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December 31, 2004

Four down, one to go

I mailed the fourth application today, and submitted the online data. This one gives me a PDF of all the data, so I can easily resubmit if they screw it up. I also resubmitted the dud, and this time got an actual credit card response for the application fee. (I’m spending something like $300 on applications.) The deferral is complete and confirmed. It’s not clear if they are dropping me in the fall applicant pool or the fall acceptance pool, but the spring acceptance makes me confident enough not to worry too much.

I have all the supporting documents (transcripts, recommendation letters, etc.) for the fifth and final one, due on January 15th, in a big envelope on my desk. I just need to finish the application (online,) put a cover letter in the application, address it and mail it (probably Monday.) Then all I can do is wait for responses. I think I’d rather wait than deal with the choices that will come with the responses.

Posted by pjm at 6:48 PM | Comments (2)


Sometime last summer, an enterprising (and somewhat mean-spirited, I think) graffiti “artist” used a stencil to apply a slogan to a number of spots on Amherst’s downtown sidewalks. The message, applied in red, was something like, “The head of a woman is a man,” with the enigmatic citation, “The Bible.”

Now, before we get too jacked up about the implied message here, let’s consider the delivery. First, “normal” and believable citations of Biblical verses usually carry a somewhat more specific citation, like “Romans 1:15,” indicating the fifteenth verse of the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (or some other book.) The implication is, “Don’t believe me, look it up.” Further, quoting small verses from the Bible without benefit of context is like saying that the Constitution protects my right to a handgun without considering the implications of my membership in a well-organized militia. The context is everything; this could have been a statement of a misguided Biblical character, soon to be put right by the voices of Good.

In short, without context or citation, it was a pretty silly thing to spray on sidewalks. Unless, of course, you’re just trying to piss people off, which is not hard to do around here.

Before the graffiti could be removed, someone reached several of them with a cruder message. In hand-scrawled black paint, it suggested one perform an obscenity I hadn’t thought possible with a book, using an imperative which left it unclear whether the reader or the original spray-painter was supposed to be following through.

Both messages had to be covered with white paint, leaving a number of white rectangles scattered around the downtown sidewalks.

We’ve had a few snow-and-ice storms this winter, and the town has been diligently sanding and applying ice-melt to the sidewalks. Combined with foot traffic, the white paint is beginning to flake away. The red paint of the original stencils is coming with it, but the black-painted reaction isn’t. If this continues, rather than a vague and poorly-argued slur against the intelligence of women, we’ll have only a quite direct and obscene dismissal of religion.

You have to laugh at the way we fight fire with fire around here. Otherwise, you’d cry.

Posted by pjm at 5:28 PM | Comments (0)

December 30, 2004

How to demolish corporate systems security

A year or so ago, I was tinkering around with geocaching trade items. I had, briefly, been putting Linux CDs in caches, but at the rate I was caching, three-disk Red Hat sets were prohibitively time-intensive, so I went looking for single-disk distributions. What I found was the “Live CD” distros. (Jargon note: “distro” is a shortening of “distribution,” which is Linux-community jargon for a complex of software, installation scripts, and a Linux kernel available for installation as a complete operating system. You can’t get plain-vanilla “Linux”; Linux itself is only a kernel. Instead, there are dozens of options customized for particular purposes, or intended to run on as wide a variety of hardware as possible.)

A “Live CD” is an entire operating system on a single 650 MB ISO. The most widely known is Knoppix, which uses most of the CD to provide a pretty versatile experience; another which I played with is called Puppy Linux, which is almost small enough for a Zip disk and includes only a seriously pared-down suite of software. The key is that the CDs themselves are bootable. This means you can walk in to your office, sit down at the WinXP box your Microsoft-minded IT department forced on you, boot from the Live CD and work in Linux, with the hard disk of the computer available to you as a writable volume. (The Knoppix distro I played with also let you use a floppy disk to store volatile ~/ information like a .bash_profile file.) There’s a possible performance disadvantage if the machine doesn’t have enough RAM to keep the operating system in memory and has to hit the CD, but most of the Live CD distros are configured with this in mind; Puppy claims to free the CD completely, allowing you to remove the disk after booting and use the drive for other purposes.

Let me repeat that concept from a slightly different perspective: a Live CD lets you override the installed operating system and all its safeguards, and use your own system, right down to the kernel. If you are a corporate IT type, you’re probably not too concerned about your users at this level. If they’re bright enough to know how a Live CD works, they’re bright enough to understand systems security concepts, or should be; if they’re not, that’s a user-education issue, not something to be solved with software or hardware.

However, the idea of someone coming in from outside—posing as the FedEx guy, no doubt—and sitting down at one of your systems with a Live CD, that idea should reduce you to a paranoid wreck, assuming you haven’t already delegated someone to password-protect the BIOS of every box on your network.

Wait, wait, it gets worse: with a few innocent inquiries on a listserv this evening, I discovered that there is a Linux distribution customized for USB keychain drives.

Now we’re talking. I laugh at your clunky Windows desktop. I have a penguin in my pocket.

Posted by pjm at 9:45 PM | Comments (1)

Sonya Kitchell at the Iron Horse

I accepted a last-minute invitation to see Sonya Kitchell at the Iron Horse last night. (I wouldn’t mind going back to see Erin McKeown tonight, but I’ve got deadlines.) Kitchell is a local who has had a lot of buzz in the area newspapers lately. She’s been singing around the area for two or three years now, starting out singing with jazz bands and eventually headlining her own band (last night’s performance was, officially, “The Sonya Kitchell Band.”) I was curious after the big writeup in last week’s paper.

The band is largely a jazz band (just a four-piece, last night: piano, guitar, bass, drums) and they showed that, particularly when they let the pianist, Miro Sprague, improvise for a bit on his own. They were really tight, and having a good time; it would have been a worthwhile show just to watch them play. They started out sounding like a Steely Dan session crew, but progressed back to something more like a small jazz ensemble with a heavy blues preference.

Kitchell’s website quotes comparisons to Norah Jones and Natalie Merchant. I can see the Merchant comparison, except that Kitchell doesn’t seem as brittle as Merchant does. She’s still more comfortable singing than talking to the crowd, but she’s aware of that and working on it.

The thing that she would rather not talk about is her age. Kitchell isn’t old enough to drive, and Sprague (I think the only member of her original band who played last night) isn’t much older. A few years ago I remember seeing signs around Northampton for “The Sonya Kitchell Band Goes to College” (Footnote: “Except Sonya.”) I can’t say I blame her; it’s hard to get a fair review when the theme is, “Pretty good for a fifteen-year-old.”

There are two songs playing on her website; you tell me if they sound like a fifteen-year-old. Seems more like we need to wonder if we really know what we’re supposed to sound like at that age.

