February 28, 2005
This is the sort of nugget that won’t fit neatly in anyone’s reporting about last weekend’s Indoor Nationals.
There are all kinds of perfectly good reasons why a professional athlete would have skipped that meet. They’re focused on a summer season which starts in May and goes through August, and there’s no point in tapering and peaking for roller-derby in Boston. Many distance runners are sharpening (or should be) for the World Cross.
But another track writer pointed out to me that shoe-company bonuses apply to national championships no matter who else shows up. Maybe you don’t need a peak race; just show up and run the race you’re ready for.
This is almost an agent’s point of view, not that of a coach, of course. But it’s interesting nonetheless.
Now Playing: Hotel Chelsea Nights from Love Is Hell by Ryan Adams
My voice is tired
I volunteered at another 10-miler yesterday, this one right in Amherst. I’ve run this race three or four times and volunteered nearly as many, now. I wound up talking a lot.
My first job was to watch the start, then tear over to the mile mark and call the split to the runners as they passed. There was a minor snag when I remembered that my watch, despite having a perfectly good stopwatch, isn’t responding to any of the buttons, so I can’t reach the stopwatch. Fortunately, Julia was passing by, and I traded watches with her. (I didn’t reflect on this until later, but this was the perfect thing to do, because with anyone else, Murphy’s Law would have dictated that I not see them again for a month or so. I’m not sure why this is never the case with Julia.)
Calling splits is both very intense and very boring. The trick is getting to the split before the runners do; I figured I had five minutes after the start, and made it by using a head start, a shortcut, and a car. When you find the marker (both a temporary roadside sign and a faint red mark on the road surface,) then stand there acting as an audible clock, reciting times as they flick over the face of the watch. “Six oh one… two… three… four… six oh five… six… seven…” etc. up to about thirteen minutes.
I stood there until the watch was at about 15:00 (the last runner went by at thirteen minutes and change,) then returned my car to the race headquarters and hiked over to the finish area, where I sought out someone who looked responsible, and said, “I’m here to help, where do you need me?” I wound up filling a lot of cups at the water table, then adjourning to the finish area as traffic control. The finish for this race is unusual in that runners enter a school parking lot, but must do a lap of the lot before they’re actually done. My job was to yell these instructions (concisely, of course) so no runner would mistakenly stop too early. We got all but one or two. Like the last race, I felt like a parrot squawking the same thing over and over, but this task didn’t leave much room for improvisation. Every now and then I would try to anticipate other finish area problems, for example, warning people with zipped-up jackets that their number should be showing as they approached the finish line.
One thing that puzzled me a bit was the number of people with headphones on. I know I need music to keep me on a treadmill for more than twenty minutes or so, but outdoors is a different matter, and this is a pretty scenic and ever-changing course, not one you’d be bored by. More importantly, I wasn’t sure if these people could hear my instructions, or anyone else’s for that matter, which strikes me as a poor choice in a road race.
I wound up staying at the finish until the last runner came in, about 2:30 after the start, and helping break down the chutes, flags, tables, etc. When I returned to the race HQ, barely anyone was left there, which was fine; at one point or another, I’d talked to pretty much everyone who ran.
Now Playing: Dreams Burn Down from Nowhere by Ride
The real drug problem
There was an article in the sports section of the Sunday Globe: “Healthy outlook has the sport up and running again”. Never mind the awful cliché in the headline. The whole premise of this article is flawed.
A year ago this weekend inside the Reggie Lewis Center, you would have been excused if you thought you’d wandered into a pharmacological convention. The questions were all about designer steroids then, about human growth hormones and Modafinil, about EPO and insulin and who was using them and who wasn’t.
Hogwash, sir. Were you actually there last year? I was and I don’t recall hearing a single question about designer steroids, HGH or Modafinil. Maybe that’s because I was talking to the distance runners? He’s got some decent quotes in here from seriously drug-impaired events, like the shot putters, where Saturday’s winner John Godina said, “In my event, it’s always been all about the drugs,” and third-placer Adam Nelson, whose shirt says “Space for rent” on the front, has his website, throwclean.com, on the back. (Look at those pictures. How can you not love this guy?)
But I stood next to this reporter on Saturday while he badgered Jen Toomey and Shayne Culpepper for quotes for this column. Toomey gave him a good one, which he used, and it’s true that the drug scandals did clear out an athlete who was one of the biggest figures in her event. But Culpepper didn’t really have anything to say; aside from that one individual, drugs have seldom been at the top of any distance runner’s agenda in this country.
As another track writer and I rolled our eyes at each other, this guy asked, “Is it nice that nobody’s asking about drugs this year?” And I thought, furiously, “Yeah, nobody except you…”
Now Playing: Supernatural Radio from She’s The One by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
For the first time, on Sunday, Mozilla Firefox was even with MS Internet Explorer as the most-common user agent requesting pages on this site. FF had a few more requests than IE, and IE had a few more pages served. The two of them covered a bit more than half of my requests. If you add the Camino traffic (which is, admittedly, mostly me) the Gecko-based browsers come out ahead.
Now Playing: Railroad Steel from Georgia Satellites by The Georgia Satellites
February 27, 2005
Print your results bigger!
I can’t believe no race director has thought of this yet.
