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January 31, 2005

Still reeling

Something about the pitch of effort that went in to covering the meet has me still burned out. I can’t make my mind stick to one idea or project for more than three or four minutes. There’s still another article in the publishing queue and one more left to write. And I have eBay sales to ship.

And it turns out that my PC here at work (as opposed to my Mac) is too old to boot from a USB device, so while I can do a Live CD, I can’t boot from my new 512 MB flash drive. I’m not sure if I should be disappointed by this or not. I may still make the drive bootable, just in case another subversive opportunity comes up.

Moral of the story: there are security advantages to obsolescence!

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

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

January 30, 2005


I’m crashing big-time.

Yesterday was very intense. The meet, in particular, opened up with a world record and continued with nearly every twist and turn you can imagine when plotting races with very good competitors. After some waffling about where I would be able to work, I ended up staying at the venue and filing by dial-up as they broke down the press risers around me. (In this day and age, I can’t figure out why venues haven’t started providing wireless access points for the press.) My preview oversight turned out to be a big one: the athlete I hadn’t mentioned was the one who set the world record.

We only got lost once on our way to my cousin’s in Southie, though it took a while to find a parking spot. No problems this morning getting A. to her run and me to a Starbucks, where I discovered that I now actually have more work to do today; my editor in Monaco responding, “Yes, this is great, fantastic meet, send anything else you have.” (Hmm, how about me? I could do with some Monaco right now.)

Now I’m crashing. I’ve probably got two thousand words yet to write today, all in my head or on the recorder, which means I either need to transcribe, which I hate, or simply stare at a blank document on the screen until drops of blood form on my forehead. I’d rather stare at Bloglines until my eyes slip out of focus.

And I’m supposedly good at this?

Posted by pjm at 3:40 PM | Comments (0)

January 28, 2005

My new focus

I’ve written about it enough before, I think it’s time I just broke down and embraced it. I need to become a fan of the shot put.

Aside from the stuff I’ve already mentioned, in a press conference today, thrower Reese Hoffa suggested that he’d like to throw in a bear suit someday (“…but only if I could throw the ball far.”) And then he went on:

… my ultimate goal, I want them to carry me out in a cage and release me. And just throw and have fun with it. It’s one of my dreams.

We can all identify with that, right?

Update, 30 January: What’s not to love?

Now Playing: How Soon Is Now? from Meat is Murder by The Smiths

Posted by pjm at 4:29 PM | Comments (0)

January 27, 2005

We have it easy

This has been one of those weeks when it’s tough to live in the northeast, when you’re cooped up inside or struggling with the snow-clogged streets and biting wind outside. It’s been pretty easy to feel sorry for ourselves.

Outside my office window this afternoon, however, a little drama played out that made me happy for my heated caves and internet connections.

There’s been a rabbit out there all week. Most of the time he was very still, in a bramble or at the base of a tree, looking like a rock, but occasionally I caught him popping up and nibbling on the dead branches. I haven’t been his only spectator (we’re into that here) and someone wondered why he was out at all. “Rabbits are out at night,” he said. One theory was that he was caught outside his burrow by an owl, and couldn’t find his way back; maybe he was wounded by the owl.

I was watching him today, noting that he was still hanging around. Then, earlier this afternoon, I saw more movement than usual from his area. I borrowed a pair of binoculars (do you know three different co-workers who keep binoculars in their offices?) and saw what was pretty clearly a red-tail hawk, feeding amid the drifting snow.

My department head said he’d seen the strike out of the corner of his eye while on a conference call. There were five or six of us watching for a while, with a sort of sick fascination.

Then, as we started to drift back to our offices, someone said to me, “I guess we’ve got our next server name.”

Now Playing: Say Say Something from Wah Wah by James

Posted by pjm at 4:01 PM | Comments (0)

It's individual

(I have a column to file on Sunday, and depending on how Saturday goes, I might have to mine this for ideas, but here it is…)

Talk about any aspect of training with more than two runners, and it’s almost dead certain you’ll hear one of two phrases: “It’s an individual thing,” or “This works for me.” (The commercial-disclaimer variant, “Your mileage may vary,” abbreviated to YMMV is another favorite.)

Length of longest training run? Your mileage may vary. Best cross-training while injured? It’s an individual thing. What to eat the night before? This works for me.

This isn’t just evasiveness; there are a lot of reasons why most of this does vary between individuals, and I’ve mentioned this before. And it’s not really what I’m thinking about.

I’m thinking about how there’s such a tremendous advantage to training with a team, or even with one training partner. A good team can become more than just the sum of its members, through the shared effort and reward.

And I’m thinking, considering how many things about optimizing training vary between individuals, about how incredibly powerful (and astoundingly difficult) it must be to put together the kind of team where all those individual quirks can fit together. It must be amazingly rare, yet the Kenyans (and, more recently, the Ethiopians) seem to do it annually for the World Cross-Country meet.

Of course, the Kenyan method is rather like sculpture; you start with a big block of runners, and cut away anything that doesn’t look like a winning team. But it’s so much more successful that the American method, which is to put together a group of strong individuals and tell them they’re a team.

Now Playing: MPLS from Dead Man Shake by Grandpaboy

Posted by pjm at 1:26 PM | Comments (0)

Love that byline...

“[pjm] for the IAAF.”

(I admit, getting a check from Monaco is pretty cool, too. I pretend it’s prize money when I deposit it.)

It ran with only light edits, too. I was startled to realize that I was putting World Indoor champions in blow-off paragraphs at the end because there were so many Olympic medalists competing. And I completely whiffed on Tirunesh and Ejegayehu Dibaba in the women’s 5,000m; apparently Tirunesh is on a tear this season. I should pay closer attention to the European cross-country circuit.

Now Playing: Occupation H. Monster from Songs From The Other Side by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 9:37 AM | Comments (0)

January 26, 2005

Checking off the boxes

The Daring Fireball Linked List recently posted a link to a site called Ta-da List. It’s a pretty simple web application: for a free registration, you can keep to-do lists online. That’s not a big step considering the number of desktop applications which perform the same function; what’s useful are the next steps.

  1. You can share those lists, either publicly or with a limited selection of other members. List sharing is on a list-by-list basis; you can share a project list with your co-developers, or make your to-do list public, and still keep your gift-purchasing list private.
  2. You can get (an) RSS feed(s) of changes to those lists, either list-by-list or for all your lists. So you can use your aggregator to know when something you’ve delegated has been checked off a list.

I don’t have any need for truly mobile network access (PDA, Blackberry, etc.) but I imagine that accessing these lists is just as easy with a web-enabled Palm (or similar) as it is from my desk.

So part of me being quiet today is because I’m checking stuff off lists. Mail crash-priority official transcript requests, check. Fax unofficial transcripts, check. Round up copies of recommendation letters, check. Calm acceptance of application karma… we’re still working on that.

Now Playing: National Steel from Failer by Kathleen Edwards

Posted by pjm at 2:27 PM | Comments (0)

January 25, 2005

Strike two?

Well, the university which first lost my application has now lost my transcripts and letters of recommendation. The Graduate School says they don’t have them, check with the department. The department doesn’t have them either. (I find this out by following a link on an undated letter received after the application deadline. So much for the importance of being punctual.)

I can’t figure out where they could have gone, since the only reason I originally knew they’d botched the online application was that they sent me an email saying they had all the paperwork but no application. It’s almost pathetically Dostoyevskian that they should now insist that they have only an application, but no paperwork. (So that’s why I studied Russian Literature!)

The department says they’ll take the LORs by email. I don’t know what we’ll do about the transcripts; I can send requests tomorrow, but it’s unlikely they’ll be back within a week. Maybe I give them unofficial ones?

Predictably, I’m so angry I could spit.