Now Playing: The Million You Never Made from Not A Pretty Girl by Ani DiFranco

Posted by pjm at 2:37 PM | Comments (4)

December 29, 2004


Maybe it’s the applications. Maybe it’s the feeling at the base of my skull like my brain is gnawing its way out. But whatever the reason, the end of the year is feeling more like a deadline than anything else. And it’s a deadline for a project I haven’t started. I don’t even know what it is.

Now Playing: Impossible from Us And Us Only by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 4:19 PM | Comments (1)

Spam from MacMall

I just got spam offering to sell me a variety of prescription drugs, addressed to an email box I used only for ordering from MacMall.

It should be interesting to see how they explain this. Their website is crawling; maybe they’ve been compromised? In any case, this is almost certainly a screaming violation of their privacy policy, assuming they have one.

Now Playing: MacMall’s hold music (nasty stuff, by the way)

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

December 28, 2004

He's come undone

I wouldn’t believe this if I hadn’t seen it: a site dedicated to tying shoelaces.

Now Playing: We’re Coming Out from Let It Be by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 2:18 PM | Comments (1)

Shoulder update

I did a swimming workout with my brother on Sunday, and did about 1700y, which is a bit more than half of what I “should” be doing, but about three times more than I’ve done in one session since Thanksgiving, due to the shoulder. Sure, a lot of it was pushing the kick board, but he also showed me the three different “sculling” drills and I did quite a bit of that. Sculling involves hauling oneself down the pool without, say, moving one’s arms above the elbow. I think of it as proof that you actually can get somewhere with a lot of hand-waving.

The three drills focus on hand position at the catch (hands out), halfway through the stroke (hands at shoulder level) and at the end of the stroke (hands at waist level.) They really load your forearms. He showed me how the catch involves loading a series of muscles from forearms down to the shoulders, and since all of them are pulling on the others, a weak link will eventually strain. Then he showed me how different degrees of torso twist involve different chains of muscles, and thus perhaps my tendency not to breathe on the left is responsible for me straining my left shoulder and not my right.

I wonder if I’ll be functional in time to try the One Hour Swim this year. I wonder if I’ll be able to do it somewhere I can get a lap counter.

Now Playing: Sound from Getting Away With It… Live (Disc 2) by James

Posted by pjm at 12:45 PM | Comments (0)

Homer presents

I used to work with a guy whose annual Christmas tradition was exchanging “Homer gifts” with his wife. The name comes from a Simpsons episode where Homer buys Marge a bowling ball (with “Homer” engraved in it) for her birthday. In this case, he and his wife each went out, bought something for themselves, then wrapped it and gave it to the other.

Honestly, I didn’t have that in mind.

I ordered a “normal” iPod for A. before she mentioned that she was thinking of getting a Mini. It happens that she probably won’t even fill the 4 GB the Mini has, but the smallest regular iPod is 20 GB. Meanwhile, I use a “3G” model (actually 10 GB) which I have packed to the gills. The battery is toast, but since the two contexts where I use it the most (hooked to a machine running iTunes, or in the car) provide direct power, that hasn’t bothered me too much.

Anyway, for some reason a trade was negotiated whereby I get the new 20 GB unit (which has already been named “Twenty”) in exchange for my 10 GB unit (retroactively named “Ten,”) but only after I perform another round of iPod surgery to install a newer, longer-lived battery in “Ten,” making it better-suited to use on a treadmill. That process will probably also hard-reset the unit to factory settings, so aside from the scuffs of time, it will be “like new” but with a better battery than the ones Apple uses.

That was not, honestly, what I had in mind when I bought the gift… actually, I had mentioned just buying myself one and handing down “Ten,” but I didn’t think it would work with Windows. Now, having seen how “Twenty” works, I think it probably will.

Now Playing: Sweet Adeline from XO by Elliott Smith

Posted by pjm at 11:37 AM | Comments (0)

December 27, 2004

I'm no longer so impressed...

…with online graduate school applications.

In processing materials submitted in support of applications, we see we have received your letters of recommendation and transcripts along with your cover letter indicated [sic] you applied online. We have no record of your application, payment, personal statement or residency statement. We had been having problems with the online application. Please resubmit the application and other online materials.

Update, 28 December: They say they are honoring applications received by the “old” deadline of 15 January. (15 December was a new deadline this year.) Still… I wonder if this is foreshadowing. Are they always this much of an administrative train-wreck?

Posted by pjm at 10:00 PM | Comments (1)

December 24, 2004

Holiday card

Cat with candy cane

Take your Christmas spirit where you find it…

Posted by pjm at 11:04 AM | Comments (0)

December 23, 2004

Office disruption

My boss’s kids are getting a kitten for Christmas. He adopted it from the shelter this afternoon, and it just arrived in his office, a long-haired grey tiger. She’s a tiny little thing, only eight weeks old, but not at all shy; she pushed her head right up into my palm when I scratched behind her ears. She’s much smaller than Iz was when we adopted him.

She stays at a neighbor’s tonight, then arrives at her new home on Christmas Eve, after the kids are asleep.

Needless to say, there’s a regular chorus of coos coming from next door as two-thirds of the office makes excuses to visit.

Now Playing: The Last Polka from Ben Folds Live by Ben Folds

Posted by pjm at 3:13 PM | Comments (0)

Papered with good intentions

I hope nobody was holding their breath waiting for a holiday card from me. I think it’s time I accepted that the years I actually manage to get cards in the mail are more the exception than the rule; it’s happened maybe once or twice in the past decade.

It’s only receiving cards that makes me feel at all guilty about it. With the exception of my parents, the people I get paper cards from tend to be people I see only a few times in a given year, if at all; one arrived today from a member of a small training group I used to run with once or twice a month in DC, nearly five years ago. I last saw him in Birmingham, Alabama, as we dashed around downtown watching the men’s Olympic Marathon Trials. I can’t say that much of his letter meant much to me (I’m not sure I ever met his wife, for instance) but relatively speaking, he’s maintaining our connection, and I’m the mute one. That’s the pattern.

I’m hemmed in by the feeling that if I just try to email everyone, it’s too impersonal, but the idea of hunting up postal addresses and writing is the barrier (well, one of them) that keeps actual paper from heading out. The deadline is tedious, too. Maybe I should just blow off the deadline, get some season-neutral cards, and send everyone a card in, say, February, when we could all use the pick-up anyway.

I did have a first this year: an e-card from someone I (previously) knew only by an online “handle.” (You know who you are.) It did take some thinking to suss out the connection and recognize that it wasn’t utterly random mail.

In the spirit of giving, though, I may just not post very much over the holiday weekend, unless something absolutely begs to be written up. I wouldn’t want you all to come back from the long weekend and be too far behind on your weblog reading.

Now Playing: Comedown from Magician Among The Spirits by The Church

Posted by pjm at 2:53 PM | Comments (0)

December 22, 2004

Update on the application process

I’ve only mentioned graduate school applications in passing, lately, but there has been a lot going on in that area.