At the end of every race of any size, they post results. And there’s always a cramped crush of runners peering at single-spaced, twelve-point type trying to find their place and time. I’ve seen it happen at small races and I’ve seen it happen at national championships. The only places I haven’t seen it happen are the mega-races where they don’t bother trying to do results at the race; they just send you a postcard (or post the results online, which should be happening for all races anyway.)
How hard would it be to print fewer listings to a page, in bigger type, with wider line spacing?
And if you can’t do that, at least don’t feel you need to post up all the results in one space, with the sheets butted up against each other. Find a big long wall and put one sheet every ten feet or so. Then you’ve still got the type size issue, but at least it’s not the whole race in one place; it’s just the fifty-odd runners listed on each sheet. Instead of one big crush, it’s six or ten little crushes.
Now Playing: Hallelujah from Demolition by Ryan Adams
On Route 9 in Windsor (eastbound) and Cummington (westbound) there is a white bubble visible on a mountaintop. As best I can tell from my topo maps, it’s in Cummington, atop Bryant Peak, 2,070 feet up. The map, which is somewhat less than current, says there is a radio tower there, but this is unlike any radio tower I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to get a sense of its size; it looks a bit like the Peace Pagoda, but it sticks up much farther above the trees. It looks more like a scoop of ice cream fallen from a really massive cone. My bet is that it’s actually a doppler radar system inside its protective bubble.
But it looks like nothing so much as a giant golf ball, teed up and waiting to be played.
February 26, 2005
My best ideas do not come at my best times
Usually they arrive while I am standing in front of a locker, dripping. I would keep notebooks in lockers, but (a) they’d be perpetually damp, and (b) when would I get ideas from the notebooks? Doubtless I’d wind up leaving the notebooks there.
Alternately, while I am driving and have both hands occupied. I’ve considered voice recordings, but I can’t stand listening to recordings of myself. Ten-plus years ago my band made an album (cassette, actually) and I can barely stand listening to that.
I think I should be happy and flattered that the cat, who is quite capable of amusing himself, would rather play with me. Or at least, he’d rather I play with him than type.
February 25, 2005
On a tip from Brent (in response to my whining last month) I set in to the latest round of image rasterizing with my new command-line tool: the
bash “for” loop. It was hugely useful in sorting the images into folders, through I needed to remember to be careful with wild-card characters.
bash, as it turns out, is exactly the picky sort of language I have little experience with, where spaces in a script change what the neighboring symbols mean and cause the shell to complain mightily.
My next project is figuring out a more elegant way to zero-pad single-digit numbers, since we usually express chapter numbers in double digits in these filenames.
Now Playing: Waiting For Somebody from Singles Soundtrack by Paul Westerberg
Now Playing: Grip from Beast Inside by Inspiral Carpets
February 24, 2005
Good graphics, lousy spell-check
Apparently, nobody is proof-reading the boxes at nVidia when they send out their video cards. On the box of the video card I picked up on eBay in a (failed) troubleshooting step for A.’s desktop machine, I counted nine different spelling and grammatical errors, some of which can’t possibly have escaped someone’s notice. Apparently this box contains, for example, a “Giaphice Acceleiatai” which is “The Definition of Perfpormance”. Its specifications, however, “is subject to chang without notice.”
It’s almost as though the text was retyped for the box by, oh, someone who doesn’t speak a language which uses the Latin alphabet? Maybe, hmm, someone who doesn’t actually work for nVidia? What are the odds that a legitimate technology company would let such a packaging disaster out the door?
Now Playing: The Wrong Child from Green by R.E.M.
Records and racing
Now Playing: Kerosene from Human Cannonball by School Of Fish
More on failing gracefully
My experience in technical support has taught me that any idiot can solve pretty nearly any computer problem. It’s not only easy, but it’s quite satisfying.
However, systems have evolved to the point that it takes some level of skill and talent (and a pretty tall measure of patience) to properly identify the problem.
Now Playing: Page One from Between 10th And 11th by The Charlatans
Seen on a t-shirt
Colby Computer Science: We’re not just geeks with computers!
…oh, wait, we are.
Spotted at the New England Division III women’s indoor track championships. Wish I could remember which college it was.
Now Playing: Turn You Inside-Out from Green by R.E.M.
February 23, 2005
I wanted to wait until I’d been pain-free without running for a week or so. I had some bad days in December, but sometime in January I found myself lifting in the morning and looking longingly at the treadmills. I should have taken this as a sign of lunacy—nobody in their right mind likes a treadmill—but instead I got on.
I’m following something like a beginner’s schedule, specifically, running half-hour blocks where I alternate walking and running. I started walking two minutes and running one, and since then I’ve been reducing the walking time and increasing the running time. (I’ve managed a sub-30 5K this way, which would be more of a landmark if I hadn’t run sub-17 in 2002, my last good running year.) When I’m up to eight or nine minutes of running at a stretch, I’ll head outside.
The treadmill is a good place to start because not only is it a regular surface, if things start hurting, I can stop immediately and not have to walk home. I’m starting to feel like a pet rodent, though, which at least says good things about my sanity.
I sometimes feel aches in my foot, still. Sometimes during a run, sometimes afterward. So far, they haven’t stuck around. I figure some soreness is normal, coming back after a layoff this long. If soreness persists through a day or two, then we’ve got a problem.
Anyway, at one or two runs a week, I’m not really loading it yet. As long as I keep swimming three or four days a week, I can’t ramp up too quickly, which is probably good.
