« March 2005 | Main | May 2005 »

April 29, 2005


This morning I finally received a response from the fifth department I applied to last winter, and it was negative. So, two acceptances and three rejections. It’s a good thing the scoring in this game doesn’t actually work that way.

I mentioned, in an aside a few months ago, that I was an early-decision acceptance as an undergraduate, which means I never went through the whole April ritual of thick and thin envelopes in high school. My high school had an open lunch, so I would drive home sometimes to check the mail, and I did that day; contrary to conventional wisdom, the envelope was thin, because it contained only the acceptance letter and the deposit form to be returned. My father, who had seen only the envelope when he brought the mail inside, thought it was a deferral.

So I didn’t have any experience to work from this time around. I’ve discovered that I’m not really all that bothered by the rejections. (Again, I know that’s not the right word, but what’s the better one?) Maybe this would’ve been harder in high school, when it felt like my entire future, or even if I’d been applying as a graduating college senior, but now it seems like the consequences are so much lower. I’m disappointed, sure. But I’m a long way from being upset, especially since I did get accepted somewhere I’m looking forward to going.

Now Playing: North, South, East And West from Starfish by The Church

Posted by pjm at 11:34 AM | Comments (2)

April 28, 2005

Rescue Blues

I suppose I could write a lengthy review of last night’s Ryan Adams show at the Calvin, but since I realized about halfway through that I was far from the biggest fan in the room, I’ll just run through the high level.

Adams looked nothing like any of the photos on any of his CDs. More like Johnny Depp in his “Secret Window” phase, complete with a clip to keep his hair out of his eyes. He was pretty obviously smashed, which didn’t affect the music in the least, but led to lengthy, confused pauses between songs, as he tried to figure out if he was switching guitars, (I ended the night feeling sorry for his guitar tech,) or if he needed to tune the (presumably freshly tuned) guitar he’d just been handed.

During these pauses, sections of the audience indulged the annoying habit of hollering requests, none of which I recognized (and, so far as I know, none of which were eventually played.) After a few songs, when Adams figured out that he couldn’t just spit out a sheepish, “Thank you” and fiddle with his guitar, he started opening up and halfway filling the spaces with mumbled banter, most of which I couldn’t understand, either because I’m slightly deaf and wearing earplugs, or (more often) because he wasn’t speaking into the mike. The audience up front would ripple with laughter and I’d wonder what the joke was.

I’m making it sound like I didn’t enjoy the show, which isn’t the case. I think the intervals were actually more irritating because the punctuating songs were so good. It was almost as though Adams had something to prove. “Look,” he seemed to be saying, “I am so good that I can even do this wasted!” And he was really, really good, playing with some ease and intensity. It’s as though this stuff just flows out of him like water from a tap, once he turns the knob, and this is backed up by his allusions to three different albums he’s involved with which will be released by the end of the year.

The “new stuff” they started off with had a comfortable feel, even though I didn’t know the tunes. Hearing how he and the band filled out the songs gave me a nice extra dimension to add to the recordings, another layer of feeling on top of the bare sound, which I liked; now I can imagine them being played on stage.

One scene in particular, fairly early in the show. There is something up with Adams’ guitar, or at least he thinks so. “Hey,” he proposes to the band as he walks over to the piano, “Want to try that Rescue Blues?” They look a bit apprehensive, but the audience cheers enthusiastically. “Oh, no, no,” he cautions the audience. “We’ve only played it together once. We might get it wrong. But it’s better than just standing here, waiting for the guitar to be ready.”

They play it, with occasional conducting from Adams at the piano. It has some rough spots, but for the most part, it’s very good. We cheer.

Not long before midnight, it’s raining, and I get in my car. As I pull out of my parking spot and coast through downtown Northampton on my way home, WRSI finishes the song they’re playing, and puts on “The Rescue Blues.” I grin, and wonder if someone there was at the show.

Posted by pjm at 11:03 AM | Comments (1)

April 27, 2005

Quote of the day

via A.’s father:

There’s no snooze button on a cat that wants breakfast.

Oh, how true. Not a reliable one, anyway.

Now Playing: Rock N Roll from Rock N Roll by Ryan Adams (…at the Calvin in three hours or so!)

Posted by pjm at 4:40 PM | Comments (0)

Who's the turkey now?

The turkeys are back. Today they are posing quite nicely on the lawn, in a light rain, so the contrast is excellent. They must know that I left my camera on too long last week, while I was trying to diagnose a USB issue, and consequently the battery is dead.

Now Playing: Stupidly Happy from Wasp Star (Apple Venus, Pt. 2) by XTC

Posted by pjm at 12:41 PM | Comments (0)

April 26, 2005

Annotated Google maps broken?

Last month, JM and I gushed about annotated Google maps. At the time, I didn’t have an itch to scratch, nor any spare minutes, so I didn’t make one.

Today, I was going to try to map Razorback Ranch for Barb, who is in Arkansas now… but for some reason, it’s not working on either Mac or PC.

I had to update Firefox to 1.0.3, update Greasemonkey, and grab the latest map script, so the problem could be with any of those three or with Google Maps itself. (Maybe they somehow disabled this capacity? Somehow that seems un-Googlish. Maybe they just disabled Greasemonkey?)

I could make the marks show up on the right column, but the map didn’t center and zoom according to those numbers, nor did any of the icons go on the map. The “Display Points” link which used to appear, no longer does. I checked with JM’s examples, and they didn’t work either, so I don’t think it’s just my XML.

Ideas, anyone?

Now Playing: Big City Girls from SXSW 2005 Showcasing Artist by The World Provider

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

Famous cat

The fame of Iz continues to spread. (As usual, you’ll need to scroll down after you follow that link.)