Back in the fall, when I was frustrated with the holding pattern, I sent an application to the one program on my list which allows students to start in the spring semester. Has anyone ever told you, “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it?” Earlier this month, they accepted me, and I discovered that while I (still) can easily see them as a good choice, I wasn’t ready to deal with such a telescoped time frame (at best, six weeks between the offer and the start of classes. And many more complications, which I won’t detail here.)

So, with mixed feelings, I asked them to defer until the fall. They haven’t confirmed that yet, which makes me very nervous about the whole situation, but aside from politely nagging them, there’s not much I can do, right now. I know, other people would love to have my problems.

I revised my list of schools (having one acceptance in my pocket (hopefully) made me slightly less cautious about programs,) and I’ve sent two of the four remaining applications. I have only one more recommendation letter to ask for and two which are requested but haven’t come back, all for one application; all the transcripts are in, and the résumé and “statement of purpose” have already been polished and used a few times, so they only need final molding to the requirements of the relevant applications.

I have, belatedly, become a fan of the online application; aside from transcripts and letters, I’ve been able to submit everything online. (I suppose I had to use the phone to get ETS to send around my GRE scores, but even that was an automated phone system.) Instead of amassing all the documentation and plowing through an application in one sitting, I can fill in bits and pieces, save, and come back to the site later. (There are a lot of bits and pieces.) Some of them have “Check Application” functions which run through and show you areas you’ve missed or incorrectly filled out. The drawback is that this infinite editing capacity allows me to fuss over them endlessly. And this has made some things a struggle, particularly in talking to the program which accepted me. I’ve even had a hard time composing and sending email messages.

I’m not sure what I want to happen. No, that’s not true: I want to have an easy decision, whatever it is. Just one option, or at least a clear difference between a good choice and a bad one. Once the decision is made, I’m confident it’s going to come out well, but that confidence paradoxically makes the decisions harder.

Now Playing: Area 51 from Tellin’ Stories by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 11:12 AM | Comments (1)

December 21, 2004

Back in action

I left for work a bit early this morning, and made a trip down to the south end of town to leave three boxes of books at Reader to Reader. I had originally planned to leave them at the local library, barely a block from the apartment, but there was hassle involved (call to arrange a drop-off, none of these books, none of those books, etc.) and there was a link on their page to Reader to Reader, who seemed ready to take anything I had to offer. And I could just swing by and drop them off.

When I was in college, moving my books meant three boxes, and I think mentally I still thought they were three boxes even after I swamped all available bookshelves in post-graduation apartments. My parents gradually offloaded the ten full shelves in my old bedroom to me, and I just keep accumulating them. There’s something comforting, to me, about having them available for re-reading. I’m not good at borrowing books, probably because I’m worried that I’ll like them and not want to return them. However, I’d estimate my current library requires forty-five to fifty linear feet of shelving.

In the moves I’ve made since returning to Massachusetts, I’ve begun sorting out ones I’m pretty sure I won’t re-read, and giving them away. I’ve given boxes to the Jones and Forbes Libraries, and now Reader to Reader. It’s not easy to let go of them, but when I realized that I couldn’t remember what was in these boxes, I took it as a good sign I wouldn’t miss them.

Beyond that, what’s motivating me this time is the clear destination for the books. With the libraries, it’s a bit ambiguous; sometimes the books go on the shelves, sometimes to the book sale, whatever. With Reader to Reader, they’re all going to libraries otherwise low on books. They’re going back into circulation, instead of stagnating on my shelves. I like that idea.

Now Playing: Fred Jones, Part 2 from Rockin’ The Suburbs by Ben Folds

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


Something went haywire with the thermostat last night, and the temperature in the office this morning was in the fifties. Most people are still wearing their coats. I’d be fine without my coat; it’s my mittens I miss. I made an extra-hot mug of chocolate, and rather than drinking it, I’m periodically wrapping my hands around it to keep my fingers warm enough to type.

Now Playing: Because Of You from Go! by Letters To Cleo

Posted by pjm at 10:02 AM | Comments (2)

December 20, 2004

Open letter to the driver of the car in front of me

If you sweep the four inches of powder off your hood, it won’t blow up in your windshield when you start driving.

By extension, if you sweep the four inches of powder off your roof and trunk, if won’t blow off on my windshield when I’m following you.

This is also important when there is a crust on the snow (as there was the other week) and it’s coming off your roof in big slabs.

Now Playing: Little Wing from Still in Hollywood by Concrete Blonde

Posted by pjm at 10:04 AM | Comments (3)

December 19, 2004

The Christmastime kitten

This will be Iz’s second Christmas with us; he was adopted on the 27th, two years ago. This year, his normal hosts when we travel are also going to be away for the holidays, so we have a bit of a conundrum.

  • We could bring him with us. He’s a pretty good cat in the car for short trips, but this is a four-hour drive, much longer than he’s ever done before. And there’s the risk that he will decide my allergic-to-cats sister-in-law is his new best friend.
  • He could piggy-back on whatever dog-sitting the famous dog will have. This seems unlikely.
  • We could find someone who would come here at least once a day to feed him and play with him for a little while. Again, this seems unlikely, and both of these solutions leave him alone for most of the day.
  • We could find a place to board him.

I can’t really imagine him being happy with any of these solutions. I wish we could just ask him what he’d want to do.

Posted by pjm at 1:23 PM | Comments (2)

December 18, 2004

Calorie budget

With an indoor cat, there’s always some issues with getting his exercise. Tonight we (briefly) considered, instead of feeding him, releasing a live mouse into the apartment twice a day. We’d have to make it harder for the mouse to hide, though.

Posted by pjm at 10:22 PM | Comments (0)

About those library books...

I find this somehow unsettling.

Maybe it’s the motorcycle.

Now Playing: The Shadowlands from Love Is Hell by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 1:00 PM | Comments (0)

December 17, 2004

Automated bureaucracy

The server is crashing, repeatedly, this afternoon. I thought, for a while, that I knew what was bringing it down, but it turns out I was wrong. (I’m working with a different theory, now, but I could be wrong about that one, too.)

This would be a relatively minor irritant except that the system, like many, insists on running chkdisk on startup whenever it was not properly shut down. It’s a pretty lightweight processor and a big disk, so it takes anywhere from fifteen to twenty minutes to check the disk. For that time, the whole office is disconnected from the ‘net. I’d far rather it just bring the system up, and then check the disk, but I don’t know how to manage that.

Now Playing: Questions from Still Burning by Mike Scott

Posted by pjm at 5:06 PM | Comments (0)

December 16, 2004

"A security issue has been identified..."

“…that could allow an attacker to compromise your Windows-based system and gain control over it. You can help protect your computer by installing this update from Microsoft. After you install this item, you may have to restart your computer.”

That’s the description on three of the four updates waiting when I booted the WinXP box today. (It sits unused for long blocks of time, so updates can build up.)