Now Playing: Litttle Man Big Man from Coil by Toad The Wet Sprocket
Odysseus and the mail server
Scylla and Charybdis turn out to be, on one side, the whirlpool of over-large email attachments dragging down my server, and on the other, the monster of the people we do business with, who can’t understand why we might limit the size of email messages we receive. (Their cave in this situation, of course, is the sheer difficulty of trying to explain FTP to people who have grown fond of their conception of email as a universal means of transmitting bits of all types and collective sizes.)
Meanwhile, I want to utterly ruin the “easily configurable appliance” features of this server by ripping out the stock smtpd and replacing it with something where the power-user features (such as explaining the reason for a bounce in the bounce message) are more easily configured. Perhaps that counts as tying myself to the mast? I don’t want an incomprehensible mess which can be “easily configured” (major options only) through a web GUI; I want a server with an options file which makes sense. (Generating the configuration file using macros doesn’t count.)
Now Playing: Horrible Qualities from Josh Ritter by Josh Ritter
We had a dusting of snow overnight, good for showing tracks. The second one out the door this morning, I saw two distinct sets. One was four toes and a distinct pad; I suspect it belonged to one of the neighborhood cats. The second, however, had four toes, three of them quite long, and though one of our neighbors thought it might have been a skunk we agreed that it could also be one of the raccoons.
There were some other clusters of small footprints, which I think were squirrel.
I took some pictures:
Now Playing: Uniform Grey from You Were Here by Sarah Harmer
February 22, 2005
That explains the multiple personalities
Email arrived in the work box over the weekend, with this salutation:
Dear support team…
If it was worth trying to correct the writer, I’d say, “I’m not a team, I’m an army of one.”
Now Playing: Jumping Someone Else’s Train from Staring At The Sea by The Cure
I didn’t note this at the time, but as of last Friday, I’ve been doing this for a year now.
I’d try to claim humility as the reason for not mentioning the date, but pride is more likely; it’s pretty clear from the archives that it took me a few weeks to hit my stride.
Assuming I have hit my stride, that is.
Now Playing: The Three Day Man from The Secret Life of The Waterboys by The Waterboys
February 21, 2005
Ski the conditions
Yesterday, just for kicks, I scanned the conditions at the cross-country ski areas. Despite the tremendous melting of the last few weeks, Notchview was open. It surprised me at the time, but on further reflection it’s not so shocking; down here in the Valley, we’re around 250 feet of elevation, whereas the Notchview parking area, way up in Windsor, sits at 2,000 feet.
With more snow forecast for last night, I figured I would take my day off as a ski day, and put my pieces together to head for the hills right after breakfast. (Our more local area, Northfield Mountain, is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.) When I woke up, though, A. deposited the cat on me and told me the snow was still coming down. Best to wait until they’d had time to groom the trails. And plow the roads, I suppose. The cat purred, and he and I went back to sleep.
We wound up leaving for Notchview shortly after noon, though between the drive, waxing skis, and other preparation activities, we didn’t actually head out on the trails until after two. As a member of the Trustees, I can ski for free at Notchview, but for some reason I hadn’t gone before, probably because they advertise fewer trails groomed for skating than Northfield or the now-defunct Hickory Hill. I think I visualized myself doing innumerable little laps around a single field. I should’ve done the math; 20K of skating trail at Northfield is probably more than I can ski in a day, and 8K at Notchview was plenty for A. and I today.
We did one big, hilly loop and established that both of us are pretty decent on easy grades, but neither of us can hold form while climbing. I can bull my way up with all the muscle I’ve built swimming and lifting, but it’s not pretty. I also discovered that one of my poles has somehow been twisted, such that the basket is about 90° off. I wouldn’t have thought that would make a difference, but it was hard to get a good push off that pole unless I held it “sideways” in my hand, so the basket was lined up properly. That brought home to me how much energy I’m putting in to driving with my poles, though I suppose my tired shoulders could have given me the message if I’d chosen to listen.
Another thing we discovered was that most of Notchview’s trails weren’t groomed as wide as Northfield’s are. It’s probably hard for racing skaters to pass on the side trails; with our wide climbing stances, we could hog an entire trail from edge to edge if we were going uphill. Fortunately, even though the staff thought they had a big crowd, there weren’t many people on the trails at all, from our point of view. I think I could count on one hand the number of times I had to give way on the trail.
After a cup of tea in the lodge, we went back out for two smaller loops around the “circuit trail.” The circuit trail is wider than most others, and aside from two healthy climbs features a lot of easy rollers and the sort of gentle descents you can really fly down. Starting the first loop, I saw something scooting across the trail. At first I thought it was a squirrel, but on second look it was too long. I think it was too small for a mink; weasel seems more likely.
At the lodge, I overheard another skier discussing the area with one of the staff. On the website they point out that they’re usually ten degrees colder than the valleys; apparently this translates into reliable skiing through March and into April. “Sometimes we can ski on the first weekend of May,” he said conspiratorially.
Hmm. On the way up, I’d been congratulating myself on getting to ski more than once this winter. Now I’m wondering if I can get up there once or twice more, now that I know my way around a bit.