Posted by pjm at 2:33 PM | Comments (4)

The mind reels

This bit was in a press release today:

…New York’s finest track and running scribes.

Do the purveyors of purple prose have a reflex which inserts the word “finest” after any use of the possessive “New York’s”?

If they’re really making a distinction (between the finest track and running scribes, and cheap hacks like myself, I assume,) who’s making it? And what makes one a “fine” track writer? Circulation numbers? Membership in TAFWA? The ability to tell colorful stories about how you got to the 1952 Helsinki Olympics?

This is the danger of cliché: it becomes textual noise that distracts from the actual message.

Now Playing: Caroline from Bloodletting by Concrete Blonde

Posted by pjm at 12:04 PM | Comments (1)

Not using nofollow

I thought rel=nofollow was a relatively good idea when it was first discussed, but now that I’ve seen the drawbacks I’ve decided not to use it here.

Anyway, it seems that my efforts to block referer spam have done quite a lot to keep out the comment spammers, as well. Between that and MT-Blacklist, I haven’t had comment spam visible here for months. So why deny my few drops of Google Juice to my innocent commenters (both of them)? Even if “innocent commenters” is an oxymoron?

Now Playing: Monster from ‘Mousse by The Nields

Posted by pjm at 10:02 AM | Comments (1)

January 24, 2005


The Illustrator spent the morning and part of the afternoon yesterday packing down his ski track, with such unusual grooming tools as a canoe and some pallets. I went over late in the afternoon and tromped around it a few times; he thought that after a nice night below freezing it should be pretty firm today. I’m wishing I was going to have some time to go down and do a few laps.

As were were snowshoeing, he explained that he’d been on it for four or five hours. “The process is more fun to me,” he said. I thought to myself, “That sounds familiar.” “Are you sure you’re not an programmer?” I asked.

I think there’s a twilight condition we try to live in when we’re working on a project. On one side is the fun of developing something and seeing it take shape with your effort. It’s a pretty powerful feeling to watch the pieces come together, and it’s why I like to have a runnable prototype of whatever I’m doing as soon as possible. The other side is the fun of sharing the finished product, of having created something useful and functional.

You can’t really have it both ways, though. You can share your progress on an incomplete project with others, but the most likely reaction is a sort of disinterested “Eh.” And you can infinitely prolong a project with additional features and refinements, but then you’ve never really created anything. (The Dark Side is when you declare something complete which really isn’t; the users find and judge the incompleteness, and never see what you really intended.)

I’ve been working on a project at home, in my “spare time,” for two or three weeks now, trying to create a simple, flexible, and dynamic photo gallery to save A. some work time. (Never mind why I’m doing pro bono development for sites which could theoretically pay; it’s an involved story and not to the point.) I did pretty well displaying images and moving around the gallery, but captions were a bit of a puzzle. I played around with a few different methods of storing them, including an included PHP file and (at Brent’s suggestion) as JPEG metadata, but eventually settled on XML after Julie provided the clues to get me through a confusing patch.

With most of the flashy parts solved, now, I have a few gritty back-end things to fix before it’s really done and I can hand it over. And I’m not anxious to do them. I don’t know if it’s because they don’t look fun, or because I know that if I do them, the fun will be over. It’s like I don’t want it to be done. I don’t know if that’s because I’m fearing that it won’t do everything it’s supposed to, or be a disappointment, or if it’s because I don’t want it to be done and out of my hands.

I suppose I could continue offering upgrades.

Now Playing: Seen Your Video from Let It Be by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 2:30 PM | Comments (0)

Good In Snow

It wasn’t quite as dramatic out here as it apparently was in Boston. We got about a foot, give or take (depending on where in the drift you measured.) A. and I tromped around on snowshoes Sunday morning as the last flakes fell, watching people poking their noses out and starting to shovel and snow-blow. The part nobody is mentioning is that in addition to a heaping ladle-full of snow, it’s also damn cold. Nothing is melting; if it’s not scraped up, it’s getting packed down (or blown to where you scraped it up.)

Yesterday, I had a longwinded post started detailing my adventures driving back from Worcester (one of those interviews.) To condense it, we gambled that we could get there, talk, and get back before the roads got bad. We lost; the roads got bad faster than I’ve ever seen before.

I got my driver’s license at the height of a Maine winter, so I’m fully appreciative of the unique challenges of driving in snow. I learned (formally and, uh, informally) how to use both transmission and brakes to control my speed, how to handle a car in a skid, and how to avoid being a car in a skid. I learned to feel when any of my wheels weren’t gripping the road. As a consequence of all this, I drive with a pretty high level of confidence. (That doesn’t mean, “fast.” The First Rule of Driving in Snow is that you do nothing quickly. You don’t turn quickly, you don’t accelerate quickly, and you don’t brake quickly. In order to avoid braking quickly, you don’t drive quickly.) (The Second Rule of Driving in Snow is to give a lot of space to drivers who don’t know the First Rule.) (The Third Rule of Driving in Snow is to stay the &$%# off the road if you can’t follow the first two rules, for whatever reason.)

I had the opportunity to ride with Brent last night, and he underlined the point; like me, he drives a relatively lightweight two-wheel-drive vehicle, but his Minnesotan experience gives him the confidence to take it where it needs to go (though he’s a bit more willing to let it skid than I usually am.)

On my way home Saturday night, I saw two cars which had obviously spun out on the side of the Mass Pike. Both were SUVs, presumably four-wheel-drives and presumably meant to be Good In Snow. One was nose-to the snowbank; the other was completely turned around, and the passengers looked quite shaken.

The lesson: Good In Snow is not something you buy. It sits in the driver’s seat.

Now Playing: Counting Blue Cars from Pet Your Friends by Dishwalla

Posted by pjm at 10:04 AM | Comments (1)

January 21, 2005

"Professional" runners

Megan asked, in a comment down below, about the “average salary for runners who land a shoe contract,” and whether there’s a significant difference between sprinters and distance runners.

This is an article I’ve wanted to write for years, but can’t, and some limited discussion with other track writers suggests to me that the sources I’d need to talk to are not interested in talking. Sadly, there are several dozen talented athletes every year asking the same question: I just finished a successful NCAA career. Now what?

Some people (Dathan Ritzenhein, Alan Webb, Shalane Flanagan, etc.) have enough success and following that they can land a pretty decent contract right away, but let’s leave out the freakishly talented right now and consider someone who’s going to battle their way up from the bottom. (This is going to go long, so I’ll move to the extended entry now.)

Continue reading ""Professional" runners"

Posted by pjm at 4:36 PM | Comments (5)

"Outstanding among the morons I've taught..."

Answering a rhetorical question I asked a few weeks ago: I sent handwritten thank-you notes to those who wrote letters of recommendation. Following a hint in a conversation with one of the recommenders (not dropped intentionally, I think) I also included tins of good tea (from a site I found through Abby, and therefore JM by extension, thanks.)

I was able to deliver two by hand, and the remaining ones went in the mail. Since I had two recommenders in one department in particular, I actually sent three notes (and tins) there. The third went to the department secretary. See, while the content and signatures of the letters may have been a big boost to my applications (or a drag, I’m not sure,) the letters themselves would not have been written and mailed to me without her help. (We’re talking about some seriously absent-minded professors.)

I think I’ve put as much diplomatic effort in on this whole application process as I have in the past three years of work. (And, I should note, I handle tech-support calls and email. But that’s retail; this has been wholesale.) Serious work, for me.

Now Playing: Undertow from New Adventures In Hi-Fi by R.E.M.

Posted by pjm at 1:52 PM | Comments (1)

Surreal spam

I just had a mortgage spam with the subject line taken from Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. (Specifically, the subject line was Re: The bookkeeper Vassily Stepanovich.)