With all the worms bouncing around the ‘net claiming to be an emergency security patch from Microsoft, just trust us and double-click the attached file, you’d think that Microsoft would be a bit more specific about the details of updates, even in Windows Update, instead of cutting and pasting this null-content boilerplate. How easy would it be to spoof a Windows update now that we’ve all been trained that there’s no important information in the update description field? “Oh, the details aren’t important,” says Microsoft, “just trust us and install the update.”

The vague description is reflexive—it applies to itself.

It’s making me more inclined to believe the “Windows as a virus” theory.

Now Playing: Earn Enough For Us from Skylarking by XTC

Posted by pjm at 4:59 PM | Comments (1)

Baa, no humbug

I am more wakeful than usual at work today.

There’s been a flock of sheep pastured behind our building for most of the last two weeks, a shop’s worth of raw socks and sweaters on the hoof. I couldn’t actually see them from my office, but whenever I passed a window where I could, I had to stop and watch them for a little while. Often you could spot the dog which was keeping a watchful eye on them. This morning, they gathered up the flock and trucked them off.

I can only say “a flock,” though. I never did finish counting them.

Now Playing: The Old Apartment from Born On A Pirate Ship by Barenaked Ladies

Posted by pjm at 1:50 PM | Comments (0)

More defensive measures

Email this morning from my web host sent a blanket announcement about load problems they’re having due to weblog comment spam, largely to MT weblogs like this one. They mentioned that they’re blocking the IP addresses causing the most problems, but asked us to

“…please do what you can to reduce the likelihood of your site being a target. Install any applicable anti-spam plugins or disable comments on your weblog altogether.”

I do, in fact, have some of the toughest available defenses installed, here and on a few similar installations I help out with. I’m more than a little concerned, however, since some recent reading suggests that I might be winning something of a Pyrrhic victory—the defenses themselves might swamp the system, given a sufficient spam-load.

So, I’m taking a few other steps as I have time today, which may temporarily break things. (I’m moving mt-comment.cgi, if you care.) In the long term, I’m interested the utility of other strategies like “captchas” and TypeKey but I’m concerned that they ultimately hand the nuisance caused by the spammers—who, by the way, provoke mental profanity so vicious that I actually surprise myself—on to you, the innocent commenters. Eeeugh.

Now Playing: Free Will from Night Opens by Rich Price

Posted by pjm at 9:54 AM | Comments (2)

December 15, 2004

Compound fracture

A few years ago, I picked up a drop-leaf end table at the annual Bryant Homestead craft festival. It’s been useful for holding phones and plants and things, and a few days ago A. started using it as a temporary laptop desk in front of the couch. And then last night I noticed that one of the legs, which has a pretty good sized knot in it, has split almost completely through at the knot.

I think the leg is pretty much finished; there’s no point in “splinting” it. I suppose I could glue it at the break, but I don’t think I’d trust that. It looks like the top end of the leg is glued in to the tabletop; I’d have to amputate somewhere below the tabletop and put on a new leg.

This sounds nice in general, but the devil is certainly in the details. I suppose I’ll need to join it with pegs. (Trunnels?)

Now Playing: Beautiful Night from Josh Ritter by Josh Ritter

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

Painful realization

It’s no good breathing a sigh of relief.

It doesn’t matter how long you agonized over the wording of the email or considered the implications and phrasing. Sending the message does not resolve the issue. Sending the message invites a reply, which you can then anticipate with trepidation.

I really have to get better at this communication thing. It’s hard to find a good hermitage nowadays.

Now Playing: Independence Day from XO by Elliott Smith

Posted by pjm at 3:21 PM | Comments (0)


It is relatively well known that any e-mail address which appears on a website is likely to attract spam. Spammers spider the web looking for strings that look like email addresses, and plug them in to the vile flow. I tested this by using multiple addresses on one of my domains; spam comes almost exclusively to the one I had on my website. Many message-board type websites mangle (or “munge”) the addresses of those who comment in order to keep the addresses from being machine-recognizable; that’s where you get spelled-out things like the addresses on comments at the PHP site, “user at domain dot tld” and the like.

On the other hand, it is considered good form to let people know how to reach you by e-mail, and it is user-friendly to have a clickable link with the mailto:address@domain.tld format, so visitors can just click the link to start a message.

There’s a balance, and it’s created by using spammers’ techniques against them. They frequently duck content filters by sending HTML content in an “encoded” format which is decoded by the mail reader but doesn’t have the magic trigger strings when the filter goes through the plain text. I’ve taken to doing the same thing with email addresses on websites.

I encode email addresses to entities. There are named entities for certain characters, like the ampersand (&) or em-dash (—) but one can use ASCII numbers to encode any character in the standard ASCII set, including numbers and letters and @ symbols. So address@domain.tld becomes address­@­domain­.­tld. This isn’t an email address to a spider combing the page for addresses; however, a browser will render it as though it was plainly typed.

This method only works as long as the spammers’ address-scrapers are relatively dumb. If they start decoding entities, we’re in trouble (again.)

I wrote a little Perl filter to encode these for me. If you’re using BBEdit (and if you’re not, why not?) put this in a file in your /Applications/BBEdit/BBEdit Support/Unix Support/Unix Filters/ folder. To encode a chunk of text, highlight what you want to encode, then go to the #! menu, look under “Unix Filters” and select whatever you named this file. I’m still using BBEdit 6.5, but I’m relatively certain it will still work with BBEdit 8. (Anyone care to send me a copy to test with?)

#!/usr/bin/perl -w

while (<>) {
    for ($i=0; $i < length($_); $i++) {
        $out = ord(substr($_, $i, 1));
        print "\&\#", $out, "\;";

As an added bonus, if you run the script from the command line (echo "address@domain.tld" | ./entity_conv.pl) it will display the entities on standard output (with a trailing carriage return entity, &#10;, unfortunately.)

I haven’t a clue how this would work in Windows, and I’m not sure I want one. But it’s Perl, after all; it should be workable somehow.

Now Playing: Capsized from You Were Here by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 10:45 AM | Comments (1)

December 14, 2004


I took an errands-walk this morning, mostly dealing with the logistics of the myriad bits of paper involved in graduate school applications (yes, even when submitting most of them on-line.) On my way from the Registrar’s to the post office, I crossed paths with one of my old professors.

That description is a bit of understatement. His was the first classroom I entered in my undergraduate career, first semester, first year, more than twelve years ago now. I hadn’t even seated myself when he had me pegged: “It’s [pjm], the only person in the entering class to have a high school named after him.” We discovered later that he was known for, among other things, memorizing the facebook for each incoming class, and not forgetting for years afterward. I had two more classes with him before graduating, so even now, there’s no chance of passing him on the street unrecognized.

He quizzed me briefly about what I was up to, (“What brings you to this spot, right now,”) noted another former student supposedly teaching in one of the departments I am applying to, then sent me on my way saying, “It’s good to see you, you never change.”

That puzzled me most of the way to the post office. It’s entirely likely that he was talking about my physical appearance, since I could still pass for an undergraduate if I wanted to, despite my advanced age. Beyond that, I wonder what he sees that I don’t.