I replaced the original image with a more compressed one to be lighter on my bandwidth, and added a copyright string announcing the site the image came from, so maybe I’ll get a little benefit from posting a silly picture people like to post on message boards. Heck, maybe I should be selling birthday cards. Pity I didn’t clear the table more before I snapped that shot; there’s an identifiable Gazette front page with a photo showing people setting up for UMass graduation.

Now Playing: American Girls from Hard Candy by Counting Crows

Posted by pjm at 10:34 AM | Comments (1)

Free, encrypted email

Last year I wrote about encrypted email and wondered when (or how) the free web-based email services would offer the ability to encrypt (and decrypt) email as a feature.

Since then, I’ve fiddled with Gmail a bit myself, and discovered that if one uses Gmail as a POP server, one has access to the same encryption/decryption tools available to the POP client, like Enigmail for Thunderbird, or GPGMail for Apple’s Mail.app, both of which use GPG.

Now, it turns out that someone has produced a Firefox extension which allows for using S/MIME certificates with Gmail’s web interface. (Brent linked some sites explaining how to get and use S/MIME certificates several months ago.)

I think this should be sufficient to answer the privacy concerns about Gmail, myself. Don’t want Google reading your email? Encrypt it.

Now Playing: Dancing On The Jetty from The Swing by INXS

Posted by pjm at 9:32 AM | Comments (0)

April 25, 2005

The authority fallacy

I spent a chunk of Saturday afternoon at the track at The College, helping out with the Little Three track meet. Despite a forecast of showers, not long after I arrived, it started pouring, enough to lead officials to cancel the pole vault. Only the steeplechasers, who are generally wet anyway, appeared unfazed. While I was turning the lap counter for the 5,000m races, we heard thunder, which made me happy I wasn’t standing in the aluminum bleachers.

The hardware used for automatic timing is relatively weatherproof, but the technician had to tune it some. The CCD involved is very narrow, and timing is somewhat finer than hundredths of a second, so it needed to be adjusted so that falling raindrops would not trip the timer. One of my functions, however, was to participate in the scolding of athletes not currently competing, in an effort to keep them from crossing the line while the cameras were running. This is more of an inconvenience than a crisis; there are a lot of ways to deal with an extra body in the finish photo. But the technician took apparent pleasure in barking at the kids and threatening them with various competitive penalties for crossing the line. I imagine he developed the habit when the auto timing was done with actual film, and an extra image could be much more of a problem.

Once the racing was done, I retreated to the press box, where we were entertained by the spectacle of a crew of recent grads from one of the other schools running a 4x800m relay against themselves. As they took their “victory” lap on the now-empty track, someone hollered from the press box that ratification of their time could only be completed with a skinny-dip in the steeplechase pit… which they immediately performed. They were rewarded with twelve-ounce silver trophies.

At a few points in the afternoon, I thought about getting out my camera, but I expect nobody is terribly disappointed that I didn’t. Aside from being thoroughly damp, I left with the half-feeling that nobody was really in charge over there—that things just happened because they were supposed to, and nobody bothered to question them.

Now Playing: Soon Enough from Inarticulate Nature Boy by Josh Clayton-Felt

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

April 23, 2005

Rapper wrapper

At least it looks like someone thinks Iz has a recording career ahead of him.

Look at this. Note the title of the thread, then scroll down until you see something familiar.

I know I should be locking this out, because it’s exceptionally poor manners to link a photo from another site… but it amuses me.

Posted by pjm at 10:06 PM | Comments (3)

April 22, 2005

Familiarity and live performance

This is an insignificant puzzle, but an interesting one to me.

For my birthday, A. got us tickets to two upcoming shows at the Iron Horse and the Calvin. They’re artists I’ve come to know fairly well over the last year or so (though Kathleen Edwards’ output is so limited, so far, that it’s not hard to know pretty much everything.) I’ve found that I enjoy concerts better when I know at least a few of the performer’s songs. I can turn off some of the “what’s going on in this song” thinking, and just be aware of the bits that come with a live performance. I can tune in to the performer’s personality a bit more. I knew nearly every song Josh Ritter played, and for me it was what he added to them that really made it a great show. Once or twice, when we’ve gone to shows at the Horse, I’ve borrowed CDs from A. or gone on the ‘net looking for samples so I know what I’m getting in to.

But even though I’m more excited about going to see performers I already know, sometimes I’ve gone in cold. I didn’t know anything about either Rich Price or Sarah Harmer going in to that show, and it was spectacular; I went looking for the CDs afterwards. I didn’t know much about Mark Erelli when he opened for Nanci Griffith, and that was cool but not enough to make me buy his CDs.

Is it just me? Do you prefer to see shows by people whose music you know, or do you like to discover them on stage?

Now Playing: Dead Man from Tarantula by Ride

Posted by pjm at 4:42 PM | Comments (3)

Weird, prehistoric birds

There’s a small wild turkey flock (about five) browsing outside our office. Actually, outside my window. I’ve tried to take some pictures, but I didn’t have my camera ready fast enough for the great turkey-on-the-lawn shot, so I’ve been getting obscure turkey-in-brush shots, or turkey-in-background shots, which I can’t quite zoom in enough to make the turkey clear in the image.

A few minutes ago I tried to go out on the lawn and get closer, but instead I got equally distant turkey-running-away shots. I wish I had A.’s big lens.

Now Playing: Frozen And Distant from A Quick Smoke At Spot’s by The Church

Posted by pjm at 10:50 AM | Comments (2)

April 21, 2005

In the closet

There’s this little problem I have with the Boston Marathon. It’s those jackets.