It was jarring, at first, to contrast great literature with scuzzy spammers. But then I checked that the character was really who I thought he was: one of those “little people,” the apparatchiki who have been part of Russian society since long before the Soviets, burrowed in to the giant bureaucracy of a giant country, little tsars of their own tiny fiefs with their souls shrunk small from disuse.

And I thought, yeah, a spammer could see themselves there. He comes in for a bad day in the wake of the book’s events, which is comforting. One hopes the spammers will similarly get theirs one day.

Now Playing: Godless from Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia by The Dandy Warhols

Posted by pjm at 9:18 AM | Comments (0)

January 20, 2005

On the block

I’ve got three eBay auctions under my belt now, with the third (and least successful, cash-wise,) a CD burner, just waiting for payment. It’s been interesting; I’m not really “making money” in the sense that I paid more for these things than I’m selling them for, but I am in the sense that I’m replacing objects which have little or no use to me with a more liquid asset.

I’m definitely not going to try making a living on eBay, nor do I intend to scrape deeper and deeper in my closets looking for sketchy stuff to sell. But in terms of moving out stuff which isn’t in use? It’s fantastic.

Today I helped someone in the office sort out a Java application issue. (Mac running OS 9.2, throwing NullObjectException errors if I remember correctly; we switched browsers from Netscape 7.0.1 to (shudder) IE, and it worked. Must have been a VM compatibility problem.) He was watching eBay Live auctions, with the intent of bidding on one later this afternoon, after work.

Have you ever watched one of those things? It can raise your pulse just looking. I watched one start at $50 and sell at $500 in the time it takes me to compose a sentence. I can’t think that fast, usually. And we saw one where someone spent about $4k in about forty seconds. It made my head spin. Now, there’s an area of auctioning I’m definitely not cut out for.

Now Playing: Perfect Blue Buildings from August & Everything After by Counting Crows

Posted by pjm at 3:38 PM | Comments (1)

Doers and watchers

Part of a press release I got today prompted me to look in to the stakes for USATF’s new Visa Championship Series.

The male and female Visa Champion will share a $50,000 jackpot, and each will receive a trip for two to a premiere Visa-sponsored event of their choice, including the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, Kentucky Derby, Pebble Beach Weekend or Tony Awards.

Sweet. So, as an award for “the top overall performance” in a four-meet series, an achievement which could very well mean outperforming the very lengthy history of the sport (with an American record or even world record,) we will reward these supposedly-professional athletes, who have trained full-time for several years, with something less than the starting salary of an Alabama schoolteacher, and the chance to to be just another spectator for some true professionals (in the “really overpaid” sense of the word,) who earn more than that on a daily basis, in a gaudy spectacle watched by a few hundred times as many people as watched this “top overall performance.”

I’m a long way from the first to point out how pathetic this is, of course. And I realize that USATF and the sport as a whole don’t have the cash to support a truly impressive award. But I really wish they’d stop pretending it was something spectacular.

Maybe it would help if we announced all sports prize money or salary figures in millions. This one, for example, is .025 million dollars. Compare, please, with the average salary in the NFL. There’s actually a figure to the left of the decimal point.

Now Playing: 9 - 9 from Murmur by R.E.M.

Posted by pjm at 12:40 PM | Comments (2)

January 19, 2005

Which is quicker?

Going to a Finder window with 700-odd images, and dragging them in to chapters by folder?

Or going in to the command line and using a line like this:

$ mv AnPhys-Fig-18-* /Documents/Hill/Hill\ IRCD\ Revision\ 2/Unlabeled\ JPG/ch18/high-res/

…but with each up-arrow having to tick back through the path to update the chapter numbers?

I wish I could pattern-match on the command line. Can I do that? Something like this:

$ mv AnPhys-Fig-(\d\d)-* /Documents/Hill/Hill\ IRCD\ Revision\ 2/Unlabeled\ JPG/ch$1/high-res/

Of course, $1 is a shell-scripting convention for the first argument after the command, so I doubt I could use it in the command itself.

I know I could do this with Perl, but the scripts I’ve done have been too hard-wired to be useful from the command line. The patterns are too involved.

Now Playing: Lullaby from Sometime Anywhere by The Church

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

January 18, 2005

While I'm name dropping

One of my former coaches won the Houston Marathon last weekend, and with a pretty damn fast time.

She was still a student at UMass when she spent a red-shirt season (injury, I think) as an assistant coach at the College. Then the head coach’s father died, and he had to go back to Africa for most of the indoor season, so Kelly was our coach for the season, and she assisted for a few more. We thought that was pretty cool, particularly when she was an All-American in the 10,000m for UMass (one of the last All-Americans UMass has had on the track, I think.) I’ve seen her at the last two Olympic Marathon Trials.

I’m still using a lifting program she gave us. I did one of the circuits this morning.

Now Playing: Pretty Mary K from Figure 8 by Elliott Smith

Posted by pjm at 11:02 AM | Comments (0)


I got email this morning from one of my former roommates, which I think is worth sharing (mostly) in full. Links, emphasis, etc. are mostly mine.

As many of you know, my girlfriend Amy Fox has written a movie called Heights, which is premiering next week at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah and will open officially on June 10. The screenplay was bought and produced by Merchant Ivory and is being released by Sony Pictures Classics. It stars Glenn Close, Elizabeth Banks, Jesse Bradford and James Marsden, among others.

It’s a great film and all signs lead us to believe it will be a big hit.

It’s also Amy’s chance to, put bluntly, cash in on eight years of toiling away at her computer in relative obscurity to try to make a big splash as the entertaining, quirky writer we all know that she is. If this premiere goes well, it could take her career to a whole new level. That’s good both for Amy and for anybody who appreciates seeing smart, sexy and fresh stories at their local movie house.

Why am I telling you all this?

In the film business, the writer is often overlooked in the rush to swoon over celebrity actors and star directors. Heights is Amy’s story, based on a play she wrote in 2000 and adapted by Amy over a three-year period leading up to filming. She has worked hard crafting each subtlety that makes this film work. But she could use some exposure.

I have attached a press release about the opening of Amy’s film to this e-mail. In the spirit of viral publicity, please forward it to people you know who are in the film or media industries, especially those who, for example, write about movies for magazines, newspapers or television. Our goal is to build buzz about Heights; make sure that people who talk publicly (or privately) about Heights also talk about Amy; and, of course, to hook Amy up with people who may want to be involved with her next projects.

As far as I know, I only know one person in the film industry: Amy. And while I know plenty of people in media industries, they don’t generally write about movies for magazines, newspapers, or television. Furthermore, I’m not sure about helping my roommate “hook up” his girlfriend with “people who want to be involved with her.” (That’s a joke. I promise.) But maybe you do.

Or maybe you just know Amy and/or Z. and appreciate the news. Either way, the name-dropping is a bit fun, and if I don’t have actual contacts to contribute, at least I can throw in a little Google juice.

Now Playing: Buck Hill from Hootenanny by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 10:07 AM | Comments (4)

January 17, 2005

New blacklist

More for the denied strings list:


Posted by pjm at 8:53 PM | Comments (0)

Spammers out of hand

Despite my best efforts, most of the leading referrers in my logs for the weekend are spammed. That’s really only an annoyance to me, because I don’t actually display my site stats anywhere; it’s just a waste of my time and the spammer’s processor cycles. (Not that they care; cycles are cheap, which is why they can waste my time with them.) Despite blocking the UA string Dorothea notes, it’s still the #3 UA string hitting my site. And…

I served more 403 Access Forbidden responses than real pages (200 OK) yesterday. 403 codes are now my top response code.

Remember the first time you got more spam email than real email in a day? I really hope this doesn’t go the same way, because the percentage of non-spam email at work right now is in the single digits.

I don’t have words for how pathetic this is.

