, even though I assured them I had a bus pass in my bag and the PVTA has bike racks on their buses this time of year. Still, problem solved—the guy on the table next to me was headed to Amherst for groceries, so after loading up on cookies, lemonade, and water, we slung my bike in the back of his pickup and he drove me home. Cheap date, indeed.

I probably could’ve made it on my own, but what would be the point? He’s burning the gas anyway, and it wouldn’t do me any good to get home in no shape to climb the stairs. (I did have all the gatorade dealers between Sunderland center and home mapped out in my mind…)

Now playing: Little Wings from Five Stories by Kris Delmhorst

Posted by pjm at 9:16 PM | Comments (0)

Bounty hunter

Today’s SANS Newsbites includes this note:

FTC Considering Spammer Bounties (30 June 2004)
The Federal Trade Commission is considering offering a bounty on spammers equal to at least 20% of any civil penalties the FTC collects. The FTC will report to Congress in September regarding the plan, after it has has time to compile and review expert testimony. The proposal has met with criticism; some say it would promote Internet vigilantism.

“Promote Internet vigilantism?” Are they serious? That’s like saying that watering your garden promotes rabbits.

Anyone who has done more than casual research into the anti-spam community is probably aware that internet vigilantism is the primary force keeping spam from rendering email (and Usenet, remember that?) unusable as a communications medium, and has been since the days of Canter and Siegel.

Those of us who administer mail servers have long been protecting our systems with the best firepower we can find, because we know there’s no public entity doing it for us. (Can we dispense with the fictional idea that CAN-SPAM did anything but fool some Congressmen into thinking they’d done something about the spam problem?) Offering bounties means the admins with the time can start bringing that firepower out and using it on behalf of the rest of us. Best thing the FTC has done in recent memory, I say. The only way they could top it would be authorizing the use of deadly force.

Now playing: Lawrence, KS from Golden Age of Radio by Josh Ritter

Posted by pjm at 1:40 PM | Comments (0)

Because no book should go thirty years without a sequel

Well, this should cause some oscillation on the running boards, if it hasn’t already…

Now playing: Come Home from Getting Away With It… Live (Disc 2) by James

Continue reading "Because no book should go thirty years without a sequel"

Posted by pjm at 12:21 PM | Comments (0)


“If the furnace is hot enough, it will burn anything.” —nutrition summarized in J.L. Parker’s Once a Runner

On a cool summer morning like this one, when my thin long-sleeve shirt is barely enough to keep my arms warm on my ride to work and the mist lies down in the stream beds before the sun rises enough to evaporate it, I can feel my breath like a plume of steam. It’s easy to imagine myself as the exhaust vent for some industrial boiler, burning slowly but completely. Or one of the giant coke works I used to see in Bethlehem, coming back towards Emmaus from points east on 78, cracking molecules in intense heat and spilling off the surplus in a colorful flare.

It’s nice to imagine myself with a surplus of anything, actually.

Now playing: P.S. from Laid by James

Posted by pjm at 9:36 AM | Comments (0)

July 6, 2004

The beginnings of a thought on zeal

About two hours ago, I was sitting in front of the Hampshire Bicycle Exchange, skimming a list of open water swims and meets in July.

I’m a bit late, of course; I missed the deadline for the Bay State Games and I’m honestly not sure if I’d be ready, on Saturday, to do a mile (presumably in the ocean) in Ocean City, Maryland. Leaving aside the driving I’d be doing to get there, of course.

Between that and the new bike, you’d think I’m getting a triathlon season going, but of course, I’m not running. (One of the bikers at my former workplace, and there were many, once told me, “A lot of cyclists are injured runners.”) For one thing, aside from some specialized training (for the transitions) triathlon training is largely about doing a half-assed training program for three different sports, rather than doing any one well. It’s too much like how I live my life, frankly, for me to want to do that as recreation.

That said, the thing that really spooks me about triathlons are triathletes. (I can say this because I have actually completed more than one triathlon.) Not because of the many pejorative names applied to them in the track-geek sites, but because of the level of zeal involved. It’s the same with cycling, actually, and the problems are similar. If I wanted to be taken seriously, I’d need a new bike which I have no room to store, a wetsuit, and bog knows how many accessory bits. I’d have to speak knowledgeably about my transition times, using the “T1” and “T2” shorthand. Etc. etc. until you’re sick of it. I don’t care that much.