Every year, Adidas dumps a few thousand jackets in the Boston area, via the B.A.A. The most common are volunteer jackets, usually in a fairly vivid color (this year, they’re blue, as is the volunteer jacket I have from 1996, but bright yellow and orange have happened.) The volunteer jackets are why the B.A.A. is never short on volunteers for this race. There are also media jackets (usually black) and the relatively rare medical staff jackets (red this year) and B.A.A. employee jackets (grey this year.) And there’s always a slightly different pattern available for sale to the runners.

This was my eleventh year in Boston, and my ninth in some sort of jacket-qualified position. (I ran, or tried to, in ‘00, and in ‘95 I was just a spectator.) I’ve had a few in my closet. I still have my volunteer jacket from ‘96 (my first) and my media jacket from ‘01, which is quite usefully heavy and also represented my last year with RW. And I have other, similar jackets from other contexts. In other words, I don’t need any more jackets, no matter how nice they may be.

I’ve given a few away. One, once, to a cousin who housed us in Cambridge the year I didn’t have an employer who booked hotel rooms. Others to anyone who would take them. I’ve tried to give one to my father, but as a runner himself he doesn’t want to wear the implied message, (“I ran the marathon,”) when he didn’t. Some years I’ve simply turned the jacket down at the source and let the B.A.A. worry about the extras, but I’ve realized since then that having it and wearing it on race day, particularly in a team-centered effort like mine, has a psychological effect, not just on myself but on the other jacketed volunteers I work with.

So I took this year’s jacket, and now I don’t know what to do with it. Selling it, by whatever means, would feel Just Wrong. I need to find someone who would appreciate it as a gift, but not take it so seriously that they’d prefer to earn their own. Unfortunately, my nieces are too small.

Now Playing: Bent Out Of Shape from All Shook Down by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 3:26 PM | Comments (6)

April 20, 2005


The fifth department I applied to still hasn’t sent a response. Their website says, don’t pester us about your application before April 15.

The result is pretty much irrelevant; they’d have to offer the moon, at this point, to change my decision. So I don’t feel a lot of motivation to contact them and ask. But it’s irritating. I paid the application fee, so I’m entitled to some sort of response, right?

Now Playing: Nowhere from Nowhere by Ride

Posted by pjm at 4:14 PM | Comments (1)

Getting the timing down

Reading this critique of Monday’s telecast, which includes the line, “The announcers managed to stay quiet as the winners’ national anthems were played,” I was reminded of a favorite moment from Monday’s work. That would be when the request came back to the press room from the TV truck, as the men’s winner became apparent:

“Does anyone over there know how long the Ethiopian national anthem is?”

Now Playing: It’s No Reason from Hindsight (Disc 2) by The Church

Posted by pjm at 11:20 AM | Comments (3)

April 19, 2005

Another corner of the marathon

I snapped a few shots on Monday morning when I met my bikers (well, not really mine, but yes, mine) before they left for Hopkinton. The two cycle crews—my spotters and the “passing crew” which helps get the lead vehicles for the later starts around the trailing athletes from the earlier starts—ride out on MBTA busses with the wheelchair athletes, and help load their hardware in and out at each end. This is the best of the batch; there are a few more in my Flickr photo stream.

Loaded up

I was hoping for more photos, but got caught up in doing. I’ve spent a fun few minutes here, now, looking through other photos tagged “bostonmarathon”.

Posted by pjm at 9:41 PM | Comments (0)

Now is when everything happens at once

I am getting preliminary details of “aid” now, the complicated system by which I work for my degree instead of paying tuition. I’ve figured the process out by bits and pieces, but the details appear to be a bit different at each institution so I’m trying to fit my overview understanding around the details as communicated in a short series of encouraging emails. It’s an odd place for me because once my priority, the degree, is covered, I’m not sure what else I’m supposed to expect or ask for. When I apply for a job, I have a rough idea about the going rate for people who do what I do. In this situation, which is not a negotiation but sometimes feels like one, I don’t have any benchmarks to work from. I don’t know what’s “good” and what’s standard.

One quirk is that they’re now giving me the option of taking a round of summer courses, starting in July. It would mean leaving my job at least a month earlier than planned and greatly accelerating the relocation process, but it might also give me a good start on the “catching up” process which I expect to consume a large fraction of my first academic year. I don’t feel like there’s a wrong answer to this… but I do feel like there’s an objectively better answer, if only I knew which one. I wish I knew someone with some (specific) experience in this who could make the case either way.

Update: Precious few useful classes are available in that segment of summer starting July 1, which makes summer look less like a good idea. Next summer, maybe, when I have the whole summer to take the wider range of classes scheduled for the full 12-week term.

Now Playing: Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth from Come Down by The Dandy Warhols

Posted by pjm at 2:43 PM | Comments (2)

The little things count

A few years ago I was dumbstruck to hear a fragment of music I knew on NPR—specifically, a song by The Church called “Eastern.” The thing that amused me was that it was being used as the outro to a piece about Iraq.

Then, a few weeks ago, I laughed out loud as the same show used the intro to Elliott Smith’s “Junk Bond Trader” after a piece on the bond market. No lyrics, just the intro; unless you knew the song, you wouldn’t get the joke.

Today I discovered that the person who is responsible for those little touches has a blog. It’s very interesting, very personal, and somehow fantastically uplifting to find someone who does spend time on the little details of media production.

I’ve got a short cord of other firewood to throw on, but other chores as well, and I wanted to share this.

Now Playing: The Luckiest from Rockin’ The Suburbs by Ben Folds

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

April 18, 2005

Waiting period

There’s a tongue-in-cheek maxim in the running community that after you run a marathon, you can’t be held to anything you say regarding future marathons for about two weeks afterward. The classic example is Grete Waitz, who told her husband Jack after winning the New York City Marathon, “I’m never running one of these again.” She went on to win the NYCM eight more times and a silver medal in the ‘84 Olympic marathon. Once the two weeks was past, she was able to think more clearly about it.