Update: Tuesday, 18 January Monday’s logs were much better, though 403s again threatened to overtake 200s. I am also seeing 404s on the default MT comment and trackback script names, numbering in the hundreds; since I changed the names of those scripts, they’re just wasting cycles. I’m also getting some 404s on the true new names of the scripts—I capitalized some characters in the names, and the spammers are trying all lowercase. Silly spammers, URIs are always case-sensitive after the domain part!

Posted by pjm at 5:19 PM | Comments (1)

January 16, 2005

Tool of choice

When I first started writing web pages (and yes, that would be over ten years ago, now) I tired pretty quickly of editing them with emacs on the college *nix box (Ultrix, I think, and that was in the days when Linus was still working out of his bedroom in Helsinki.) I hunted for cheap (read “free”) text editors that I could use on my Mac, and I came up with BBEdit Lite. What a nice little program that was. I got used to it.

Then, when I started working for companies that could pay for software, I introduced them to the not-Lite BBEdit. Even when I was working on websites with GoLive, then Dreamweaver, I kept BBEdit around to keep the code in line. Also, being lazy, I was discovering the power of multi-file find-and-replace functions, and regular expression matching in the find dialog, for site maintenance. I got really, really used to it, to the point where I don’t use a real word processor anymore; I even write for publication in BBEdit. (I know lots of people who can’t read Word files, but I don’t know anyone who can’t read a .txt file.)

Meanwhile, BBEdit has been getting bigger and bigger, making me wonder whether it can justify the name “Bare Bones” much longer. I think I started with version 2; they made it to 8 last year.

More recently, they’ve stopped development on BBEdit Lite in favor of a low-cost program called TextWrangler. And last week, around MacWorld, they released TextWrangler 2.0. Following this year’s MacWorld trend, they picked a low price point. Specifically, free.

I’ve been using it for a few days now. It’s an elegant little program. It does PHP and HTML syntax coloring. It has the new Documents drawer. It has the same ultra-powerful Search dialog I like from BBEdit, and it has Find Differences. There’s a checkbox to open “hidden” files (which makes it show files starting with a . in the open dialogs, useful for editing .htaccess files.) And did I mention that the price is right?

If you are using a Mac, it’s worth checking out. It’s certainly worth more than the price tag would indicate.

Posted by pjm at 8:37 PM | Comments (0)

No vehicles

The other week I was shaking my head over the ideological battles in graffiti in Amherst, but sometimes I wind up with the more depressing opinion that people are going to bicker no matter where they are; the differences in places are just the differences in the issues they’ll argue over.

This weekend, my father and I went down to hunt a geocache at the Totman Preserve in the town where I grew up. It’s a pretty chunk of land, a wooded road leading down to a picturesque little beach with picnic tables, ledges, and a view out onto Casco Bay. We agreed that it was A Good Thing that this was now preserved public land, and hadn’t been chopped up into private waterfront lots, carefully fenced and landscaped to give the illusion of a private retreat while cramming as many lots in as possible, and in the process locking out anyone and everyone not wealthy enough to buy one of said lots.

Instead, it’s open, preserved by the local land trust with a healthy financial boost from the town. And that’s where the fun begins. For one thing, there are signs noting that the land is open to town residents and guests, with an implied “only.” (I doubt that will stop the geocachers, but never mind. I was a guest of a resident.) That’s the town’s contribution. Next come two or three signs reminding visitors that vehicles, including (implied, “especially,”) ATVs. That’s the land trust’s contribution. There were several ATV tracks in the snow, and it didn’t look like they even slowed down to read the signs. There are gates at the top of the road and midway down, and apparently there was some dispute over when the gates were closed and locked. The townspeople figure that the land is, essentially, theirs, and they should be able to drive right down to the beach (where there is a small parking area.) The land trust is worried about vehicle traffic damaging the road, and perhaps hoping people will enjoy the whole preserve by walking down. (We did note that in the current wet and icy conditions, vehicles would rip things up quite a bit. But there was a dead tree blown down up at the first gate, so we couldn’t have driven down even if we’d wanted to.)

They joke about Amherst being “a town with a foreign policy,” but up here we epitomize the cliché about all politics being local. It’s not as easy to distinguish between red and blue at this level.

Posted by pjm at 5:20 PM | Comments (1)

January 14, 2005

A little meanness

I’m extending my anti-referrer-spam .htaccess file a bit. The idea was to take a mod_rewrite idea from Ed Costello (which, for some reason, isn’t working on this site anyway) and apply it to the giant mod_setenvif regexp I’ve been building from Dorothea’s suggestions and my own logs.

The first step is to extend my existing SetEnvIfNoCase rules. Until now, I’ve been simply setting the environment variable, because deny works based on its mere existence. However, to make it play nicely with mod_rewrite, I’ve added a value (yes) to the variable, so SetEnvIfNoCase lines now look like this:

SetEnvIfNoCase Referer .*\.hq_inform\.com.* spam_ref=yes

Now, we swipe some of Ed’s mod_rewrite code, but change the conditions. (Note that you need to have RewriteEngine on somewhere above this in your .htaccess file for this to work.)

RewriteCond %{ENV:spam_ref} ^yes$ [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^(.*)$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ %1 [R=301,L]

Line by line, it goes like this: First, if the environment variable spam_ref contains the value “yes” (nothing more or less than those three letters in that order, and (second line) there is a “Referer” value in the HTTP request, then we apply the rule. (The second rule looks redundant, considering that if there was no “Referer” the spam_ref variable wouldn’t be set. You’ll hit both rules, or neither. But we need that second rule to get the “Referer” value stored, for the) Third line, if the above two matched, rewrite the request URL to the value of the “Referer” value (the %1 is expanded to the previous match, which was on the second line.) This gets sent out as a 301 Redirected response, which, according to Ed, then gets logged on their site as entirely tail-chasing and not involving my site at all. (Hey, I didn’t ask for the traffic; they did.)

See the access file for the whole workup.

Now Playing: Best Black Dress from Live From Northampton (Disc 2) by The Nields

Posted by pjm at 2:14 PM | Comments (1)

Going nuclear

I have a particular shirt which, by long habit, I wear when I have to get up particularly early for a workout. It helps that it is bright red, which may be why I picked it for pre-dawn runs before catching early busses from Pennsylvania to NYC. But mostly it amuses me.

It comes from a time when I participated in the judging of a t-shirt contest. It is a race shirt from an early-morning run (6:00 A.M.) at an annual meeting of the Midwest Nuclear Tester’s Association—the MNTA Scramble. The name works on at least three levels in that context (the breakfast meaning, the running meaning, and the “avoid nuclear catastrophe” meaning) which is part of why I find the shirt amusing. But that’s only part of it. The real reason I like this shirt is the design on the back, in big block letters with a stylized atom (a little globe of a nucleus with sunglasses and a grin, surrounded by orbiting electrons) replacing the “O.”

It reads, “UP ‘N ATOM”.

What, is it just me?

Now Playing: Ode To A Butterfly from Nickel Creek by Nickel Creek

Posted by pjm at 9:27 AM | Comments (2)

January 13, 2005

It's that time of year

The time of year when my co-workers’ daughters come around the office selling Girl Scout Cookies.

I always buy from the ones who actually come to my office, not the ones whose parents leave the order form out for them. This usually means the twins. For some reason, I always wind up buying my GSCs from twins.

Now Playing: Song For The Fireflies from Golden Age of Radio by Josh Ritter

Posted by pjm at 3:48 PM | Comments (2)


I’ve been weeding on two different levels for the last few days. Weeding: v., to remove that considered to have little or no value for the benefit of that with greater value.

For one thing, having managed the exchange of iPods, I’ve had to re-populate a song list. I wish I had discovered PodWorks sooner, because then I might have retained some valuable metadata from “10”, specifically ratings, before I wiped it. Instead, I’m now playing through my library again, re-rating as I go. This is fun on one level, because I am hearing some stuff I haven’t heard much of, and some things I hadn’t given a proper chance before. On the other hand, in order to fit as much on “10” as I had, I had deleted a lot of things I had given low ratings to. I have a bigger catalog available, but the average quality (as perceived by me) has actually gone down.