I want to ride my bike to work and back. Maybe I’d like to claw my way around one of the local trails that allows bikes, or do some low-grade trekking, but I can barely take care of the bike that I have. I don’t want to have to make a triathlon kind of commitment. Running is easy—all you need is a good pair of shoes, really—but there are even some people who want you to make a big commitment to that (the sport, not just the shoes) before they’ll take you seriously. I think I’ve earned my bona fides in that sport even if I pull back from the commitment for a while, but the zealotry in other sports makes me cautious of even trying them.

I think sometimes people love something so much, they make it difficult for others to enjoy it because they want everyone else to love it just as much as they do.

Swimming’s pretty easy that way. I’ve liked the reception I’ve had there, though I haven’t spent a lot of time hanging out with swimmers other than my own family. The commitment in swimming is about learning the sport: getting comfortable with the strokes, building your strength and endurance, learning the techniques like flip turns and training sets. I feel like I’ve been given a chance to enter this sport with an incremental commitment, to get back according to what I put in and not be pressured for more.

Maybe I should go up to Jenny Thompson the weekend after next and do the long course meet?

Posted by pjm at 9:34 PM | Comments (0)

Cat wrangler

For some reason, the weekend wasn’t anywhere near as de-compressing as I’d hoped. I had a pretty short list of things I wanted to do, but I’d forgotten a few things about the way this particular holiday works, and didn’t even make it through my short list.

For some reason, Independence Day weekend has become a big thing in my family. It may be related to living in (near) a summer vacation spot, so more far-flung family is more than happy to come for a cookout and a short cruise on Whitecap. It may even be, to some degree, my fault; since I became one of those far-flung members of the family, I’ve regularly made the sometimes-heroic effort to be home for that holiday, probably second only to Christmas at this point. To top is off, the town itself makes a big deal of it.

Of course, what winds up happening is a sort of critical mass of relatives. The group becomes too large to easily round up and head out for a simple event; instead of putting three or four people in a car, you wind up with three or four different cars going everywhere. Base the whole thing in three different physical locations, add two very young children who, for various reasons, aren’t sleeping much and are consequently oscillating wildly between charming and cranky, and I wound up doing pretty much the same oscillation.

I did get to ride my brother’s bike around town for a good chunk of Sunday, which has pretty much convinced me that I need to replace mine. (This is probably not a coincidence, since my bike was my brother’s before he replaced it with the one I rode Sunday.) Aside from the fact that it was notably lighter, even accounting for the ten pounds of lunch and work clothes I normally load on for my commute, it had a nice pair of tires of the sort I would call “cross” tires; they’re knobby, but the knobs form a little ridge down the center line so they ride smoothly on flat pavement. It also had a nice seat, and the shifters were more likely than mine to smoothly switch gears without an intermediate squealing or scraping phase. (I spend a lot of time in the large chainring, and when I try to drop down to the middle ring, my bike prefers to drop me all the way down to the small ring, so I flail for a few seconds until I can compensate.)

I did not succeed in braving the Local Employment Powerhouse crowds in search of a new sleeping bag. I have aspirations of an easily-carried sleeping bag and small tent which could be used both on moderately-adventurous local bike treks and a hypothetical kayak journey, but since I’ve done nothing approaching either since a car-camping trip with friends into the wilds of New York about five years ago, I’m not sure who I’m fooling other than myself.

Now playing: We’re All Light from Wasp Star (Apple Venus, Pt. 2) by XTC

Posted by pjm at 11:32 AM | Comments (1)

July 5, 2004

One less car...

…would not be anywhere near enough on the Maine Turnpike this afternoon. Portland to Kittery flowed with all the ease of cholesterol-choked blood vessels, and there was no escaping on nearby capillaries, unless you wanted to go overland to New Hampshire and head down 93, which was probably no less congested.

Our own damn fault, of course, or probably just mine.

I’ve read, perhaps in the days when I had the time to read magazines and got Discover and PopSci, some theories from traffic engineers that suggested applying fluid dynamics science to traffic. The idea was that traffic resembles molecules in a container, and therefore echoes some of the normal rules governing pressure, volume, temperature, state, etc. So a certain volume of traffic can flow as a gas, but the addition of one or two extra cars will create a state change to liquid, and you’re crawling. Or the addition of a catalyst—someone taps the brakes, and the chain reaction stops traffic half a mile and three hundred cars back.