I think we need to extend this to spectators, too. Nearly every time I’ve gone to a marathon, the runners have come away swearing they’ll never do anything that silly again, and the spectators come away saying, “Maybe I can get in shape to do that next year!” (The notable exception being the one who told me, “I’m very proud of you, but don’t ever make me watch you do that to yourself again.” Yes, I remember the exact words. Please note that I’ve not named names. Wish I’d listened, a bit.)

For me, the waiting period should probably be about a year. You’d think after two DNFs and two wrecked-for-months finishes, I’d have figured it out. But I had to go for the fifth. I don’t know if I can blame the marathon, but I haven’t had five months of running since. But it certainly looks like this is a distance that’s not for me. I tested this on the podiatrist a few weeks ago. “So, marathoning’s probably not a good idea, huh?” “Not on those feet,” he smiled.

After watching the third consecutive too-warm-for-comfort Boston, I have to say I’m feeling satisfied with that decision, despite statements I may have made earlier. Maybe, I suggested to A., we can come back when we’re 50 or 60 and can just jog the course and enjoy it without feeling like we need to race.

Meanwhile, the press room is comfortable, and I think I’ll be welcome there for a few more years at least. We watched some early leaders pushing away from the packs before they were far out of Hopkinton, and shook our heads knowingly. “Bad idea.” Even the spotters were calling in on the women’s race: “The winner’s going to come from the second pack.” (She did.) Maybe the elite athletes need a waiting period, too.

As for those of you who just ran: Go ahead. Say whatever you want. We won’t hold you to it, once you’ve returned to your senses.

Posted by pjm at 7:20 PM | Comments (3)

Who's covering your hotel bill?

I wrote an entry on the blog of an outlet I often write for, breaking (I think) the news that a former U.S. champion had entered the Boston Marathon at the last minute. So far as I know, the news isn’t widely known elsewhere, because of the way the athlete entered the race.

Due to some poor management in the mid-80s, the Boston Marathon doesn’t take direct control of their own elite field. The elite athletes in Boston are signed and presented by marathon sponsor John Hancock; the B.A.A. is not involved with them, even to publicize the field, until very late in the process. I get my press releases from someone who isn’t the B.A.A.’s media coordinator. But when this athlete was taken on late, his hotel room is being covered by the B.A.A., not John Hancock. As a result, even though he would be part of the John Hancock program under ordinary circumstances, he’s “below the radar.” He’s not included in the “late additions” pages, nor is there biographical information readily available (though that might be due to the late nature of his entry—I actually wrote one of the more recent interviews with him.)

This is just an anomaly, but it highlights an interesting quirk about the marathon. And it’s a quirk that could become a problem under the right circumstances. John Hancock does not necessarily have the same interests in mind as the B.A.A. They’re not likely to be in conflict, but they may also not be doing the best possible job for the marathon.

This becomes interesting when you consider that John Hancock was bought out by a Canadian company last year, and recent rumblings have suggested that they may be asked to pull back some of their sports sponsorship commitments. One wonders how the Boston Marathon might change its position among the upper echelon of major marathons (currently defined, roughly, as Boston, New York, Chicago, and London, plus possibly Rotterdam, not necessarily in that order.)

Posted by pjm at 10:11 AM | Comments (5)

April 16, 2005

Job description: What's going to happen?

I realized, as they described my job for this year’s Boston Marathon, that this was pretty close to the perfect job for me.

Previously, I’ve been the one talking to the bike spotters. I’ve had to maintain, essentially, eight separate conversations—or, more accurately, two conversations with distinct groups of four people each.

This year, we’ve got one volunteer talking to each spotter. We’ve told the spotters to use their own intuition about what’s interesting, and feed the volunteers. I’m talking to the volunteers, and handing the data on to the press room announcer and the TV producers.

When I was in the press room as a reporter, watching the TV feed, I was endlessly frustrated by what I couldn’t see: what was happening in the women’s race while the men were on screen, and vice versa. I always worried that the camera wouldn’t be on the big move. Now, in this position, I’ve essentially been given the power to know what’s going on in the race that’s not on camera. My job is to tell the TV producer if I think something’s happening that they should know about. If it works, it not only makes the TV broadcast slightly better, but it also helps the coverage of every reporter in the press room.

Not only have I been given the power to scratch the itch I had as a reporter, I get to scratch it for everyone.

Though perhaps I should rephrase that: I’m the one who tries to scratch everyone’s itch. Something tells me I won’t get them all.

Still, I have a good feeling about it. It means that not only have they liked how I’ve done in the past, but they trust me to know what’s important when it happens. Or, actually, before it happens.

Posted by pjm at 9:08 PM | Comments (0)

April 15, 2005

Clearing the cruft

You’ll remember that I have constructed, over some months, a dense and convoluted .htaccess file using mod_rewrite, mod_access, and mod_setenvif.

Today I took a step I’ve been meaning to take for a few weeks: I wiped out most of it in favor of a simpler file using mod_security which, because it can filter in a much more specific manner, allows the removal of many of the convoluted tactics from the old file. I followed this walk-through. I’ve actually cut the length of the file nearly in half, and one of the other benefits of mod_security’s flexibility is that the resulting file would work perfectly well, with no changes, on another site—it isn’t, for example, customized to account for my renamed comment scripts, and the rules are less likely to block where they shouldn’t.

The one drawback is that I haven’t found a way to make the Google exception properly. (Just wait until we’re getting search term spamming! Spoofed Google referrers with the spam in the query string?)

I’m leaving the old file intact (at this different URL) for those whose web hosts haven’t installed mod_security, but I will not continue updating it.

Now Playing: Spark from Starfish by The Church

Posted by pjm at 12:38 PM | Comments (0)

April 14, 2005

Declare victory and leave

On one of the sub-boxes shipped with a new desktop system:

“Keyboard: The Ultimate Input Device”

Wow. I hope not.