Now Playing: Not The Same from Where You Been by Dinosaur Jr

Posted by pjm at 10:26 AM | Comments (1)

December 13, 2004

Etiquette question

(OK, I’m a clueless geek.)

What’s an appropriate thank-you for the people who are writing (have written; I’ve got a big packet on my desk) me letters of recommendation for my applications?

Now Playing: Disturbance At The Heron House from Document by R.E.M.

Posted by pjm at 3:51 PM | Comments (4)

December 12, 2004

Why not duck?

There’s snow forecast for tonight, so the College has been out treating their walkways, and a few town sidewalks as well. They spray some kind of liquid to prevent ice from accumulating on the walkways, and it has a familiar smell. A few winters ago, I saw where they had applied it where the snow was already down, and it turns out to have a brownish tinge. So far as I can tell, they’re applying soy sauce to the walkways.

That would explain why snow makes me hungry, anyway.

Now Playing: Basement Apt. from You Were Here by Sarah Harmer

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


The word ran through the running community online this morning: Arthur Lydiard died last night in Dallas, at the age of 87. He was almost through with his lecture tour in the United States.

I think I suspected, when I saw him in New York last month, that this would be his last tour, but I don’t think any of us suspected it would come so soon.

Posted by pjm at 2:22 PM | Comments (0)

December 10, 2004

Old home weekend

One of my cousins is traveling this weekend to the area I used to live in Pennsylvania. Her boyfriend is finishing an MBA program in St. Louis, and is a step or two away from taking a job at one of the major companies in the area (not the one I worked for.)

I called and talked to her for a while. I didn’t have much to tell her; I gave her a phone number of a roommate who’s still in the area and suggested a few neighborhoods. Vaguely. Mostly I tried to tell her that it’s a good place to live, which felt really odd to me considering how ready I was to get away when I left. I don’t suppose I would be in a hurry to move back, come to think of it, but I do have good memories, for the most part, of my time there.

It wasn’t the strongest argument. “It’s a great place, you’ll love it, I’m not going back.” Still, I guess I’d rather see her there than in St. Louis. I’m a booster. I want to get her plugged in. I hope it’s not because I’m seeing it as my second shot at the area.

If they move there, I’ll visit, for certain.

Now Playing: Beautiful Night from Josh Ritter by Josh Ritter

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

Request for comment

What should I sign up to contribute to the office potluck? My co-workers, I should add, are kitchen over-achievers. I’ve brought fudge and cookies before.

Now Playing: It’s Alright For You from Regatta de Blanc by The Police

Posted by pjm at 11:27 AM | Comments (6)

Pool running

Now, having said I answer questions, I need to answer Julie’s question about pool running.

Pool running is, well, it’s running in a pool. There’s a pretty good explanation (and a photo!) in this article:

For the uninitiated, pool running is simply running in the deep end of a swimming pool. No, not across the bottom of the pool. Instead, you wear a specially designed foam belt that allows you to float in an upright, running position. Once you’re floating, you begin to run-—like a cartoon character—-with your legs turning, but your body not going anywhere.

They’re a little off, because I do tend to go places; I do a 50y “lap” of the College pool in about four and a half minutes. And, I know people who prefer not to use the belt. One hitch is that it takes some concentration (at first) to stay upright and not lean forward and paddle with your hands; at that point, you’re not pool-running, you’re swimming. It helps a lot to have a lot of deep-water space; the College pool is made for water polo, so it’s at least eight feet deep at its “shallow” end; I can go end to end without touching down, which I can’t do in pools with a stand-up end. (I love the pools with separate diving wells; I’ll do laps in the diving well instead of in a lane.)

The College also has a tiny little “warm-up” pool, only four feet deep, which runs across one end of the main pool, behind the starting blocks. On more than one occasion, the coach would put eight or ten runners in there and have us properly running (on the bottom of the pool, that is, not floating) around the outside until you could see a bit of a whirlpool starting (a vortex in the middle of the pool, etc.)

Then he’d start picking people out, one by one, and tell them to reverse direction and run against the current we’d made, until we’d reversed it. When I think about it, it was a pretty good way of doing strength drills without a hill.

Now Playing: Mary Jane’s Last Dance from Greatest Hits by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Posted by pjm at 10:30 AM | Comments (1)

Radio Free Panic

Thanks to a post on Sea Fever, I can finally explain what I’m doing here. It’s a radio show that runs really, really slowly. And in text.

Seriously, it’s a really good metaphor. I click on the mike and broadcast short segments of what I’m thinking about, interspersed with music. (Not actual music, but I mention more music here than many DJs I’ve heard on today’s radio—have I mentioned the time I did an entire half-hour workout in the pool without the idiotic morning show on the radio station they had on playing more than one song?)

Meeting Seth last night and seeing his site really underlined the metaphor; he’s much closer to the radio show format than I am. Ms. Feverish also mentioned All Request, which I find fascinating but haven’t tried here for a variety of reasons. (For the most part, I don’t write the sort of entries that inspire a lot of comments, and anyway, I tend to answer posted questions at any time.)

So, thanks for tuning in. Listen for us again, same time, same channel.

Now Playing: Over Your Shoulder from Concrete Blonde by Concrete Blonde

Posted by pjm at 9:55 AM | Comments (0)

December 9, 2004

Josh Ritter at the Iron Horse

Oh, I don’t even know where to start… I got home an hour ago, still flying on this show. With email and the cat both crying for attention, I’m coming down now, it’s all wearing off. But I remember how it felt, and if he was on again tomorrow night I’d be right over there. Wow.

I tried to get to the Horse fairly early, because I wanted to stake out seats for the Illustrator and his girlfriend as well; they were going to be late. I didn’t quite pull it off; I wound up right at the top of the balcony stairs, if you know the Horse. Not the best view, but I was happy there were still three seats together. The hostess warned me that the show was full, and she might have to seat a single with us; I was fine with that, I’ve been there. Not much later, she seated Seth with me. He was up from Connecticut—clearly more excited for this show than I was, since all I’d done was sit in traffic in Hadley for half an hour.

The opener, Willy Mason, was pretty good, but I wasn’t really focused on him; I was watching for the rest of my party and wondering if I’d be able to see Josh through the little girl (three?) in the booth at the rail, who was standing on her seat rather than looking through the rail. The Illustrator turned up without his girlfriend, who couldn’t get away from her office holiday party, and before the main set started the hostess seated two more people at our table. What a crew we were.