When I was voting in Maine, I voted at least once for the widened turnpike (which, by the end of this summer, is supposed to be, finally, three lanes each way as far north as Portland.) As a native in exile, I’ve suffered through the traffic and reveled in the ease by which I can move closer to home on the widened parts. It’s easy to understand the opposition; many in the state saw the two-lane road as a deterrent, and the three-lane road as a tailpipe spitting the human exhaust(ed) of Boston out wherever it ends (formerly between York and Wells, but now just South of Portland, where 295 forks off.)

Maybe they’re right. And maybe I’m part of that pollution now that I’m coming up in Yet Another Car with plates bearing neither lobster nor chickadee. (The chickadee, by the way, gets big thumbs up over the boiled crawdad featured on the so-called “lobster” plates. I still have the crawdad plates worn by my first two cars, and the Keystone State tag from my years there. Speaking of plates, in Pennsylvania I missed both the “You’ve got a friend in…” silliness, which might have forced me to buy a sticker bearing the words, “Not You,” and the later state website URL, which apparently was directing you to where you could file a complaint…)

Still, no matter the state on my license, it’s still home.

I won’t go in to the detailed reasons why I’m typing this from a Starbucks in North Chelmsford… we’ll just call it traffic frustration reaching critical mass, and leave it at that.

Posted by pjm at 8:18 PM | Comments (0)

July 3, 2004

Not quite there

The day’s seal count, I think, was three.

There will, eventually, be pictures, including one or two of the boat my family had when I was much younger.

I didn’t get my hundredth cache yet. I’m stuck at 99. And I’m almost as tired and cranky as my little nieces. As a regular on one of the lists I’m on says, is it bedtime yet?

Posted by pjm at 9:17 PM | Comments (0)

July 2, 2004

Listen to the Governor

If you’ve been listening to me carp for a while, you’ll find everything in this post to be old news.

In the wake of last week’s astounding nastiness, there are now at least two organizations, including the Department of “Homeland” Security (I don’t like that word, sorry) recommending that computer users use “anything but Internet Explorer” for web browsing.

DHS (CERT):It is possible to reduce exposure to these vulnerabilities by using a different web browser.”

SANS:Use a browser other then MSIE until the current vulnerabilities in MSIE are patched.

DHS, folks. The people who are supposed to be preparing us for the possibility of terrorist attack. This is comparable to your dentist telling you to floss or your teeth will fall out. Governor Ridge is telling you to use a different browser or the Russian Mafia will load up your system with malware. Point this out to your corporate IT folks when they give you grief for downloading and installing Firefox.

Microsoft is hedging, apparently. Asa pointed out Scoble’s post on the topic, which was essentially a petulant, “Well, the other browsers aren’t 100% secure, either.” No, they’re not. But isn’t 95% secure better than 50% secure? Come on. The internet is a rough neighborhood.

Now, everyone tired of me beating this dead horse, raise your hands. Oh, hey, I don’t see anyone with their hands raised!

Now playing: Higher In Time from Too Close To Heaven • The Unreleased Fisherman’s Blues Sessions by The Waterboys

Posted by pjm at 1:27 PM | Comments (3)

Explosive decompression

The past two weeks have felt a lot like everything coming to a head at once. At the beginning of last month I whined that “I have too many commitments on the back burner as it is.” Essentially, it’s the age-old problem of wanting to do too many things and not really understanding the time commitments when I get in to them. I had this problem in high school, and I haven’t gotten any better at saying, “No.” (Hence, I suppose, the title of the site.)

Anyway, two of my biggest time-sucks this spring are over now.

Last weekend was the bash in Boston that I was running the website for; essentially, I was home-brewing a CMS and registration database for them, and despite the fact that the principal organizer manages IT people and should understand the concept of clearly-defined objectives (not to mention normal forms) I was making changes late into the process; frequently I was “developing to deadline” in the sense that I was pushing input forms live before worrying about how I would then get the data back out in the form of reports.

Then yesterday was the last day of class. Final proof, I think, that online classes are a poor idea for this student; instead of six weeks of steady study, I wound up with, essentially, two (non-consecutive) weeks of cramming. This may not be the first time I’ve written and handed in an eight-page paper with less than twelve hours from beginning research to sending in the file, but I sincerely hope it’s the last. At any rate, no more class for the duration of the summer, and judging from the DGCE’s schedule for the fall, none in the fall either.