(I had the case open and the guts out on my desk within two hours of receipt. That has to be some kind of record.)

Now Playing: Pearl from Whirlpool by Chapterhouse

Posted by pjm at 5:11 PM | Comments (0)

That taste in your mouth

I don’t remember many details of my morning ritual in high school, whatever those steps were that got me to class more or less on time. I do remember walking into the kitchen in the morning and having the very sight of the microwave start my mouth watering. I made tea by filling a (plastic) travel mug with water, dropping in a bag of tea (usually the grocery-store variety I later learned to call “church tea”) and nuking it for a minute and a half. Garnish with an absurd amount of sugar, and I was primed for the morning.

Any staples in the tea-bag assembly just added to the sense of recklessness. Aspects of my attitude towards tea have shocked enough different people that I’m no longer apologetic about it. Church tea is fine by me, though I’ll drink good stuff if I can get it. (I suppose if I was a coffee drinker, I’d be OK with instant.) I’ll boil the water in a kettle if I have one and the time, but the microwave is fine. Anything that holds the water is OK; I’m not picky about the container and will cheerfully brew tea in a plastic mug. Also, since I learned to drink tea in Poland, of all places, I’ll pass on the milk. Any other sacred tea cows I can gore? Oh, yes, metal in the microwave. Nothing caught on fire or exploded that I recall.

I sometimes snicker at people who pretend to complain about their coffee-caffeine addiction (or, sometimes, their Starbucks addiction.) I know one guy who annually goes cold turkey, and he describes some pretty distinct withdrawl symptoms. But the taste in my mouth when I hadn’t even put the water in the mug yet? That was pure brainstem talking; my tongue was not actually involved.

As a perpetually under-rested undergraduate, I went back and forth between decaf and caffeinated tea. If I drank decaf, I simply slept through class. If I had caffeinated tea, I was drowsy and jittery. Nowadays I compare decaf to methadone.

When I ride in to work, I bring the empty mug and a tea bag and brew the tea on arrival. (I can’t really ride with a mug, and there’s not enough time for me to drink it at home before I leave.) As I gathered all the pieces and got ready to leave this morning, I found myself looking around for the hot mug which wasn’t there, and that taste was in my mouth again. I’ve been hooked. The question is: is it the caffeine, the sugar, or just the taste?

Now Playing: Lullaby In Three/Four from Monday Morning Cold by Erin McKeown

Posted by pjm at 2:42 PM | Comments (1)

No, I will not do your homework

I’ve been seeing a lot of Google searches finding this site looking for poetry analysis.

auden as i walked out analysis
auden o what is that sound poem analysis
as i walked out one evening analysis auden
look stranger at this island now auden
look stranger at this island now literary analysis
auden o what is that sound interpretation

I think the Googlebot is looking at this post, which is actually just a list of poems I memorized ten years ago. (Why is it all Auden? There’s pints and pints of Frost there.) The word “analysis” only comes up in the comment… which is a barely-grammatical plea for literary analysis of one of those poems.

Here’s some news for you. First, I don’t do poetry analysis. I did my share of lit-crit as an undergraduate, and I think I’m pretty much cured now. Besides, there are others who are much better at both the analysis and the writing. Second, I haven’t reread most of those poems since I memorized them ten years ago. Any analysis of them you got from me would be the Kiss of Poor Grades. (Per the Nobel laureate who assigned all those poems: “That’s better than I expected, but in an outlandish direction.”)

And third… hasn’t it occurred to you that your teacher can use an internet search, too? Suck it up and do your own homework. At least if you fail, it will be all your own. If you want my help, you’ll do a lot better by writing something first and asking me to do an editing pass. (Actual helpful comments are not guaranteed.)

Now Playing: Rainslicker from Hello Starling by Josh Ritter

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

April 13, 2005


Dear pjm,

We’re happy to hear of your attempts to involve us more in your exercise efforts. That little run on Tuesday morning was quite refreshing, and the new shoes are quite nice to us.

That said, we’re more than a little sore today. We appreciate the swimming workout this morning, but alleviating soreness through more work is not, shall we say, the most logical route. You may want to get off your little anti-pill-enabled-exercise high horse and try some Vitamin I. You can make as many jokes as you please about being “still a teenager in hex,” but you are getting older.

What’s more, the swimming might be more effective if you kicked the low-grade cold and trained the new blood some more.

Perhaps you should consider riding to work rather than running tomorrow. Think of it as friendly advice, but think of it, OK?

Your legs

P.S. Could you have a talk with your back? It won’t stop whining. It’s annoying.

Now Playing: Columbus from Heyday by The Church

Posted by pjm at 3:46 PM | Comments (0)

April 12, 2005

Optimists and meteorologists

I think that NOAA can’t really predict the weather for Boston ten days away. I think they just put good forecasts out at the end of the forecast, then adjust them as time passes and the outlook becomes more apparent.

Because if Dave McGillivray was putting in his order for Monday’s weather, this is what it would be:

Monday…Partly cloudy. Highs in the lower 60s. Lows in the lower 40s.

Now Playing: Copied Keys from Back to Me by Kathleen Edwards

Posted by pjm at 8:09 PM | Comments (1)


Yesterday morning, I sent the deposit form to the university I visited last fall. Today, I returned a postcard to the other acceptance thanking them for their interest, and declining their offer. (As for the school which has neither accepted nor rejected me… well, too late, guys.) It’s a risky step, since the aid at the second school, while limited, was more definite, but I feel more comfortable with the first. Nine years of regular paychecks has given me the luxury of being able to take that risk.

I’ll be in Medford in September. I should get back in touch with the network administrator.