The crowd was clearly in to Josh Ritter, and I came away a convert. In concert, Ritter has so much more depth of sound than his recordings do, and he is obviously having a lot of fun. He had a small band—bass, drums, and keys—and they just tore into the songs like it was dinnertime and they’d missed lunch. They played songs I didn’t think very much of and made them great. They also hit all my favorites, most of Hello Starling (no “Bone of Song,” which disappointed the Illustrator,) five of the best from Golden Age of Radio including an uptempo “Harrisburg,” and a few I didn’t know—new, I guess. He introduced Wings as a song about the Shaolin Puritans from Massachusetts who migrated west to star in the early kung-fu movies in the 1850s, but wound up in Northern Idaho. (“This is an alternate history. A folk history.”) By the time he played “Snow is Gone,” he had most of the room on their feet (which is pretty rare for the Horse) and it’s been a while since I’ve heard it as loud in there as it was when he finished. There’s no snow right now (it’s raining, actually) but I felt like I’d hear birds chirping if I went outside during the song. It’s dark now, and for four minutes or so, we all wanted spring so much we could taste it. What a performer.

Two encores, the first, “California” (I think) by himself and away from the mike. Even the loud folks in the corner hushed. The Horse seems to be good for that; it’s not the first time I’ve seen it done there. Then he brought the band out for “Other Side.”

I left feeling wound up and excited. It was a really good show from a really good performer; I’d gone in thinking, ah, I like some of his stuff, and I left with a new set of favorite songs.

Now Playing: Snow Is Gone from Hello Starling by Josh Ritter

Posted by pjm at 11:19 PM | Comments (1)

Getting girled

I got girled last night. This will take some explaining.

The phrase comes from A.’s girls, who apparently picked it up from the boys’ team. The boys got “girled” if one of the girls passed them on a run; this was, for them, something to be avoided. The girls picked up the phrase and rendered it ridiculous by applying it to nearly anything, including pedestrians of all varieties, pets, and slow-moving traffic.

When I got in the pool last night, one of Ned’s women was already pool-running. Within two or three turns, she looked likely to overtake me and pass me, but one of her teammates joined her and the two of them weren’t moving as quickly. They were joined by Dave, so that made four of us. Eventually, this threesome did pass me, so I suppose I was “girled” twice.

I’m not taking this too seriously. After all, the speed at which one moves in the pool, particularly when “running,” doesn’t have much relation to how hard you’re working, right?

Pool running is infinitely less interesting than swimming an actual workout. (Given how boring I find workouts compared to running, I might as well park my brain in my locker.) I have memorized the three relay teams with which my freshman-year roommate is still on the record boards. Soon, I’ll have the times down as well.

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

Posted by pjm at 1:40 PM | Comments (2)

My bad reputation

Yesterday my e-mail included a press release announcing that Kenenisa Bekele would be running at the Boston Indoor Games.

The media coordinator for the event is an acquaintance from my RW days, but I’m not sure what I did to earn the preface to the email:

Is this good enough for you?

Now Playing: Aurora from There Is Nothing Left To Lose by Foo Fighters

Posted by pjm at 11:51 AM | Comments (1)

December 8, 2004

The darkness is receding

The email came today. I think it was the best thing that happened all day, aside from occasional re-plays of my new favorite video clip. It’s Sunset Day.

Every year, a member of a running list I’m on sends the message out about Sunset Day. Essentially, today is the earliest sunset of the year. For those who actually see the sunset, from here on in, you’re getting more light in your day. I know the shortest day is yet to come; what’s happening, actually, is that we’re losing daylight in the morning faster than we’re getting it back in the evening, at least until the 22nd. The latest sunrise doesn’t come until early January.

When I was in Pennsylvania, running at lunch, this wasn’t an issue. I walked to work in the dark (or dawn,) worked away from windows except for my hour (or so) outside, and walked home in the dark. Between November and March, I got most of my daylight on weekends. Moving here and running in the mornings, I became acutely aware of sunrise time; in my first winter back, there was quite a while when I started my run carrying a flashlight, and could watch the sun come up as I finished.

I haven’t run outdoors for months. I have an office with a window. I want those sunset hours back, now, and I’m happy they’re on their way.

Posted by pjm at 9:52 PM | Comments (0)

I don't speak that charset

A company we work with perpetrated this bug and it has reproduced in several of our pages (a consequence of me swiping whole pages as templates rather than designing from scratch.) I’m trying to make sure this round of disks doesn’t include it.

For the record, charset=UTF-8 == good, charset=UTF-16 == bad.

Now Playing: Fix Me Now from Garbage by Garbage

Posted by pjm at 11:31 AM | Comments (1)

December 7, 2004


I’m sending batches of letter-of-recommendation forms out, recruiting writers and juggling who would be best for which school. (I’m trying to make sure the alumni of particular universities write letters to those universities, for example.) So I’m trying to patch together quick but lucid cover letters explaining how many copies of which need to go in what sealed envelope and sent where by when, address and stamp all the relevant envelopes, and so on.

One of the curious little rituals is signing the waiver: I waive my right to read this letter. I always waive. I figure, if I get in, it won’t matter to me what was in the letters; they did their job. If I don’t get in anywhere, I might contact the recommenders and ask if their letter might have been involved, and if so, what I need to work on, but since I got in to my undergrad college on early decision, I have yet to be turned down by an academic institution. (That’s going to change, I suspect; but where?)

I wonder if it makes a difference; if the admissions committees take a letter less seriously if the applicant doesn’t waive. Or if there’s an alternate scenario where they prefer the applicant not to waive.

One of my writers has already returned envelopes to me, and included a copy of the letter. “I know you signed the waiver, but I want you to see it anyway.” It was good. I hope they’re all like that.

Posted by pjm at 10:17 PM | Comments (1)

December 6, 2004

Local tourist

One of the topics of discussion on yesterday’s ride was geocaching. The illustrator had a GPS but hadn’t used it for much, and we rode near two caches (one I’d found, and one I hadn’t.) He hit immediately on the appeal of it: he wanted to know how many there were near Amherst. (It turns out there are eighty within fifteen miles of downtown.)

When I first started geocaching, it was fun to “discover” caches in places I knew; I’d look at the listings and say to myself, “Hey, that must be in…” and I’d go there.

Then, for a while, I thought it would be fun to look for caches in very different places. Whenever I traveled, I would print a quick list of possible caches to look for, and try to make time to hunt them. I managed to find every cache on the island of Bermuda last winter (at the time, there were only six,) and that took us to some interesting places on the island I might not have visited otherwise. But on some trips—to the marathon Trials, to Austin—I couldn’t get excited about hunting caches.

Since the summer, I’ve been working on finding the caches nearest my “home coordinates,” and I think that’s been more rewarding than anything else. When I’m in a new and different place, I have other navigational concerns. Here, I have a pretty good idea where things fit together. So when I set out to find a cache, what I’m doing is looking for a spot someone else thought was worth sharing; in some cases, like the “Stopping by Mt. Toby Woods” multi, an entire journey. I’ve been discovering my area through the eyes of others, a tourist in my own neighborhood.