The abrupt transition from “too much to do” to “not enough to do” hasn’t happened yet; I still need to get out of here early and battle traffic up to Maine for the holiday weekend. But I’m hoping that extensive sleeping can be managed somewhere. Sitting in a sea breeze and actually doing nothing would be a nice commitment for a little while.

One hopes that I don’t relax into a little puddle of goo for lack of motivation. (Or, er, panic.)

Now playing: Believe You Me from Some Friendly by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 9:44 AM | Comments (1)

July 1, 2004

Now, that's just disgusting

You know you’re a real network geek when you see nothing strange about visiting a site called Bleeding Snort.

(OK, OK, the site is even more mystifying than that sentence if you don’t already get it. “Snort” is a tool for “network sniffing” or examining raw network packets for whatever reason. This site, which I just discovered in class research, is a collection of “bleeding-edge” rules for detecting certain fresh kinds of badness on the network. Hence “bleeding snort.” Exactly the sort of site which gets one massive prestige inside the geek community and really strange looks outside it: “Yeah, I manage the Bleeding Snort website…”)

Now playing: Trans-Neptunian Object #1 from Cherry Marmalade by Kay Hanley

Posted by pjm at 10:20 PM | Comments (1)

Foresight rocks (or, laziness as a career-enhancing move)

So, the vice-president looks in to my office and says, “We had a really good show at $tradeshow. So good that we sold out of books. So we told some people we’d extend the web-ordering discount on our site for another month so they could get the show discount. Can you do that?”

Five minutes later, I look in to his office, and say, “Sure, it’s done.” Because a year and a half ago (or so), I let my laziness guide me.

See, I’ve learned that hardwiring things only creates headaches for me. With a small company, you can change a policy by talking to two or three people, which means you can turn on a dime. That also means I could have fifteen little requests to tweak stuff on the website on a daily basis. Hand-coding those changes (hardwiring them) means that I get snowed under by this sort of thing. So sometime around the first time I was asked to implement a discount process for the website, I hardwired it first (so it was working,) then went back and re-did it so that anything that could possibly be manipulated (discount rate, date range, range of titles it applies to, precedence, whatever) was a database field, and the discount process got everything from the database. Because basically, I’m too lazy to hand-code all that stuff every time someone asks.

The “spring discount” ended last night, whenever the server’s clock rolled over midnight. (Something else to consider—that server’s clock doesn’t bear much relation to any actual location. It seems to have its own uninhabited time zone in the mid-Atlantic.) But with one database query this afternoon, it was extended to the end of July. And, because I’m lazy, I look good because I can make changes that quickly.

I tell you—Laziness, Impatience and Hubris. I’ll make it yet. Now, about that final project…

Update: How did I let myself write, “was lazy”? It’s the last day of class and I haven’t written the final paper…

Now playing: Little Wings from Five Stories by Kris Delmhorst

Posted by pjm at 2:15 PM | Comments (0)

Sympathy for the wrong character

Some geeks do television sci-fi. I didn’t do television very much; instead I developed a fondness for James Bond movies. Not that I was impressed with, say, “Die Another Day,” but there’s always something to be impressed with.

In particular, in “Goldeneye” there was this Russian hacker. To me, he seemed like a relatively sympathetic character, if only because he was generally hacking in a misguided effort to impress the girl. (Who, of course, ended up with Bond. Sorry, Moneypenny.)

Maybe the thing I identified with was the physical expression of what he was doing. When he was working on a program, he wasn’t just furiously tapping at the keyboard; what was going on in his head had him positively bursting with fidgets until he could express it in working code. He perpetually clicked a ballpoint pen open and closed (which, in a world which still included Q, is never a good idea.) He bounced his feet. And, when he made it work, he would leap to his feet and announce triumphantly, “I am in-veen-cible!”

Every now and then I code something and get just that feeling. But I don’t think anyone would get the reference if I jumped up and shouted, “I am in-veen-cible!”

Anyway, this guy winds up, of course, working for the Bad Guy, due to his unfortunately questionable ethics, and therefore dies a suitably dramatic and supposedly well-deserved death. I wonder if I was the only geek in the audience thinking, “Dude! That was a great hack! Why’d he have to die?”

Now playing: You Wreck Me from Wildflowers by Tom Petty

Posted by pjm at 9:36 AM | Comments (0)