Now Playing: Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before from Strangeways, Here We Come by The Smiths
February 20, 2005
Life of the party
We spent most of yesterday afternoon at the New England Division III women’s track meet over at Smith. (The men’s meet was held at Tufts, which is considerably less convenient.) For me one of the best parts was watching Amherst runners win, something I saw little enough of when I was on the team and saw plenty of yesterday. (Two women won four events while we were there, and we placed second in two relays as well.)
The other thing that stuck me was the sheer number of people who spotted us in the bleachers (in a high traffic area, to be sure) and stopped by to say high. Most of them were associated with the Amherst program in one way or another, but A.’s parents were also there, and Mary came by to talk with us a few times as well. I felt like we’d plugged in to the whole network for the few hours we were there.
Now Playing: Orange Crush from Green by R.E.M.
February 19, 2005
Spring is in the air
After nearly two weeks of unseasonably warm weather (highs in the 40s) it is February-cold again. But there’s no question that spring is in the air.
Case in point: returning from my swim this morning, I heard a loud chittering as I put my key in the door. I looked up to see what bird was chastising me, and instead saw a raccoon in the front yard tree. Make that two raccoons—one on top of the other. Make that two raccoons, mating. In broad daylight, sixteen feet over our front yard.
I think the little bandits are still there; the only obvious escape route is down the tree, so they’ll probably wait for dark.
February 18, 2005
The stripes on a mackerel tabby are not the result of alternating, differently colored hairs. In fact, each hair has a short segment of white. The placement of that white segment, on thousands of hairs, is what makes the stripe.
It’s a very cool effect, actually.
Now Playing: Should I Stay Or Should I Go? from Combat Rock by The Clash
Note to RW Online: His name is Kenenisa Bekele. The “Kenny G./Kenny B.” joke might have been funny once, but now it’s getting annoying.
Now Playing: Harrisburg from Golden Age of Radio by Josh Ritter
Playing at a sport
Proving once again that I am not the swimmer that I was a runner, I am only now beginning to iron out my competitive swimming season. I would never train this way, running, without a clear vision of the competition I’m training for, but even though I’ve known since November that I would swim the New England Masters SCY meet again, it didn’t occur to me until this weekend that they might have changed the order of events (it’s a four day meet across two weekends, Saturday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday, though I only swam the second Saturday last year.)
Sure enough, the men’s 500 free, which was my target race last year, is on Friday this year, which means I can’t swim it. (Can I just use abbreviations from here on? Ask if you’re confused. Thanks.) The 100 BR has also moved. I’ll still do the 100 BR, but my options on Saturday are severely limited, since I can’t swim fly and my backstroke, while functional, isn’t much fun. It looks like I may have to focus on the 200 BR, which is brutal enough to make my brother, who considers it reasonable to swim fly in the 100 FR, grumble under his breath. If I was willing to stay over to Sunday, I could also swim 200 FR, which might be interesting.
I’m toying with the idea of going in for “Distance Day,” the first Saturday, and swimming the 1000 FR. They swim that and the 1650 on an entirely different day because they’re so long (especially with several heats) and boring for those not swimming or counting laps. My brother specialized in these races in college, so he’s likely to race that day as well.
I’m contemplating going over the Simon’s Rock Invitational on the first weekend of March. Maybe they’ll have a 500 FR; either way, maybe I can re-learn how to start from blocks, and get myself some seed times.
Now Playing: World War 24 from Love Is Hell by Ryan Adams
February 17, 2005
Making the race
(Once again, blowing a good column idea when I’ll have one due soon.)
There’s a certain amount of angst in track circles about “record mania.” The complaint is that many fans can see a “good race” and yet go away disappointed because there was no record. On the other hand, in a lot of record-setting races, the record is the only thing that makes them exciting: the fact that nobody has ever run faster.
I’ve seen a few records in my day, even a few world records. Some were thrilling, some weren’t. I’ve seen a lot more exciting races where the time wasn’t really important.
I wonder if the problem isn’t the fans in the stadium, but the fans out of the stadium. Anyone can recognize an exciting race when it’s in front of their nose. It’s a lot harder to convey that excitement to someone who wasn’t there; it’s even hard to explain why it was exciting. Even on television it’s not easy to see it.
So the global audience falls back on what it can get from an event: the results, in times and distances. The numbers are the only things speaking for the event, and the missing record is more of a let-down there.
We can certainly share some blame out to the meet promoters looking for the quick hit of a world record, and the fans who show up hoping to see someone do something that’s never been done before. But maybe some blame should go with the way we report and share these events with those who aren’t there watching? Numbers are not drama, not without context.
Now Playing: Alleluia from The Honesty Room by Dar Williams
Ever wondered about the shortage of superheroes nowadays?
I blame the diminishing number of phone booths. (Even those who can use a photo booth in a pinch won’t find many.)
Now Playing: Soon Enough from Inarticulate Nature Boy by Josh Clayton-Felt
February 16, 2005
I like to think of it as my spreading fame
I should mention that I have started posting entries on another weblog. It’s a group weblog (though so far I am the second of only two authors) focused on news and discussion relating to the local college (sometimes referred to here as “The College,”) which also happens to have been my college.
As such, I doubt it will be of interest to (m)any beyond the two or three of you here who also attended The College. (If you’re one of those, and aren’t linked on the left, I’d be interested in knowing that you’re here, incidentally.)