I’m not too worried about that, in the long run, because the flexibility afforded by more space is worth it. I have some elaborate playlists set up to favor songs I rate highly, so as rating approaches completion the quality should go up.

At the same time, like several other folks, I’ve been making another push to trim spammed referrers out of my server logs. They’ve been a real nuisance lately, and instead of the one-or-two here-or-there approach they used to take, we’re getting hit with fifteen or twenty (or fifty) per day in an effort to be “Biggest referrer” instead of just a “recent referrer.”

So, I’m taking more drastic measures. Mostly, that has taken the shape of Dorothea’s massive Referer regexp, to which I have added and removed a few things. (For instance, I think a simple match on “teen” is too broad a brush.) I also attempted the recommended mod_rewrite hack for bogus requests, but that doesn’t work on my site, I think due to some sort of server issue; it rejects everyone, not just the bogus requests, which is frustrating.

As a result of this, and to follow Dorothea’s lead in sharing information, I’m going to keep a cleaned-up copy of the .htaccess file for this site available for the morbidly curious. You can see who I’m blocking referrals from by visiting htaccess.txt on this server.

Now Playing: My Dark Side from Still Burning by Mike Scott

Posted by pjm at 2:58 PM | Comments (1)

January 12, 2005

Degrading gracefully

I have a gift certificate to the swimming mail-order place where I get my suits. I couldn’t figure out how to use it on a web order, so tonight I called them and discovered I can’t use it over the phone, either; only with a postal order.

In web design, we use the term “degrading gracefully.” I like it a lot. It means that you accept that not everyone will see your site in all the glory you intended, but you arrange for fall-back positions. You may not look as good in IE5/Mac as you do in Firefox, but it’s not obvious what has broken. And if someone arrives at your site using Lynx, they can still read your page, and it makes sense. And they aren’t made to feel like they’re missing out. (For example, there’s a built in mechanism for frame-based sites to show something to browsers which don’t support frames, but usually developers just put in something ugly, like, “You should consider upgrading to a better browser.” That’s ungraceful degradation.)

In a wider context, degrading gracefully is about being aware of where your system might fail, and being ready for the failure. It means not showing error messages to the user, unless they also explain how to avoid the error—and it’s even better to fix the error transparently, so the user doesn’t know what’s happening. From a customer-service standpoint, this is really the only way to approach things: you give the customer the most convenient option, then the next most convenient, then the next most convenient. You don’t offer them a “convenience or stone age” decision.

My experience with the swim store made me think: there are probably still some people out there who think, despite all the levels and layers of encryption, that it’s not safe to order on the internet. And some of those people may not have our printed catalog. They might find our titles online and want to order. Where’s the fall-back?

I wonder if it might not be a very user-friendly and graceful degradation to offer an order-form bail-out option. It would present a printable page which includes all the information the customer had already filled in (shipping address, items and quantities, etc.) with only the payment information to be manually filled out by the customer. They could fill in the payment details and send it off, about fifteen steps easier and faster than the degradation the swim store offered (I had to request that they send me another catalog.)

At the very least, there should be a PDF of an order form for the hard-copy Luddite.

That’s degrading gracefully. Online order to form-driven printout to PDF order form, and only then if that fails do you have to request a catalog.

Actually, they should have accounted for gift certificates when they first set up the website ordering. That would be really handling things well.

Posted by pjm at 9:15 PM | Comments (1)


Everything in town is etched in ice. A few weeks ago we were enjoying how warm the winter was; now, we’re seeing the downside. Each snowstorm comes with a helping of ice in the form of freezing rain and freezing melt-water. I periodically remember one winter in college when we got a storm in early January, about four inches of snow, followed immediately by rain, followed immediately by a cold snap. All winter we had a layer of white ice beneath whatever other snow arrived. B&G struggled all winter to clear the foot paths, but aside from a few small sections where the paths ran over steam lines we didn’t see bare pavement until nearly April. (One persistent house custodian cleared the twenty-foot front walk of his building and managed to keep it clear all winter, but he was an exception.)

With that in mind, I sometimes wonder if they could save some effort by running all the steam lines under the foot paths, but since the lines cleared the snow quickly, they also gave us the first and greenest grass of the spring.

As I walked and slithered over to the gym this evening, I saw a few limbs down, all from the pine trees. Trees, from an evolutionary standpoint, have all made different bets. The deciduous hardwoods, which are now nicely cased in a plating of ice, drop their leaves in the fall to avoid having to carry a load of ice on their limbs through the winter. They do this at a cost of slowing their own growth, and having to invest in a new set of leaves every spring, but it’s a conservative evolutionary choice they made. The evergreens, on the other hand, evolved thin leaves and flexible, forgiving (and load-shedding) limbs, and bet that winter couldn’t bring them down. Most of the time, they’re right, but in a winter like this one they are running pretty close to the edge, and we see dropped limbs everywhere.

We’ve got similar bets to make ourselves. We can clear the driveway and risk turning it into a skating rink when the next rain freezes, or we can leave the snow and risk having a basement layer of hard, white glacier that lasts late into March. We can shovel for a smooth icy space, or leave the slush for bumpy ice. It’s a tough guess to make. I park nose-out, walk when I can, and wait for mud season.

Posted by pjm at 8:59 PM | Comments (1)

January 11, 2005

I feel like I'm living on Slashdot

…I just got a support call about using our software on a Beowulf cluster.

Now Playing: Sister from Sister by Letters To Cleo

Posted by pjm at 4:58 PM | Comments (0)

In through the cracks

Apple (and most of the people who have written about it so far) are casting the new Mac Mini as a home machine for “switchers,” aimed at people with an existing investment in monitor, keyboard and mouse for their Wintel PC. And sure, maybe it is; Airbag has already called it “…something you buy to use with your iPod.

I’m seeing something else entirely: a gateway to small businesses. See, while the business side of my building is tied to management software which keeps them on Windows (and Windows Servers, which I would otherwise have eBayed long ago,) there’s little, if any, reason why our editorial people shouldn’t be on Macs, and since many of our authors, illustrators, copyeditors, etc. etc. are Mac people, it would make life a lot easier. They don’t need MS Access; they need Word, maybe PowerPoint, a web browser, and email. The Mac has all of that.

However, Apple doesn’t really make a machine aimed at that office spot. I don’t want all-in-ones; I have a hardware investment in displays already. So the iMac and eMac, however beautiful, are out. And the Power Macs are overkill. I’ve been planning on moving some of the G4 Power Macs being retired from the Production department down to Editorial; Production does heavy Photoshop/Illustrator/Quark stuff, so they need the big iron. But they are also dragging their feet on letting go of the OS 9 G4s, even with OS X G5s sitting right next to them; they like having two machines.

The Mac Mini fits right in between. It has all the power the editorial folks need. It doesn’t require me to pay for a built-in monitor or more power or expandability than they need. And, even with the Microsoft Tax MS Office included, the price is favorably comparable with a new Dell, particularly when you consider support costs: viruses, spyware, configuration costs and all the annoying garbage that new Wintel machines come loaded with just don’t exist.

Apple gets this; their sidebar pitches the Mac Mini as “great for small businesses.” And now I have an argument I can sell to the business manager, right at the bottom line.

I can’t believe how excited I am about this.

Now Playing: My Little Problem from All Shook Down by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 3:27 PM | Comments (0)


It’s nice when you complete an assignment and the assigning editor likes it enough to call you back for the next year.