There was an article a few months ago which included a cacher in southern New Hampshire telling about how he’d found everything out to eighteen miles from his home, a significantly tougher task in the Boston metroplex than it is around here, and another who recently found every cache in the state of New Hampshire. One quote from the article:

“People think going and sniffing around in the woods for a hidden box is kind of peculiar,” said Geiger. “The actual physical find isn’t so much what we’re looking for. Finding interesting places we haven’t been before that we’ve been driving past for 20 years, that’s the fun of it. We’re really discovering our own back yards.”

Now Playing: Wrong from School Of Fish by School Of Fish

Posted by pjm at 3:45 PM | Comments (0)

And the coup de grace

Today’s NYT has an article about phishing which reminds me that I failed to carry my explanation of asymmetric key signatures to a logical conclusion. There’s a simple way for companies to stop phishers and spammers from assuming their corporate identity to spam and attempting to swindle the Internet: sign your corporate communications.

Then, weeding through a weekend of stuff in my aggregator, I find Wolf Rentzsch arguing that RSS feeds are phishing-proof (including a thumbnail explanation of phishing for those who still haven’t heard of it, and also an argument that signed email isn’t going to happen; I’d point to GPGMail and Enigmail as signs of progress in that direction, but Microsoft has to get going.)

Now Playing: Red Army Blues from A Pagan Place by The Waterboys

Posted by pjm at 9:58 AM | Comments (0)

December 5, 2004

The northern tier

After a morning of plowing through more application yip-yap (I’m going to have to go home sometime this evening and have a session with my printer) I met up with the Illustrator in North Leverett for a ride. (I’m winding up with some Scoplaw-esque pseudonyms here, but as usual, I’m not trying to hide identities; I’m trying to avoid being a Google result for the proper names.)

He used to be a runner, and much faster than me (a state champion when I knew him in high school, actually,) but he hasn’t run for about five years. Instead, he mountain bikes. In bike-magazine jargon, I was riding a twelve-year-old rigid frame with slicks and traditional pedals; he was riding a fully-suspended recent model with disc brakes, clip-in pedals and knobby tires. He gave me some breaks on the trail.

We rode north through the hills (in Leverett, it’s pretty much all hills) on dirt roads that eventually got too gnarly for cars. We came out at the entrance to the Wendell State Forest and spent some serious time bombing around the fire roads in there. I labored up the hills, quads burning, and lagged going down, because if I went too fast the rocks would bounce my feet right off the pedals. He would take a little rise and hop into the air; I would hope I remained attached to the bike. The first big downhill was quite dramatic; I reached the bottom pretty quickly, convinced I had, in fact, actually done some living today as I wondered what would happen if I didn’t keep the wheel straight. The second was so rough I had to pick my way down, peering for good lines through the sweat dripping on my sunglasses. Some of the roads would have been drivable; some of them were tough even for bikes. I think we stuck to the easier ones.

At some point he asked how long I wanted to ride. “Until I fall off the bike,” I said, with the mental addition, “Which might not be too much longer.” I’m not sure I could trace our route on a map, but I wasn’t ever too lost. We told some war stories, discussed what we liked and didn’t like about the Valley, and “shopped for houses.” (“I think that one’s what the realtors call a handyman’s dream.”) He may also be going to see Josh Ritter on Thursday, so if I pick one, that will probably be it; I won’t need to go alone. We wound up riding for about two hours, but it definitely did not feel that long. Well, maybe when I was working up some of those hills. He was pretty pleased that we got that much good riding time in December.

Afterward, being in the neighborhood, I dropped by the Montague Bookmill (motto: “Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find”) thinking I might get a hot drink at the Lady Killigrew. Instead I warmed up browsing the overheated fiction room. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on perspective—I’m trying to prune my book collection) I didn’t leave with anything.

Posted by pjm at 6:03 PM | Comments (0)

December 4, 2004

Busted, too

You know, I when I titled the original shoulder injury entry “Busted,” I didn’t know quite how appropriate it was.

I tried swimming last Monday. I made it through the warm-up, and figured out that it only hurt if I kept my elbow locked at the catch; if my elbow was bent as I pulled through, no pain. The evaluation from Thursday’s massage: it’s (probably) a pectoral.

I should note, for the record, that runners don’t have pectorals. They come from swimming or from sports which reward, say, lifting. Quoth the therapist, “Maybe you should try moderation.”

“Well, I have tried a new sport each time I get injured…”

I’m pool-running now. And biking; tomorrow I’m riding with the illustrator. This might hurt.

Posted by pjm at 8:24 PM | Comments (0)

Traffic control

I’m dog-sitting, again, for the famous dog. He’s due for a walk, and I’ve been thinking that instead of his usual lap around the local elementary school, I should take him a little way down one of the nearby trails, a sort of single-track nature trail with a trailhead at the school.

The problem with this idea, though, is the dog’s size. Anyone meeting or passing us would have to get by a dog who easily fills the width of the trail, and is tough for me to handle because he still significantly outweighs me, even with my recent endomorphism. I’ve been the pedestrian in these canine-human meetings before; the dogs mean well, but they don’t really understand what’s up.

I’m thinking we would need someone to walk in front of us with a red flag, like they used to mandate for automobiles on public roads in Britain.

Posted by pjm at 12:14 PM | Comments (0)

December 3, 2004

Like busses in London

…none come for a long time, and then two arrive at once.

Jesse Malin is at the Horse next Tuesday. And Josh Ritter on Thursday. Do I have time to go to both? If not, which would I pick?

Now Playing: Burning Photographs from Rock N Roll by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 11:21 AM | Comments (1)

December 2, 2004

Identity, proof, and encryption

I’m clearing space on my drive for an upcoming project, just a revision but a seven-disk set requiring plenty of space. So things are stop-and-go this morning, flurries of activity as I line up a disk alternating with spaces of “writing time” while the disk burns and verifies.

Yesterday, I was quite proud of myself because I was able to give a contractor shell access to our webserver without sending him a password. (Send a password to a user account on our server? In unencrypted email? Are you nuts?) I had him create an RSA key pair on his machine, then he sent me the public part of the pair while he kept the private part. I installed the public key in his ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file (chowned and chmoded appropriately, of course,) and he was able to log in with the private key.

Now, I realize that’s probably a pretty opaque explanation if you’re not already up on asymmetric keys and authentication. I think the biggest hurdle faced by most encryption systems is lack of understanding of how they work; when we talk about “keys,” it’s a pretty poor metaphor.

Think about how a physical key works. You have a lock which can be opened with a sliver of metal cut to a certain shape. It’s simple to copy those slivers of metal (though it requires some specialized tools, so there’s an inconvenience level.) In theory you can distribute the keys easily, but it’s hard to take a known key and easily produce (and propagate) locks to match it. This isn’t the way digital keys work; it’s more like how passwords work. The key is a physical manifestation of a password.

There’s a better metaphor for digital keys. On my desk I have a curious little chunk of stone, a gift from a friend who visited China some years ago. It’s a chop, a sort of stamp with a carved lion on one end and my name (with a whimsical phonetic representation in chop-script, another story entirely) cut in the business end. Ink it and press it to a page, and it leaves a unique mark that is meant to be a verification of my identity: this is me, it asserts, and I prove it because nobody else has the chop which makes this mark.