Now Playing: Dan Takes Five from In the Land of Salvation and Sin by The Georgia Satellites

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

April 11, 2005

Row upon row

The NEM-SCY meet handles results distribution by printing out some 140 pages of sticky labels (three columns, ten rows) with everyone’s results, sorted by swimmer’s name. I downloaded the PDF tonight to take a look. Three swimmers with my last name occupy five rows plus: sixteen marks. One is mine. Six go to a distant relative in Rhode Island. The remaining nine, over half the total, are my brother.

I say, next year let’s hunt up a fourth and enter as our own team.

Now Playing: What Are You Waiting For? from Back to Me by Kathleen Edwards

Posted by pjm at 7:55 PM | Comments (0)


That’s what my younger niece says when she wants to ride on my shoulders again. We took the girls with us to Reid State Park while hunting another cache; they like geocaching because there are often toddler-grade toys in the boxes. Due to closed gates in the park, the short walk to the cache became a nearly two-mile hike down and back on One Mile Beach (which is actually somewhat less than a mile.)

The pink ladies were pretty patient with us, but anyone who writes a personals ad with clichéd phrases about “long walks on the beach” should try taking them along. Sasha was pretty good, but that might be because she was able to manipulate her uncle into carrying her most of the way on his shoulders. She wanted to get down when it looked like her sister had found something interesting on the beach, and back up when we were back on the move. My back was quite sore the next day. While up, we would sing marching music; I covered the beat and most of the brass, and she would keep time on my head. The only march I could remember end-to-end was Anchors Aweigh, but I filled the gaps with half-improvised bits of all the Sousa and R.B. Hall we played in the Municipal Band.

We had a deal where I would hold on to her ankles and she would hang on to my head, but as she got tired and flopped forward over my head I would first see her little fingers curling over the bill of my hat, then come down and latch on to my sunglasses.

It was, of course, an absolutely stellar day, with both Seguin and Damriscove islands visible from the beach, not to mention Newagen, the Cuckolds, etc. I think my father was itching to get the boat in the water.

Now Playing: Fireplace from Document by R.E.M.

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

April 8, 2005


I kept saying how certain I was that one of the two uncertain applications was going to be a “No.” Turns out, via this morning’s mail, that it’s a “sort of.” They didn’t accept me to the program I applied to, but to a similar one in the same department, which might be all I want or need anyway. And they offered a partial scholarship, while I’ve heard nothing much from the first place.

And that one, which has been positive all along sent another reminder: hey, tell us what you’re planning within a week or so, or we’ll give your spot to someone else.

So the stage is set for a decision. If the fifth (and last) response doesn’t turn up very soon, it will either be rendered irrelevant or complicate an already muddy situation.

Now Playing: Best Imitation Of Myself from Ben Folds Live by Ben Folds

Posted by pjm at 2:12 PM | Comments (1)

Short a pint

I should learn to bring in reading, when I make one of my periodic trips to bleed. Since I’m currently between competitive seasons, I checked in at the South Amherst church yesterday and let them take some of the high-test. I will now need to re-train my blood.

It’s a nice little place. I’ve never been in the church other than to donate, but its unique steeple is a landmark for several miles around. It’s not the usual square-tower-spire affair, but a cylindrical cupola with a spire which always made me think “Eastern Orthodox” rather than “New England Congregational.” Yesterday I found that the house next door has geese and llamas in their back yard. They have a nice view out to the east towards the Pelham hills and Belchertown.

While I’m sitting at the recovery table eating cookies and drinking, I listen to the volunteers talking. Last time, they talked about eye surgery; this time, they talked about tours of Ireland. They have their distribution system backwards; instead of having the cookies out to grab on the table, and giving drinks when you ask, they should have the fluids out for the taking, and give you cookies when you ask. I think three cans of lemonade might have done me more good.

I’m still sore. Ow.

Now Playing: Just Like Christopher Columbus from Bob On The Ceiling by The Nields

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

April 7, 2005

Professional hitchhiker

Bob told me, not long after he sat down uncomfortably close to me on the park bench, that he was a professional hitchhiker.

Nice to meet you, Bob.

“I’ve got over two million miles,” he confided. “Well, not that I’ve been counting.” Bob had the perpetual tan of someone who has spent a lot of time outdoors, not necessarily by choice. His jeans were torn around the cuffs and didn’t fit him well. The sneakers hiding under the jeans were in worse shape. I looked at his shoes to avoid giving him the impression that this was a two-sided conversation. A. said nothing.

But, Bob, the people you ride with make the choice to pick you up.

He complimented the progress I was making on the box of fried rice from AmChi. A cell phone rang. I hoped, incongruously, that it was his. He asked if it was mine.

Don’t I wish.

I abandoned my dinner plans, folding the top of the box closed again. “Aw, you’re not gonna f#&%in’ leave on me, are you? Everyone does that.”

Maybe it’s because they didn’t invite you to join their dinner, Bob.

I wished him best of luck on the third million miles. And we left. And I felt like the rude one.

Now Playing: Only Teethin’ from Tellin’ Stories by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 3:23 PM | Comments (2)


It’s not good when you wake up at 5:15 AM to screaming.

But let me back up a bit.

Yesterday was a warm day, warm enough that I tipped open the two roof windows in an attempt to cool off the bedroom enough for sleeping. I would’ve opened the side window, but we didn’t have the screens up yet, and we were concerned that Iz might try going after a squirrel—not a good idea from the third floor.

When my eyes popped open at 5:15, what I saw right over my head was a cat butt and tail slipping out the roof window. You can bet I bounced out of bed in a hurry. The particular segment of roof with these windows extends down over the second floor to end in a gutter just one floor up over the garden; I think of it as the third fire escape route. And now Iz was out on the roof, emulating his neighbor. I don’t know if he saw a bird, or another bat, or if he just wanted to explore.