In a related note, on Monday I was sailing down a moving walkway in O’Hare Airport, heading for a plane that was already boarding, when the person going the other direction said my name. I was a bit startled, and looked around. Sure enough, a face I recognized. I must have looked puzzled, because while I recognized the face, I couldn’t place his name. Sharp-dressed young businessman, a class year behind me, took Russian with me, played soccer. He remembered my name, and my face, but going opposite directions all we got to share was the mutual recognition.
It’s been almost nine years since we could have seen each other. I’m impressed that he recognized and remembered me.
Now Playing: Lousiana from Hologram of Baal by The Church
February 15, 2005
I wonder if I can actually do this quickly.
Back from PDX. Lost sleep. Much work remains.
I’m thinking about a swim meet before New Englands. There’s one at Simon’s Rock at the beginning of March. New Englands might be not as simple this year; the events are on different days.
A student is having trouble with her computer. She took it to the university computer center and was told one of our disks caused the problem. Tomorrow morning I have to call the computer center and find out what their reasoning is. I think they’re trying to avoid doing a warrantee repair.
I could waste a lot of time reading (and trying out) the articles in this.
February 13, 2005
I’ve commented before about how much I dislike transcribing. Of course, I’m coming away from this weekend with a healthy stack of voices in my ears, and not a lot of time in which to turn them into readable text with a thread of discussion.
I’m trying a different route this time. Right now I’m playing the interviews into no-effects tracks in GarageBand, then exporting those files into iTunes. This has two small benefits, allowing me to join together discussions broken into several segments on the recorder (or, in one case, on two different recorders,) and also taking the mono input from the recorder and playing it back in stereo, which I hope will help me focus on the transcription. So far I’ve got about 150MB of talking, and I’m not halfway done yet.
The real triumph will be if I can use keyboard commands to flick between the text editor and iTunes, pausing and restarting the playback without moving my hands from the keyboard. I suspect that may be problematic—iTunes isn’t set up to handle hopping back five seconds or so—but maybe it will be a relief. And maybe there will be less stuff to deal with on the plane, so I can finish getting everything into text by the time we’re back in Amherst.
Of course, it could lead to some weird “Now Playing” notes.
Update, 15 February: Oh, that works really, really well. I did more transcription on the plane than I’ve ever done on a plane before.
February 12, 2005
Pay no attention to the time stamp
My watch and my computer are still on East Coast time. I think I am somewhere between Central and Mountain. I’m physically located in Pacific.
I walked from our hotel over to a place called Columbia Shores, a massive (to me) condo development about a mile and a half up the river. I was hoping to sit for a while at the café I’d seen there last night, but it wasn’t yet open. There’s a McMenamin’s there which I can only spell thanks to Google and I am only mentioning to make Nicole homesick.
It was dark when I started the walk, and when I passed under the I-5 bridge there was a lot of chittering. I suspect it was bats, which made me think of Austin. I spooked a larger bird with bars across its tail feathers; I suppose it could have been a barred owl at the bat buffet, but I saw it flying, not perched, so I’m not sure. Any other suggestions?
February 10, 2005
In light of the (bizarre) snowstorm currently plastering Western Massachusetts (we got rain in lieu of the first ten forecast inches, and the initial coating came down in inch-wide clumps) the airline has preemptively cancelled our flight out tomorrow morning and rescheduled us two hours later.
This allows me to shift the planned swim tonight to tomorrow morning.
When updating our arrival time for the rental car reservation, my rate was somehow reduced, so we’re saving a few bucks.
In the bag for plane reading: Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words. I am betting on a raft of emails correcting this cheap hack’s usage after I finish.
I like these races. I guess you could say I love them, since I ran them three times. Running gave me an excuse to be there, though; this weekend I’m working “on spec,” speculating that I can get (and sell) enough material to cover my (relatively small) expenses. I’m ahead (on paper) for the year, thanks to a high profit margin in Boston, but this will likely knock me back to break-even.
Now Playing: Injustica from Building 55 by Kathleen Edwards
February 9, 2005
They're watching you
I’m in a technical twilight area in many ways. For example, people who know more about network security than I do would probably find some of my common practices dangerously reckless, or at least negligent. People who know less think many of the things I do are signs of paranoia.
Well, if the shoe fits…
Let me play black hat for a moment and show what’s possible. Visualize a public network. Could be the free Wi-Fi at Bart’s, could be the college library, whatever. I walk in there, open up my laptop, and go on the network with a packet sniffer. (Packet sniffers are important network diagnostic tools, so yes, I’ve got one. It’s just unethical to run them without the network admin’s permission.)
I would bet that within ten minutes I’ve picked up someone’s email login and password. That’s nothing, though, right? Who would want an email password? Well, do you use that password somewhere else? Maybe at your bank? One-click ordering from Amazon? Is it a valid user-id for a machine somewhere, which means I now have user privileges on a server and access to a website I can deface (or just serve warez from?) Did I just get access to your employer’s network? (I hope I’m not your sysadmin.) Can I redirect your Netflix queue now? I wonder how long I would need to hang out in a college library before I had access to several of their systems. Not very long, I’m betting.
It gets better. Did you forget the password to your bank site? To your weblog? Did they just email it to you? That’s traveling over the network in clear text, too.