Now Playing: Rainslicker from Hello Starling by Josh Ritter

Posted by pjm at 1:32 PM | Comments (0)

In today's good news,

The Muffin is five today. I am in favor of decimal birthdays for her, since by the time she reaches another power of two (in three years) she will probably be less interested in having her uncle at her birthday parties.

I wonder if I can get the same wrapping help that I did for her sister.

Now Playing: Friction from A Box Of Birds by The Church

Posted by pjm at 11:23 AM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2005

Irish coffee

How’s this for a wake-up?

I honestly don’t think there’s a way to overstate it.

Now Playing: Back On Line from Welcome To Wherever You Are by INXS

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

Tolstoy and tech support

Functional software is all alike, but every non-functional program is non-functional in its own way.

Understand that your email to support@company.com is probably going to be read by someone who deals with a range of issues over a number of products (and, probably, versions of products.) Chekhovian terseness is not rewarded.

They’re going to want to know exactly what you’re dealing with. That is, a product name (and/or website URL,) a version number (if it’s not a website,) and some basic information about your working environment (Mac or Windows? OS 9, OS X (10.2? 10.3?), XP, or Win2K? And, maybe, which browser? Which version, specifically, of that browser?)

They need this information because, even though you may think it’s the software that’s broken, 90% of the time there is something in your environment which is causing the problem, and they need to identify that something. Without knowing your environment, they’d be justified in just saying, “Hey, it works for me.” (This is assuming, of course, that you told them what’s not working, and didn’t use relative terms like “newer” or “older”, or imprecise terms like “your website” or “your CD.”)

If you’re writing about an error, they’ll want to know exactly what the error message says. If you’re able to identify what you were doing (or trying to do) when the error came up, that’s great, but for pity’s sake don’t just say, “It didn’t work,” or “I couldn’t sign on.”

Come to think of it, maybe you just want to read How To Ask Questions The Smart Way.

Now Playing: Hangin’ Around from This Desert Life by Counting Crows

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

Adding insult

I am informed by email that the Illustrator and his girlfriend have “groomed” a few short tracks around their yard in South Amherst, including about 275y of skating track. BYOB, no trail fee. If only I’d known yesterday… if only I didn’t have a square inch or more of raw heel. (Though skating tends to give me blisters over my over-prominent navicular bones, where I lean in to get an edge, rather than on my heels. Still, I should heal first.)

He’s even got a logo done up, which I suppose should come as no surprise.

Now Playing: Bullet Proof…I Wish I Was from The Bends by Radiohead

Posted by pjm at 11:07 AM | Comments (0)

January 9, 2005

Dancing in the snow

Yesterday afternoon, with the pool closed, I decided to embrace the weather to the extent of going out on snowshoes. I plowed right across the lawns of the College, down Memorial Hill, and out into the Bird Sanctuary, then across Misty Bottom (noting for the first time the signs renaming it the Emily Dickinson Trail, as though Emily Dickinson would go outside and walk along the Fort River,) and up 116. The loop is probably around five miles, and it took me an hour and a half. On one hand, I was moving pretty steadily. On the other, the surface left a lot to be desired. When I put my foot down, it would sit on top of the snow, but as I shifted my weight to it, the shoe would crunch through the crust, so I wound up with a jarring double-bump ride with most steps. By the end of the walk, I was envying the skiers on the rail trail, who looked like they were gliding along so much more easily than I was.

Today, I got my own skis out for the first time in nearly two years. I would have preferred to skate-ski, but I figured my odds of finding a groomed trail were pretty low, so I took the classical skis over to the rail trail, where I knew there would be a track, even if it wasn’t set by a groomer.

Skate skiing is more fun, since I got the hang of it; it’s more like flying and very much like speed-skating except that the snow is softer than ice. Figuring out skate skiing has made me better at classical, though, because it taught me how to shift weight between the skis and get a good push, even if I can’t get an edge. I found myself passing most of the people on the trail. I used to go out here and flail, passing everyone else just because I was working harder, and at the end of my run I’d be hanging from the poles. I resolved not to get too aggressive with my effort today, because I’m not in the kind of shape I might think I am, and when I turned around at Station Road my shoulders were tired from poling. Still, what I’ve lost in bull-headedness I’ve made back in form, and I’m easily as speedy as I used to be, and much quieter.

Skiing is probably as close to dancing as I’ll get on a regular basis. Like rowing and swimming breaststroke, it rewards a good rhythm and punishes those who try to rush. It requires some coordination and balance, as well, and trying to maintain that while coping with an irregular track is enough to fully absorb almost enough of my mind that I can let the rest spin free.

Poling was pretty tough today, though. Sometimes I’d get a good plant, other times the poles would skid across the crust, or punch through and have to be yanked out. By the time I turned around, I could tell my baskets were in pretty tough shape, and both of them tore free completely on the way back. (I stowed them in my pockets rather than leave them on the trail for the thaw.) Once the baskets were gone, I was punching through the crust and grating on the pavement underneath with each plant. I understand that ski racers frequently break poles, something which hasn’t happened to me yet, so I figure I’m still doing pretty well. However, since my skating poles are much longer than practical for classical skiing (they’re used differently,) I’ll need to either replace the baskets or the poles before I go out on that trail again.

Not that I’m in any big hurry, since I found the heel of my sock soaked pink from a snowshoeing blister ripped open by the ski boots.

Still, if I could ski every day, I wouldn’t miss running as much, particularly at this time of year.

Now Playing: Sunshine/Nowhere To Run from Tarantula by Ride

Posted by pjm at 9:33 PM | Comments (0)

January 7, 2005

The right tool for the job

Having lived my entire life in the Northeast, I’ve developed an appreciation for snow removal done badly. I’ll leave out snowplows and the D.C. area for now; today, I’m thinking shovels.

When I was not quite full-grown, I judged shovels by how well I could lift the shovels themselves. This predisposed me against, for example, my father’s coal shovel, and towards the sort of flat, wide-scooped plastic shovels which are better for plowing than real shoveling.

Once I got older, I preferred brute-force shovels, the ones with really deep scoops that would let me pick up a huge volume of snow and pitch it into the middle of the lawn. (Not always much of a pitch; in Pennsylvania, our front lawn was slightly smaller than a king-sized mattress, and one winter we had real trouble finding enough space on it to store all the snow.)

I feel like I’ve reached more of a connoisseur position now. I want the right shovel for the job. The wide, flat-scooped shovels are great for fluffy or not-deep snowfalls. They can be useful for wet snow, but only because the flat edge can be used to cut the snow down to something manageable before scooping. The brute-force shovels are great for causing heart attacks.

And on a day like today, when we’re figuring out what to do with three or four inches of fluff which then soaked up a lot of rain and froze? When I keep seeing people with flimsy plastic or thin-metal scoops chipping at an inch or two of crust on their front walks? Today, I’m thinking about Dad’s coal shovel.

Now Playing: Born of Frustration from Seven by James

Posted by pjm at 1:48 PM | Comments (4)

Annie's sign

Another good sign at Annie’s Garden Center on the way to work today:

Southbound: I child-proofed my house

Northbound: But they still get in

It’s too bad I’m northbound on my way to work, so I usually see the punch line first.

Now Playing: Radio Girl from Under The Big Top by Rosemary Caine

Posted by pjm at 9:12 AM | Comments (0)

January 6, 2005

Metaphors need to be shared

I’m explaining our FTP server to a freelancer. I finally came up with this:

“It’s like a back-road mailbox in wintertime: useful while it’s working, but expendable under attack.”

Posted by pjm at 7:49 PM | Comments (0)

Pay attention!

Have you ever wanted to scold a commenter on another weblog? I can think of at least three comments on different weblogs in the past month where I’ve wanted to shake the commenter and say, “Pay attention! If you’d been reading closely, you’d know what a silly thing that was to say!” (Not here, of course. Here, there are no stupid questions, even if there are some inquisitive idiots.)