Iz has been an indoor cat as long as we’ve had him, but he has been an adept of the art of the catbreak, so much so that our phone number is embroidered on his collar, Just In Case. Normally, he only manages to escape the apartment as people come in or go out, and is retrieved from the hall or stairwell. For a while we considered putting up a child gate inside the door to give us a buffer zone, but this is a cat we’re talking about; we’d need a six-foot-high gate.

I bolted for the other room, where another roof window would provide access to a different segment of roof; at worst, I figured I could go outside and intercept him at the bottom. But I didn’t make it out of the hall; A. called me back. Apparently Iz decided the outside world was too cold, and hopped right back down on the bed. He purred around my ankles, wondering what the fuss was about.

We pulled the windows closed, then tried to go back to sleep. I wonder if Iz noticed that every time he came up to wheedle for feeding, I had my hand on his collar.

The screens went up before I left for work.

Now Playing: Weakened State from You Were Here by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 1:24 PM | Comments (1)

April 5, 2005

Not PF?

Running in Arkansas took me off my recovery path. I don’t know if I did too much, or didn’t recover enough between runs, or what, but I was sore all week, afterward. I didn’t run, and finally I made an appointment to go back to the podiatrist who made my orthotics.

He agreed with me that the current symptoms aren’t of PF at all. He thinks the problem is the muscle which flexes my big toe—the hallucis longus—and that link leads to some scary stuff, incidentally, not visually but diagnostically, if that makes sense.

Meanwhile, he recommended a few specific shoe models (which I’ve been unable to find locally, of course,) PT to strengthen the muscle, and if that doesn’t work, we try adjusting the orthotics some more.

The complication is this: there are all kinds of technologies, from shoes to inserts, to correct the way your feet hit the ground, and the first part of their procession through to toe-off. My problem is at the end of that process, right before my toes (toe) do (does) the final fling forward. There’s no technology for that.

With the swim season now over, and spring in full swing, you can imagine I’m not all that thrilled about not running.

Now Playing: Niagara from Beast Inside by Inspiral Carpets

Posted by pjm at 5:23 PM | Comments (0)

Another way of sharing the responses

I talked about posting rejection letters a while ago, but I was disturbed to find this morning that some clown is actually auctioning his acceptance letter. I wonder if the price will actually make it up to equal the cost of the stamp? And while the seller claims to be “seeing what the weirdest thing I can sell on eBay is,” I wonder if there isn’t more than a little plain old bragging involved. Why not post his test scores for good measure? (Put another way: if he’s such a hotshot, why didn’t he apply early?)

Now Playing: Asking Me Lies from Don’t Tell A Soul by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 11:07 AM | Comments (2)


…but only for today. I’ve been pretty bad, this winter, about reducing the gasoline consumption of my commute. During the winter, my only option is the bus, and I never took it. (In my defense, the scheduling of most of my swimming options made catching the bus a challenging, if not impossible, proposition.)

Last night I got the bike out, checked the tire pressure, and rode a quick lap up and down the street. All seemed fine, so this morning I packed the panniers and rode it in to work.

I managed to not forget anything significant (so far,) but I have left some cycling fitness behind over the winter. It’s not like I time myself, so I can’t compare my speeds, but I definitely spent less time in the big chain-ring this morning than I did late last summer.

Now Playing: Amnesia from Coil by Toad The Wet Sprocket

Posted by pjm at 10:11 AM | Comments (0)

April 4, 2005

California, just one more thing

I noted yesterday that we saw Catie Curtis (again) at the Iron Horse on Friday night. I don’t have much to add from the description of last time, other than that we got a downstairs seat this time. That had advantages and disadvantages.

The opener was Jennifer Kimball, also (once) known as half of The Story (with Jonatha Brooke, who has made more of a name for herself since that duo split up.) Kimball has been nearly eight years without releasing an album and quite some time since performing, and she looked a little rusty, but she sounded fine and sang backup for a good chunk of Catie’s set. She’s added her voice to a lot of other CDs; I found several names I knew on her site. Also there, playing bits of both sets, was Mark Erelli, and yes, we’ve heard from him before, too. Seems like every musician in Massachusetts plays with every other one at some point. Mark added a lot to things; he gave Catie some instrumental depth she doesn’t have on her own.

Even though Catie has a fairly recent disk out, she didn’t play a lot from it, or at least it didn’t seem that way; we heard more from it at the last show. She did bring out two or three new tunes, including one called “California” which was very new and weather related; the lyrics included things like, “Every December, we look at real estate online.” She got a big cheer for lines like these (which I’m probably misremembering):

Whenever I go to California
My friends ask why I still live “back East”
They say the weather is cold,
and the people are cold,
I say the people are why I stay.


California, just one more thing:
I’m about to get my mind blown by spring.

“Yeah, you like it now,” she said, “but if I do it in September, you’ll be saying, ‘Huh?’”

Also of note was her riff on the unfortunate Buster Bunny, under fire for “exposing children to lesbian lifestyles.” “Well,” she said, “Just so you know, you’ve been exposed.” Then she changed one of the lines in “What’s the Matter” to What if I like Buster Bunny/and give PBS all my money.

Now Playing: Favorite Thing from Let It Be by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 3:30 PM | Comments (0)

Keyword filtering considered harmful

There are three main ways of reducing spam load at the server level. One is the sort of process-based approach that greylisting takes, where the mail administrator takes advantage of spammers’ methods to distinguish their mail from legitimate mail. Another is host-based: the mail admin either identifies previous spam sources (by IP address) or subscribes to a list which attempts to centralize such identification, and rejects any mail originating (or relaying through) those addresses.

The third method is content-based. It surveys the message it has been asked to deliver, and (at its most elegant) evaluates the likelihood of that message being spam, based on its makeup, or (at its crudest) simply rejects a message based on the presence of particular keywords in the headers or body of the message.