It doesn’t take much to be paranoid like me. First, find out if your mail host has some provision for secure email. Gmail users can just change the
http in the website address to
https and be secure. The host for my websites and mailboxes offers “IMAPS” which is simply the IMAP mail protocol over an SSL connection; I suspect they offer the analogous POP feature as well. Apple Mail and Thunderbird can take advantage of this; it’s as simple as checking a box marked “Use SSL” in the mail server options.
If none of that covers you, you may want to take a look at the excellent article by Doug Bowman on Secure wireless email. It’s focused on Mac OS X, but has leads for Windows users as well, and presents the case for securing your connections quite compellingly. Don’t skip the comments, either.
And remember: just because I’m paranoid, doesn’t mean the guy in the corner with the Powerbook isn’t running a packet sniffer.
Now Playing: Galapagos from Cherry Marmalade by Kay Hanley
“Gunpowder” green tea is named not for its taste, but for the way the dry leaves are curled in pellets—the way black powder is shipped.
I have no idea why we call them “colds.”
But even if we leave that conundrum behind, I don’t understand the things we call “cold remedies,” since they aren’t. I suspect that the tiny little pills in my bag represent an exchange of one sort of unpleasantness for another.
I would expect that a better “cold remedy” would be something hot. Like gunpowder green tea.
Now Playing: Valentine from Pleased to Meet Me by The Replacements
February 8, 2005
You would think that the marketing dross of the dot-com boom days would have washed away with the stock prices. But there’s one little buzzword which is working away on my head now like my ski boots on my feet.
“Powered by.” There’s a relatively rational, if bothersome, use of it on this front page, in the default text by which I admit that I’m using Movable Type to manage this site. It’s relatively accurate in the sense that the site relies on MT to function; however, if I want to be pedantic, I should point out that the real motive forces are myself and you, the readers; without us, MT just sits there and waits to be called. And, if we were really crediting software for driving the site, we should also nod to Apache and MySQL, which are equally as integral.
Anyway, you see that little tagline all over, even when it’s not strictly true. What’s really abrading me now is the weekend’s upcoming track meet, the Powered By Tyson Invitational.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a track meet with an adjectival phrase as the title sponsor.
I’ll admit that Tyson, factory-farm producers of more chicken, pork and beef than anyone else in the USA, might have a better claim on “powering” the meet than most software makers can claim. Forgive me if I don’t find that an excuse for such a clunky meet name. Any time you need to use an article (as above) the sentence structure goes beyond un-lovely and reaches silly. It also does nothing to correct anyone’s stereotypical image of Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The other day we were discussing how any internet business name should be able to become a verb (i.e. Google, Netflix.) Now I’m thinking it should also make an elegant title sponsorship. When my startup hits it big, I will sponsor this meet. It will be called the “Grammatically Correct Title Sponsor Invitational.”
Maybe it’s the cold medicine making me loopy. (Or, maybe I’m just using the medicine as an excuse?)
Now Playing: Black Boys On Mopeds from Bob On The Ceiling by The Nields
February 7, 2005
Holes in my feet
So I did manage to ski on Saturday morning. I wasted too much time in the waxing shed determining that the problem was the electrical socket, not my iron, but once I had all the bits together I was able to get out on the trail without having to dodge snowshoe racers.
I was pleased to find that I still know how to skate, even though I didn’t get out at all last winter. It took me a few minutes to get the coordination back, and I’ll have to go back a few more times before I feel like I’ve begun to smooth out my form, but I remembered most of the important bits.
It took a bit longer to remember which side to pole on. Skate skiers double-pole all the time, so it matters which ski they’re kicking with as they pole. You’re supposed to pole “on the uphill side,” which means you’re pushing on your poles as you push off the lower ski. This occupies some focus, because it’s not always obvious which ski is lower, but once I was aware of it I could switch sides with somewhat less thought than I use in changing lanes on the highway. If I was on the wrong side and switched to the right side, I could feel myself getting more glide from each kick after I switched.
They told me that the further up the mountain I went, the better the trails would be, so I angled for uphills wherever I could find them, which is nearly everywhere at Northfield. I didn’t make it to the top of the mountain, but I did get high enough to scare myself several times in my descent. As the morning got later, not only did the snow get stickier and/or icier, but I started making silly slips because I was too tired to hold form.
Once, scooting down off a forest trail on to the access road, I snagged a ski in the classical track and went down. Then I found I was unable to get a ski underneath me (the first step in standing up again) because my legs would cramp when I tried to skitter them around. I sat there for a minute or two waiting for the cramp to pass and had to wave off one would-be rescuer who no doubt thought I’d broken a leg, or at least torn a ligament or two.
I thought I’d be sore from skiing again, but it’s nowhere near as bad as I expected. What is bad, and I should have anticipated, are the nickel-sized raw spots on the inside of each foot, where my bulging navicular bones rub on the insides of my boots. They’re not really blisters; they started that way, but then the skin rubbed off and just kept abrading. I need to remember to put blister-block pads on there before I ski again. Odds are they will heal before I get another chance; there’s even less snow at Northfield now than there was on Saturday.
Now Playing: Unsatisfied from Let It Be by The Replacements
I don't expect you to understand...
…why I find it so amusing to review log summaries of spammers trying to relay mail through a host which isn’t a valid mail exchange.
Actually, I’m not sure I understand it myself. But it is funny.
Now Playing: Can’t Get There From Here from Fables Of The Reconstruction by R.E.M.