Of course, it’s not my site, so I try to resist. I feel like a backseat moderator.

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

Posted by pjm at 1:15 PM | Comments (3)


I’ve been meaning to mention this for a while now, but I’ve been busy crossing things off lists. I had a column at RW Online on Tuesday (apparently late on Tuesday, due to some editorial snafu.)

I liked it when I was writing it, but the more I read it now the more frustrated I am with it. I still haven’t figured out how to best use the short format of this space (around 500 words.) I reached nearly 700 words before I started cutting, and I’m still over. And even with all that, I stopped short of actually making a point. It’s so easy for me to get wrapped up in setting the scene, that I do that extensively, and then don’t deliver a solid thought to go with the images.

Bah. I’ve been trying to do this for, what, three years now? I’ve had a few good ones, but sometimes I wonder why I haven’t been un-invited yet.

Now Playing: All over But the Cryin’ from In the Land of Salvation and Sin by The Georgia Satellites

Posted by pjm at 12:29 PM | Comments (2)

January 5, 2005

Throwing weight around

How often do you get to say you were there when something broke through?

Admittedly, in the track and field world, “breakthrough” is not saying much. But in the last four or five years, there has definitely been more attention paid to the shot put than there was, say, a decade ago. There’s buzz around John Godina, two-time Olympic silver medalist Adam Nelson, etc. Witness, after all, the Titan Games, which I mentioned a few months ago. They’re throwing at the Boston Indoor Games for the first time, this month.

I think I can trace it all back to one moment in Sacramento, four and a half years ago. It was the final round of the shot at the 2000 Olympic Trials, with four throwers in contention. I was in the stands at that end of the track, because that’s where I had access to the press area. As each throw topped the next, and the Olympic team started to take shape, they started to celebrate.

Yeah, celebrate. Remember, these are very big boys, and they’ve trained hours to fling a sixteen-pound ball as far as possible. There’s a tremendous amount of grace involved in getting the most energy behind the shot within the tight circle they throw from. (Finicky note: “Shot put” is the name of an event, and just as in “high jump” and “long jump” the second word is a verb. You put a shot. You do not throw a shot put.) When they let it go, they scream like they’d just dropped it on their foot. And when they see it land beyond the qualifying mark, and the white flag goes up… well, yeah, they do mid-air chest-bumps with their buddies. It’s like watching elephants samba.

The TV cameras were there, and they made national highlights broadcasts. When Nelson went on to win silver in Sydney, that kept the momentum going. Now there’s the Titan Games, the shot final at Olympia last summer… and a featured spot in Boston, which will inevitably be a standing-room-only affair.

So, yeah, I was there.

Now Playing: Magical Spring from Carnival Of Light by Ride

Posted by pjm at 10:41 AM | Comments (2)

January 4, 2005

Portable storage

While I’m attempting to shed stuff, I notice that Scheherazade is, as usual, doing it more thoughtfully. (On the other hand, I think my closet is a bit more boring than hers. OK, a lot more boring.)

I should also add that one of my external hard drives is now on eBay. It’s tiny (6 GB and about the size of two decks of cards) and therefore portable, but 6 GB isn’t enough for me to back up to anymore. I got this drive in 2000, when I was working for another company and had a laptop that belonged to the company. I kept all my personal files and programs on this drive, and when it was time to give the laptop back, I could just unplug the drive.

It’s Firewire, which not all PCs have but nearly all Macs have nowadays. It’s also very fast, particularly if you’re used to USB.

Now Playing: Crawling Back To You from Wildflowers by Tom Petty (still on battery power after over nine hours!)

Posted by pjm at 5:06 PM | Comments (1)

Analyzing the mess

As I watch yet another PHP upgrade scrolling by on the background terminal window, I realize that the real reason I’m documenting a lot of this stuff is not because I’m concerned that my replacements won’t know how to do things like upgrade PHP. Well, maybe they won’t, but that’s not the real issue.

The real issue is that I’m concerned my own software installations are such godawful kludges that someone will need a manual to figure out the twisted hacks required to make everything run.

Take PHP, for instance. Upgrading the main server is easy enough, but for convoluted reasons, Apache 2.0 is listening on port 80 (most of our sites), but Apache 1.3 is in charge of port 443 (https, the secure server.) So I need to install PHP twice, in order to have the current version running on both servers, and who knows what symlinks and path redirections exist to make sure they’re all using the right configuration files in the right places.

I suppose it’s a good thing that as I closely observe the installation process, the better to write up all the steps, the process goes more smoothly.

Now Playing: Chelsea Girl from Smile by Ride

Posted by pjm at 2:21 PM | Comments (0)

iPod surgery

Last night, after starting two loaves of bread, I popped the back off my 10GB 3rd generation (3G) iPod and replaced its battery, following the instructions provided with the new battery. This was a step or two more challenging than the battery replacement on the older iPod, in November, partly because the 2G to 3G transition (when the dock connector was added) involved incorporating the audio jack and lock switch with the stainless-steel back of the unit. So instead of popping an otherwise unconnected stainless soap-dish off the back of the unit, you have to be careful of a ribbon cable which keeps the soap-dish connected to the main circuit board. And the notably smaller soap-dish is harder to get off than it was on the 1G unit. The instructions correctly noted that this would be the toughest and most frustrating part; I think I was more frustrated because I had learned how to pop the back off the 1G unit quite quickly.

Once the back was off, the principal difference between the 1G and 3G models is the configuration of the major components inside the shell. The interior of the iPod is a tightly packed sandwich; when it is face down on the table, you have to carefully peel off layers to reach the bit you’re looking for. The 1G iPod has the battery on top, followed by the hard disk, the main circuit board, the screen and controls, then the white faceplate. Replacing the battery is simple; just pop off the back, unplug the battery and un-stick it from the hard disk, plug in a new one and stick it on, and put the back on.

On the 3G iPod, the first layer of the sandwich under the stainless-steel back is the hard disk, with a slightly-sticky edge of padding keeping it off the case. Under the drive is a another layer of this sticky-foamy stuff, edging a sheet of shiny plastic apparently meant to isolate the drive from the circuit board electronically.

With that sheet peeled back, the main circuit board is exposed. The battery is much smaller in the 3G models, about the size of a small sticky-note and about as thick as two quarters, and it fits in a section of the circuit board cut out to accommodate it. Removing and unplugging the battery, and replacing it with the Newer Tech substitute which is ever so slightly larger, is tricky but possible with patience. I didn’t attempt to remove the circuit board from the front panel, as I did with for the 1G unit (looking for the Firewire connector,) so my appreciation of the differences ends there.

Once reassembled, the unit booted and responded to all controls. I plugged it in to a wall socket and charged it overnight, then took it to the gym with me this morning. Now, at work, I have the speakers plugged right in to it, and it has been going for an hour and a half (probably closer to two and a half total, today) and still shows significant charge in the indicator. I’m going to rebuild the drive (which improves the battery life but also wipes all the music) before handing it over to A. in exchange for “20”.

In other good iPod news, my brother reports that he has precision soldering equipment at work (he’s a manufacturing engineer for a company that makes sensors for car companies,) so he thinks he can fix the soldering problem with my 1G iPod, then put a blob of epoxy over the connectors to keep them from breaking again.

I have a slew of photos of both surgeries which I will post in an extended entry later.

Now Playing: Once in a Lifetime from Remain in Light by Talking Heads

Posted by pjm at 10:49 AM | Comments (5)

January 3, 2005

MacMall loses (another) customer

So, after I left a voice-mail message for MacMall regarding the spam I got at an address I’d given to them, today I got a call back.