The problem with this cruder kind of filtering is that it often fails to account for the chance that a keyword which one person might consider an infallible sign of spam could be part of a legitimate email message for someone else.

Such as, for example, an email newsletter run by one of our authors for others in the field of biological psychology. You know, when your field overlaps with a certain number of psycho-active drugs, odds are good you’re going to get some email which uses keywords often found in pharmacology spam.

Which explains why I’ve got a dozen or so bounces in my admin mailbox. Not enough university mail admins with enough imagination to predict that a neuroscience professor might get legitimate email with “Viagra” in the subject line. I’m debating whether it’s worthwhile to compose a nice message to the various admins pointing out the problem.

Now Playing: Radio Free Europe from Eponymous by R.E.M.

Posted by pjm at 9:56 AM | Comments (0)

April 3, 2005


Sometimes, I will sit here at the desk with the intent of doing something, maybe writing something here. And the cat will come in to the office, give me a disappointed, perhaps plaintive, look, and meow pitifully. When I look back at him, he’s standing, looking expectantly out the door, waiting for a toy toss or some other form of play. He almost looks like a pointer. I am the Fun One.

Notes for when I’m being less fun: Friday night at the Iron Horse, the Fun Ball CD, my feet and shoes. And maybe TeX.

Now Playing: Perfect Time from Smile by Ride

Posted by pjm at 12:39 PM | Comments (0)

Positive split, negative effort

Runners have a term, negative split, which means to cover the second half of a distance faster than the first half. (Unfortunately, it’s only easy to explain why it’s “negative” with calculus.) I wanted to negative split today’s race—swim the second 500 faster than the first. A careful negative split is a good way to race, because it allows you to finish fast; it’s also the best way to run the Boston Marathon, because it leaves you strong for the Newton hills. I reminded myself of that as I stretched and fidgeted behind the blocks waiting for the race. And I remembered my brother’s pacing advice, which was “comfortably fast.”

I got a good start and kept my goggles on. The first lap doesn’t count, because the block start gives you a pretty big advantage. I didn’t see the counter my brother was dipping in at his end of the pool; I think he kept it out for a few laps to let me settle. Or maybe I wasn’t looking up enough to see it; he was probably swinging it side to side, which is our code for “back off.” I was out pretty quickly, twelve seconds ahead of my intended pace at 200y, but I didn’t know that. I was in an end lane, so there was only one swimmer beside me, and I put half a length on him in that 200.

I settled pretty well, and felt quite good through halfway. I knew by the time I reached the 500y point that I was going to finish without blowing up completely, which was reassuring. I also knew it was time to get cracking. At 6:51, I was still nine seconds ahead of pace, but I’d dropped three seconds in the last three laps, and now the counter was dipping up and down, the code for “push harder.”

OK, no worries. I’m negative splitting. I started what I hoped would be a Culpepper-esque drive for the finish. Alan Culpepper, who won the Olympic Marathon Trials last February, has a way of building his pace up gradually from a long way out, so he’s at a flat-out sprint by the finish. There’s never a big move, just a continual raising of the stakes. That was how I started working: just push a little more, each lap.

That worked for about three laps. By the fourth it was clear that my lane neighbor was negative splitting much more effectively than I was. He was picking up ground on me again. I figured out afterward that he had a rival on his other side that he was trying to catch, but I wanted to hold him off. One or two laps later it was clear that I wasn’t going to manage that; I was turning faster, and actually gaining some ground on my turns, but he was just plain swimming faster, and my arms couldn’t pull all the water they could reach.

I kept pushing, though. At about 800y I realized how people could swim so hard they puked. (I didn’t; I just identified for a moment.) But just 200 to go, and I’ve done so many 200s.

I wound up with a good last 100, and finished in 13:49.18, beating my seed time by almost eleven seconds. I was, in fact, last in my age group, but with a surprise: I was 9th, not 7th, and quite close to 8th. I was seeded over a minute and a half behind, but some slower seeds had been slipped in since they printed the psych sheets. So I did both better and worse than I had expected. I was particularly pleased with my 6:51/6:58 halves; just a year ago, I swam 6:49 for a straight 500 at this meet. And even though I hadn’t managed the negative split, I’d definitely pushed much harder in the second half than I had in the first. It was a negative-split effort, even if the execution wasn’t perfect.

My brother and I, between us, scored 25 points for Maine Masters. He scored more than twice as many as I did, though: he won his (our) age group in his event.

I think I’d do it again.

Posted by pjm at 12:55 AM | Comments (0)

April 1, 2005

One kiloyard

Because of everything else, I haven’t been thinking too much about what I have to do tomorrow. Specifically, race twice as far as I’ve ever raced in a pool. I only think about it when I’m in the pool, and the (otherwise empty) College pool seems about as far from the organized chaos of the NEM-SCY meet as you can get. (Think Penn Relays, if you’ve ever been there.)

I should be anticipating a bit, maybe doing some positive visualization. I should at least be getting mentally ready—“morally ready,” as I once heard it expressed in Russian—to swim twenty laps. I know I can cover the distance; I did it this morning. But this morning it was broken up into segments. (Including four block-starts, just for confidence.) It’s what kind of pace I will set, whether I will settle into something I can maintain, if I’ll be able to maintain form to the end.

This should be like a conference meet, because it’s the big race at the end of my season. But I haven’t really been looking it in the face. It doesn’t feel like the end of a long training buildup, either because my training really hasn’t been all that good (though, I suppose, better than last year) or because I can’t get that motivated about training for swimming.

At least this year I have a team.

Now Playing: Diamond In Your Heart from Spirit Touches Ground by Josh Clayton-Felt

Posted by pjm at 11:18 AM | Comments (1)