February 6, 2005
I spent a big chunk of this morning standing on the Shore Road in Cape Elizabeth handing cups of Gatorade to people who looked a lot warmer than I felt. A. was running the Mid Winter Classic and I volunteered to help out in order to feel like I was doing something productive.
Putting out cups and filling them, the first half hour to forty minutes, is mindless work that is best done with more people. It’s when the runners start coming by that things get interesting, because they all look different. Some are happy to see a drink; others wave you off. They listen to their headphones or they chatter with us.
Chatter. Lots of that. We all talked at the stop while we were setting up, but when the runners arrived it was just advertising. We had Gatorade on our first table and water on the next, so we spent a lot of effort making sure people got what they were after, calling out what we had in our hands, letting them know there would be water after the Gatorade, making sure they didn’t do what my brother once did (chug a cup of water and dump some kind of energy drink on his head.)
After a few minutes of chirping “Gatorade! Gatorade!” I started feeling like I’d burned out any circuits in my mouth to say anything different. (A runner took a cup and said, “Thank you.” I replied, “Gatorade!”) I figured we must be driving each other batty. So I started trying to change things up.
First there was the parrot. “Gatorade! Gatorade! Aawwk! Gatorade!”
There was the stadium huckster. “GAtorade, HERE!”
Then there was the gas station. “Last Gatorade for two and a half miles!”
There were several variations on the bar. “Gatorade shots, water chaser!” (One runner asked for a double.) “Set up a Gatorade for the lady in blue!”
And the discount store. “You can’t beat this offer on a cup of Gatorade! You won’t see a better price until the finish line! Everything must go!”
By this time I’m certain my fellow volunteers would have carried me over to Crescent Beach and pitched me in the ocean if they hadn’t needed my hands, but the runners, at least, weren’t hearing the same jokes over and over. I got to try each one on a fresh audience.
Sometimes when I’m in good shape and racing regularly, it’s hard for me to convince myself to show up and help make the races happen. If there’s anything that’s good about not being in racing shape, it’s that I can get out a few times a year and make a contribution, give back a little where I’ve taken so much.
February 5, 2005
It's my fault
It has been unseasonably warm for the last few days. (Unseasonably warm in February is about 35° to 40° F.) Yesterday, a patch of grass became visible outside my window.
I have finally figured out that this started when I began planning to ski at Northfield today. Three years ago (or so) when I first bought these skis, we had practically no snow, and I was only able to ski when we drove up to Stowe.
Still, the snow line is reporting five inches on groomed trails and twelve inches elsewhere. That’s from yesterday morning; I’m still awaiting today’s update. Clearly I’m tempting fate here; it is my destiny to ski on slush.
February 4, 2005
Gallery project update
Last night we managed to push a little more into that sticking point with the gallery scripts. Specifically, I had it echo out its progress into HTML comments as it parsed the XML data file. I established that it does read the data file, and (apparently) it is marching through that correctly. However, something weird is happening in the parsing where it’s not correctly assigning those values. This works in my development environment (my Mac) but not on the production server.
There’s another sticking point where the caption-editing process can’t rewrite the XML data file, but that is almost certainly a (relatively sensible and easy to fix) permissions issue on the server. And it’s irrelevant whether you can rewrite a file when you can’t read it properly.
Now Playing: Say Something from Getting Away With It…Live (Disc 1) by James
February 3, 2005
The reuse of articles subject (from yesterday) reminded me of another odd appearance in print. I was contacted by the local club about reuse of my “Keystone Species” column in their newsletter. I think they saw it as something of a memorial for Steve. I referred them on to RW, and I assume they got permission because RW regularly allows such things.
This, outside of my own involvement, is where the mayhem started. First, this note in the minutes of the club’s October board meeting:
There was discussion about an apology to be sent (but not published in the [newsletter]) to [name] of the [other general-athletics store], regarding a small piece about the demise of the [old running store]. It was a late, “fill entry” reprinted from Runenrsworld online write by [me]. All agreed that while we didn’t want to offend a generous supporter of the club, no offence was intended.
(All sic, of course, though I’ve removed proper names, including my own, to avoid Googleism.)
In other words, the board didn’t really get what the column was about, but the other store did, and was disappointed. (Face facts, though, folks: you don’t fill the gap, and the column explains why.)
The next twist came from New England Runner, which actually lists me as a contributing writer on their masthead. (I wrote a feature story for them once, yes.) NER has a monthly column, “Club Notes,” with a rundown of what’s going on in the many running clubs around New England. The writer works mostly from club newsletters. Can you guess where this is going?
Yep, after the board got finished apologizing for my article, NER led off the “Club Notes” column with it, and quoted it extensively (including citing me as the author.) Fortunately, the NER columnist actually understood what I was trying to say, and didn’t see it through the lens of local retail and sponsorship.
Just as a kicker, this last publication is probably the only place my father would have seen it.
Now Playing: You Don’t Know How It Feels from Wildflowers by Tom Petty
I’m making a few more tweaks to my anti-comment-and-referer-spam .htaccess file. The two significant changes, for now, are the addition of a new user-agent block (from Candygenius through Ann Elisabeth) and, more importantly, an exception for Google, which merits more discussion.