Chops are far from simple to forge. You’d think it would be easy, because the marks they make can be quite widespread, and probably could be reproduced with a photocopier, but it’s not that simple. Any number of factors can change the appearance of the mark, from the surface under the paper being chopped to how well I ink it, and yet the mark is still recognizably from my chop. Try forging that.

Asymmetric keys are more like chops. The private key is like the chop itself, unique to the holder and impossible to fake. The public key is the basic form of the chop-mark; it allows the general public to confidently confirm that the signer is the person who owns this key without needing a copy of the key itself. The public key can (and should) be widely, publicly distributed; the private key is just that, private. (Note that using a private key also requires a passphrase, so just having a copy of the key isn’t enough; it’s a “multi-factor authentication.”)

So my contractor sent me, in essence, a method for recognizing his chop-mark. And I told the server, “Allow access to this user account for anyone who signs with this chop-mark.” If the email message was intercepted, so what? The black-hat doesn’t have the chop, just its mark. They can’t fake the mark to gain access.

PGP/GPG mail signing works the same way: the sender’s private key is used to create a hash of the message (I won’t get into hashes) which is like the unique mark of a chop. A holder of the public key can verify that the message as read is unchanged since it was signed, but they can’t change the message or re-sign it. (Those who exchange e-mail with me regularly know that I sign even the most routine messages, perhaps to an annoying degree; however, my users know that if they get email purporting to be from “mycompany.com IT staff” which doesn’t have my signature, it’s not from me.)

Actual encryption with these keys is an entirely different bird which goes beyond this metaphor, and this post is too long already. But I’ll note one thing: I’ve already got three different private keys, and I work from at least two different locations. Do I produce multiple copies of these keys? If you’re Julie, hopefully at this point you’re raising your hand and saying, “Why not put them on a USB flash drive on your keychain?”

There’s some interesting discussion of the uses of this sort of technology in the October ;login:. It’s an interview with the CIO of the University of Texas system, which has to verify thousands of identities daily, while protecting the privacy of identifying details.

Now Playing: Faded Dress from Cherry Marmalade by Kay Hanley

Posted by pjm at 12:31 PM | Comments (4)


The views of the Valley are changing now that the leaves are down. The ridges which used to be solid green canopy are now visibly furred with tree trunks, the light showing through. (This will become more pronounced when the snow falls.) On my drive up to Sunderland, I can sometimes pick out the fire tower atop Mt. Toby, and other times a glimpse of the Peace Pagoda, normally so hidden in the woods that the “reveal” as you come out on its lawn is breathtaking.

This morning, I thought I could see through the branches from our third-floor apartment across the hump of Amherst downtown and over the Fort River plain to see the first bits of light over the Pelham hills. I’m pretty sure I was imagining that, though.

I am looking forward optimistically to getting out snowshoes and cross-country skis; however, I read in Tuesday’s paper that my favorite touring center, Hickory Hill in Worthington, has closed (or, more correctly, won’t be opening again.) They groomed more trail for skate-skiing than most areas do; many, like Notchview, only groom a small fraction for skating and just lay track for classic skiing on the rest. I’m OK with classical skiing, but skating is so much more fun—more like flying.

Now Playing: Ring The Bells from Getting Away With It… Live (Disc 2) by James

Posted by pjm at 10:00 AM | Comments (0)

December 1, 2004

Where does it all go?

Another free idea for the web entrepreneur with more time on their hands than I have: is there a web resource for the disposal or repair of stuff?

I think in a lot of cases, I don’t replace stuff I have which is in pretty tough shape because, not because I wouldn’t appreciate something new which works properly, but because I don’t want the disposal of the old one on my conscience. The breadmaker, for example, has a leaky pan and the paddle is wearing out. Can I replace just the pan and paddle? I cannot. I would need to buy a whole new unit. Then where does the old one go?

So I want a website where I can find out how to responsibly dispose of all kinds of stuff. I want to know if I can take my umbrella to pieces and give the metal to someone who can reuse it; where I could have taken all the humidifier chemicals left in our Northampton apartment by the previous tenant (sans humidifier, of course); what I can do with the umbrella which isn’t holding on to two of its vanes anymore; and so on.

I guess some of it could go to something like Freecycle, but I don’t want to deal with another hundred-plus emails a week; I want to look up a place where the stuff can go, and take it there. A lot of it is truly junk that nobody would want, but I feel like parts of it should have another life instead of going into the waste stream.

Actually, this project is screaming for a wiki.


Now Playing: Blissed from Doubt by Jesus Jones

Posted by pjm at 8:51 PM | Comments (1)

Hen Frigates

Hmmm, can I write a post while I wait for this CD to finish?

I recently finished Joan Druett’s Hen Frigates, a book about the wives of merchant sailors in the 19th century who sailed with their husbands. (A “hen frigate” was a jargon term for a ship with the captain’s wife aboard.) I remember this book being on my to-read shelf in Pennsylvania, so I’ve been carrying it around for a while; it’s about time I made it through.

The jacket promised “Passion and Peril,” but I don’t know that we ever really get it. Druett works extensively with primary sources; she read dozens of journals and hundreds of letters written by seafaring women. However, she organizes the book by topic, which means that at best we get snippets of each woman’s tale; I found it nearly impossible to keep track of which women went with which husbands and which ships, since fragments of their stories were distributed among the multiple chapters, and often the same paragraph would reference multiple women.

Of course, the journals probably didn’t provide much in the way of story lines by themselves. But I found that this “survey method” didn’t really get me involved with any of the characters. The look at the past was most interesting, though, and one surprise was the magnitude of Victorian morality’s role in women’s place on shipboard. I didn’t feel like I wasted my time, but I’m not sure I’d go back and re-read it.

Now Playing: Bone Of Song from Hello Starling by Josh Ritter

Posted by pjm at 5:10 PM | Comments (0)


I’ve been renewing the certificate for our secure web server. Here’s what that means, in less dense terms: we just paid a company to agree, for a further two years, to confirm that we are who we say we are when you start an encrypted conversation with our server. (It’s easy enough to exchange keys and have an encrypted conversation, but how do you know you’re talking to who you think you’re talking to?)

It reminded me of an article in the June issue of ;login: about an open-source certificate authority which would issue certificates for free. The catch? Very few browsers recognize it as a certificate issuing authority, which means its standing as a verifier of identity is pretty low. It’s easy to add a certificate authority to your browser, but how many people will do that? Probably not the 9x% of the internet using IE.

Meanwhile, there’s an implication that in the IE vs. Netscape days, all it took to be included as a certificate-signing authority was a check with the appropriate number of zeros sent to the software company.

Needless to say, I had a hard time convincing myself that our $300 was well-spent.

Now Playing: Honest Pleasure from Tomorrow by James

Posted by pjm at 12:26 PM | Comments (1)