First he tried to refer me to the privacy policy on their website. I let him know I had already read it. The privacy policy clearly states, he said, that we may share your email address with partner companies. I asked if his partner companies were usually selling prescription drugs. Well, he said, perhaps the partner company let the address leak to the company engaged in the shady sales of pharmaceuticals. I asked if perhaps the terms under which they rented or exchanged email addresses to partner companies forbade those secondary companies from further distributing the address. He didn’t know. I suggested that perhaps he look in to that. Throughout the call, he was resolutely unapologetic; his basic line was, it’s all right there in the privacy policy.

So, a few direct lessons from this episode:

  • MacMall’s privacy policy can be condensed to, “We may sell your email address to spammers.”
  • MacMall does not pay particularly close attention to the terms under which they share their customers’ personal information. Therefore, anything you share with MacMall, you share with spammers.
  • MacMall will allow you to opt out from receiving mail from them (I did this long ago) but you can’t opt out of mail from their partners. I think this may be illegal, actually.

From these I can reach a few more conclusions:

  • MacMall doesn’t care about spam.
  • MacMall’s privacy policy is a fig-leaf. If it wasn’t considered standard operating procedure to have one, they wouldn’t.
  • Since MacMall is earning revenue by sharing the email addresses of its customers in such a way that they fall in the hands of spammers, MacMall is profiting from spam as defined by the CAN-SPAM law. It’s not unreasonable to say that they are in violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of that law—and if they’re not in violation of the letter, it’s because of their lobbyist buddies, the DMA, friends of junk mailers and spammers everywhere.

I suppose it should go without saying that I’m not buying from MacMall any more? I’d encourage you to do the same, and stay clear of their alter ego, PC Mall, as well. If you don’t like their privacy policy, don’t buy, and this company’s privacy policy would be improved if they’d scraped up some roadkill from the highway and posted that instead.

I’m not the first to figure this out, either.

Now Playing: No Surprises from OK Computer by Radiohead

Posted by pjm at 4:41 PM | Comments (0)


Today’s sobering realization comes courtesy of the office “Holiday Closings for 2005” list, when I realize that I won’t actually be here for six of the ten listed three-day weekends.

Now Playing: Almost Grown by Jesse Malin

Posted by pjm at 3:26 PM | Comments (0)

Step carefully

The results for the Millennium Mile are listing the second-place finisher as coming from Palo Alto, California. Not so, or at least not now.

Back in the mists of prehistory, I used to race Derek. Really. Somewhere I have a picture of the 1992 Maine State Class A 800m in which the two of us are in the same frame, even before the podium shot. He used to have an Accu-Track finish photo from the Black Bear Relays where I anchored the 4x800 for a school I didn’t attend (long story) and successfully held off his closing charge for Old Town. It was truly a photo finish, and at first I thought I had lost, because in black and white his uniform looked more like that of my real team. It wasn’t until I spotted the athletic tape he had over his new earring that I realized the mistake.

I’ve been bumping in to him for years, one of the few I ever see from my high school running days. In 1996, not quite a senior at the University of Maine but already twice a conference champion, he made the Olympic Trials final for the 1500m. After a few seasons training with Ned and one of my college teammates in Amherst, he went out to California to run for the Farm Team.

Yesterday, he was complaining about how cold it was. Since it was probably hovering around freezing in Londonderry, definitely a few ticks on the good side for January, I laughed at him and called him a Californian. Actually, he said, he’s in New York now. Specifically, he’s coaching at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York.

Now, just for fun:

  • In 1999, I ran a pretty decent 10k on a very hilly course in Oneonta, on my way to my first Boston qualifier in Columbus. (I note that Oneonta is called “The City of the Hills.”)
  • The following summer, I hired an intern from Hartwick College, who I saw a few years ago at Reach the Beach (since she’s now out on Cape Ann somewhere.)

All very sketchy coincidences, but definitely enough to impress me with how small the world can be and how large at the same time.

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

Posted by pjm at 2:40 PM | Comments (0)

January 2, 2005

Road hazard

So there I was, crouched down behind a barrel which marked one side of the finishing chip-mat at the Millennium Mile with A.’s second-best camera, playing backup photographer and waiting for Deena Kastor to reach the finish.

Even with the second-best lens (26-to-80 zoom, if I understand correctly) my field of vision starts a good five meters beyond my nose, so it took me completely by surprise when I was clipped by a baby jogger and knocked sprawling into the spectators crowded behind the chute. I was so unfocused that I don’t even recall if the jogger had a passenger. (For those unfamiliar with modern pedestrianism, a “baby jogger” is a sort of tricycle stroller with eight-inch tires which provides a relatively smooth ride for underage passengers when powered by a parent.)

No damage done, apparently, and I didn’t miss my shot (at least, I didn’t miss it because of the collision.) I assured everyone that I wasn’t bleeding and couldn’t feel any broken bones, so the penalty was declined and I got back to work.

But still, what kind of thinking are you not doing to push a baby jogger in a road mile? Large races around the country specifically disallow the things on their entry forms for safety reasons, and the MM6 apparently hit 700 this year, all crossing the finish line in the space of about eight minutes. There’s no room for something that can’t turn on a toe.

And besides, if you were far enough to the side to hit me, there are decent odds that your chip shoe missed the primary reader mat. I have karmic protection.

Posted by pjm at 10:39 PM | Comments (2)

January 1, 2005

More Quabbin time

For various reasons, A. had to improvise for her run this afternoon, and we ended up driving out to Pelham with my bike in the trunk and doing some more exploring in the Quabbin reservation. If you’re following along on your official M.D.C. map, we entered at Gate 11 in Pelham and went pretty directly down to Gate 6 on the Belchertown line.

It’s always a little spooky to be on the roads in the reservation. On the one hand, it’s wilderness. Nobody has lived on the Quabbin land since the Depression, and in that time even the wood lots have been harvested more than once, some quite recently. The area is as wild as wilderness gets this close to the northeastern metroplex. Yet we were cruising along well-maintained dirt roads between stone walls which clearly marked someone’s former fields. For two hundred years (give or take a few decades) before the MDC took the land, someone was building those walls with the rocks that percolated up with the frost and stubbed the toe of their plow. Now, it’s empty.

Thanks to a few unseasonably warm days and relatively light snowfall this winter, the roads were mostly clear, if wet. There were a few snowy patches, but for most of the ride the worst traction I had was the dry leaves uphill from Gate 6, which spun out from under my tires as I tried to climb the hill.

Most of the ride. Within a mile of the car, I slowed to walking pace and tried to roll directly over a small patch of ice blocking my way; instead, the tires slipped, and I ended up dropping the bike. (I kept my own feet, but I wonder if I would have done as well if I had been clipped in.)

I wound up carrying a lot of Quabbin gravel home on the tires and frame of the bike.

Now Playing: City Rain, City Streets from Love Is Hell by Ryan Adams

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

Starting the bidding at...

One of my goals for January is to lighten my load. Literally, the odds are excellent that I will be moving before the end of the year, whatever the outcome of the graduate school conundrum, and the less I’m carrying with me, the happier I’ll be while that’s happening.

To that end, I’ve been working on ways to offload more than books. I signed up for the local Freecycle list, which has found a home for one medium appliance (replaced) and will hopefully be the destination for more stuff which has less value to me than the cost of disposing of it. Extra computer keyboards, for example, or a well-used laptop wireless card.

Also, today I registered as a seller on eBay, and I’m hoping to generate some cash from extraneous computer hardware which is no longer needed on my desk. The first item is a good example; I’m starting with a wireless bridge which we don’t need now that (a) I have an Airport Express, and (b) we’re on DSL, which allowed me to move the network hub closer to the computers using the network.

As I write this, my Mac is repeatedly writing random data to every sector of a 6 GB Firewire hard disk which will be next up. I will post links here when they are listed, in the unlikely event that anyone reading this wants some of my (relatively) inexpensive and slightly used hardware.

Posted by pjm at 6:38 PM | Comments (0)