A few visitors have pointed out to me that since click-throughs from Google results include the search string, if you’ve got something on your site which might legitimately match a search for one of the terms in our regex, you’ll reject the click-through, even though it was (presumably) a legitimate visitor from Google. You might see this as a feature, since you can search your domain plus a banned string to test the block (it seems unlikely that someone would legitimately be searching for one visitor’s example,
blogs4god.com poker.) But maybe you want everything from Google. Since we know the form of a legitimate
referer from Google, we can add this line:
SetEnvIfNoCase Referer "^http://www.google\..+/search.*" !spam_ref
…which clears our
spam_ref environment variable and lets the request through. Note that this has to come up after our big regexp.
While I’m at this, though, I asked my host about alternatives. Specifically, I’ve been reading about
mod_security, which might be quicker, easier to understand, and hopefully less dangerous if mucked up. It’s installed on my host, so I may try it. I’ll keep you posted.
I was amused at the response from my hosting company, though; they couldn’t figure out how I was using
mod_setenvif. (“But you won’t be able to access the environment variables until they get to a CGI…”) Apparently they didn’t know you can access the environment variables from both
mod_rewrite. So we can use the relatively-simple-to-understand
mod_setenvif to set up the pins for the
mod_rewrite bowling balls. (Or, to mix my metaphors,
mod_setenvif just walks through the forest with spray-paint, while
mod_rewrite follow with chainsaws.)
Now Playing: Battle of Who Could Care Less from Whatever & Ever Amen by Ben Folds Five
February 2, 2005
I neglected to post a link to my fourth article about the Boston Indoor Games, which I probably should have bylined “Alistair Cragg (as told to pjm).” Now it turns out that it’s getting picked up by other running sites which is either flattering or disturbing—did they get permission? As a site editor, I always asked people reusing our articles to include “used by permission” for just that reason. But it’s not really my problem, this time—it’s a “work for hire” and the assigning site is free to grant permission for reuse.
Now Playing: Secret Handshake from Green Eggs And Crack by Too Much Joy
Heart failure averted
I just looked at the uptime for my solid-as-a-rock webserver and saw a single-digit number of days.
Oh, $#!+, did it crash and I missed it?
Nope. I had a little tickle in my head that maybe
uptime, like an odometer, rolls over. It turns out that after 497 days or so, the counter overflows the available memory space, so it resets to zero and starts over. No reboot, no crash.
It reminds me of the rusty Mercury I drove in high school (and most of college.) I remember pulling over to the side of a road in, I think, Bowdoinham, and watching the odometer roll from 99999 to 00000. (Only five digits, the pessimists. I’d have to drive a million miles in my Civic to get all zeroes again.) When we sold it, we had to check the box on the title stating that the mileage exceeded the mechanical limits of the odometer.
And that’s only real similarity between Raven, which should have several more years of productive life in it, and that car, which was already superannuated when I started driving it.
Now Playing: Easter Theatre from Apple Venus Volume 1 by XTC
Getting it right
Whenever I’m asked about FTP software for the Macintosh (which is more often than you would think) I always recommend Panic Software’s Transmit. I started using Transmit because it supported SFTP when Fetch didn’t, but I kept using it because it was so easy to use. (I’d love to see it support key-based rather than password-based SFTP authentication, but one thing at a time, right?) The cute icon didn’t hurt.
Now I discover, reading Steve Frank’s weblog, that they’re selling the t-shirts they make for various expos. I’ve browsed the shop and didn’t find anything that had me jumping up and down, but anyone doing any kind of online shopping programming should really take a look at the interface to their store. It’s drag-and-drop. No Flash, no kidding. Drag an item into the “cart” bar at the bottom of the page (which shows everything you’ve selected so far.) Drag it out again to remove it. Easy.
Now consider how much work must have gone in to making that happen. See why I like this company?
Now Playing: The Only One I Know from Some Friendly by The Charlatans
February 1, 2005
That one last sticking point
I spent a chunk of time last night (see absurdly late, for me, datestamp on the previous post) debugging the photo display project in its production context. Most of the glitches allowed me opportunities to make things a little more elegant, but into this morning there remains one hangup, and it’s a pretty serious one. PHP won’t read the data file.
Now, this is particularly odd given that one can request the data file from the web server itself, which will cheerfully return it to you. Using PHP’s
is_readable() functions, I can confirm that PHP can see the file and thinks it has permission to read it. It just won’t, and furthermore it won’t produce an error message indicating why it won’t read it; it’s as though it won’t even admit that it has failed.
It seems to be related to the location of the file, because it has the same problems reading an XML file and including a PHP file in the same directory. But I don’t run the server—I don’t even have direct access to it—so trying to suss it out from the server end is nearly impossible.
I am tired and frustrated that I have put all this work into an elegant little script which is unusable because of something I can’t see.
Now Playing: Still from Dead Air by Heatmiser
Cut for length
This came out of the column I just sent in. I was considering when, if ever, I’d heard a crowd roar the way they did in Boston for Tirunesh Dibaba’s last kilometer.
The only thing I could think of was at the 1999 World Championships in Seville, when Abel Anton arrived in the stadium at the end of the marathon.
His victory party was three or four floors below my hotel room, and not only did I get smashed (not difficult, considering how fatigued I was by then) but I saw the best flamenco I’ve ever seen danced by a man who had run a marathon less than six hours before. And Anton was not young, even by marathon standards.
Now Playing: Already Yesterday from Heyday by The Church