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June 30, 2005

Revisiting old dreams

Back when my brother came to visit, he brought a CD with him. It was, oddly enough, mine. When my band from high school did our album, between graduation and dissolution, we ended up deciding on cassettes, for some reason; the only quasi-official digital version was a DAT the singer kept from the studio.

My mother has set up her Mac to take audio input from a turntable or cassette deck and record MP3s, so she could rip all her old LPs, and my brother ripped one of our cassettes and burned a CD for me. I finally got around to playing it last night; I was initially reluctant, but curiosity got the best of me. The quality isn’t the best, but that’s hardly the point.

The album as a whole is pretty uneven. The parts that are good give me chills: hey, we were on to something there. The parts that aren’t so good, and there are many of them, are more common. Listening to it made me think of a programmer’s second program, the one that comes after “Hello, world” and before they figure out how to write tighter, more efficient and elegant programs.

There’s some plain poor musicianship, a great deal of nervous rushing and over-playing. There’s some bad mixing of what might otherwise have been decent songs. In nearly all cases, the songs or lyrics just aren’t ready for prime time. No surprise, then, that our singer does a little revisionist history, calling the band by a different name in newspaper stories; I guess he’d rather not have this stuff dug up, and I don’t blame him. (I don’t even think there was a band by that name.)

I’m not disappointed or surprised, in hindsight, that what we created was really a bad album. We did the best we could with what we had and what we knew. I think I don’t like listening to it because I remember the dreams we were dreaming when we recorded it, and there’s discord between the dreams and the sounds.

Now Playing: The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead from Nonsuch by XTC

Posted by pjm at 3:42 PM | Comments (1)

June 29, 2005

Shaking the map

It appears that this new API means that one no longer needs Greasemonkey to do annotated Google maps (which looked broken for a while anyway.)

It’s too bad that the Geocaching.com database doesn’t allow public use of its query data, or easy RSS/XML exports, because I could imagine dozens of maps popping up showing “all my local caches, with found in red and unfound in yellow,” or something of the sort.

Update: And there’s a Yahoo! Maps API, too.

Now Playing: Everlong from The Colour And The Shape by Foo Fighters

Posted by pjm at 3:10 PM | Comments (0)

Words to graduate by

I have to admit that my favorite niche of non-fiction reading is commencement addresses. I first got attached to them when I was writing my senior honors thesis on an essayist who had at least three published. Since then, I’ve always been tickled when I find one included in a collection. It’s a tough form to write for, with some accepted forms which must be at least acknowledged, even if they are then ignored. (The first, and most famous, rule, is “Be brief.”)

Living, now, in a college town, I’ve paid more attention to them, especially as I shift into another period of my own life. I loved the tale of this spring’s commencement at one northeastern university, where the speaker, with rain pouring down on the crowd, stood up and said something along these lines: “I really appreciate that you’ve asked me here. Despite my prepared remarks, I think the best speech I can possibly give right now is this one: Congratulations. Now let’s get in out of the rain.”

While keeping an eye on some more prominent alumni of my college for this blog, I was led to the “President’s Remarks” of Reed College president Colin Diver, which, as a body of work, are quite entertaining.

Most recently, Laurel shared a link to a transcription of David Foster Wallace’s comments at Kenyon, which is actually one of the best and most perceptive commencement speeches I’ve ever read. I have a love-hate relationship with Wallace’s writing; at first, it’s audacious, fresh, and funny, but once that wore off I found the substance underneath to be somewhat uneven. If you can hang on through the somewhat lengthy set-up, the conclusion is one of his good parts.

Anyone else have a favorite commencement address somewhere? I found some good ones just by Googling the phrase. (Notes: the legendary, and fictional, Vonnegut address at Harvard doesn’t count. And I will ridicule you if you choose Solzhenitsyn’s address at Harvard in 1978, which is legendary in a bad way.)

Now Playing: Run It from Hootenanny by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 2:18 PM | Comments (4)

June 28, 2005

Bug triage

File under: How soon do we get rid of the smartass?

A co-worker was seeing unusual behavior from an object in our catalog. I tracked down the problem (I was using something as a database key without explicitly declaring it so, or even enforcing key-like behavior, and I’d gotten away with it for more than a year,) and fixed the specific data corruption issue.

She emailed in response: “What will we do without you?”

I replied, “Hopefully, find and patch all the bugs I’ve created.”

Now Playing: Saints from Last Splash by The Breeders

Posted by pjm at 3:59 PM | Comments (0)

Paradox

(It happens that I did see two doctors this morning, but that’s not the point of this.)

It seems like the availability of things I consider worth writing about seldom coincides with the ability (time, connectivity, free hands) to write about them.

Now Playing: Lustre from Priest = Aura by The Church

Posted by pjm at 2:34 PM | Comments (1)

June 27, 2005

Back to the swamp

It has been a fever-dream of a day, and I’m in a sort of half-awake fugue state unable to really appreciate how weird it has been.

After a series of outbound flights on Wednesday with no successful standby passengers, we weren’t turned away from either of our standby flights today.

We just looked up the guy who shared our row on the first flight and figured out that he’s going to Helsinki for the World Championships: second place in the 400m hurdles. What was he doing flying coach?

Posted by pjm at 10:46 PM | Comments (0)

Senseless inconvenience

Sleepwalking through the security screening, thankful I was sharp enough this time not to walk through the metal detector with my cell phone (that got me wanded once last year,) I saw a lighter on the table. Someone had discarded it, because they aren’t allowed through security and onto planes.

A few minutes ago, however, I realized that I am still in possession of my keychain, which includes one of those wonderful Leatherman Micras. I’ve had one of those confiscated before, so I know it’s contraband.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the federal government is Keeping Our Airlines Safe. From smokers, apparently.

Either that, or they knew the odds of me actually getting on a plane today are, at best, even.

Posted by pjm at 12:24 PM | Comments (1)

An impossible topic

You know, I really can’t think of anything interesting to write about air travel and its capacity to beat you down and make you tolerate inconvenience and outright incompetence in ways you never would in the rest of your life. Undoubtedly you’ve heard about it or experienced it yourself, so just mentally paste that in here. I’d love to include the name of the airline, but the problem with major airlines is that bad PR seems to just roll off their backs; everyone’s been shafted by one of them, some of us by more than one, and they’re still in business. Except the bankrupt ones, and even that is more likely their fault than ours. So: damn them all, and we’ll get on with things. Like leeching bandwidth from their presidents’ club network. I briefly thought about seeing if I could get their IP blacklisted in a few different places, but then I grew up a little.

Undoubtedly they would have treated us better had they known that I now know the identity of the laconic Stag. Or, maybe they would have treated us worse (not sure how that would’ve been possible, but let’s not think about it) had they known I talked her ear off, and didn’t even ask for a sneak preview of Prague stories.

Meanwhile, I have work to do, and at least a power outlet.

Posted by pjm at 12:09 PM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2005

Self-revelation

This is why I bore the snot out of people: they aren’t interested in how I know something. (See, you just pipe the output from this command through grep, then into a pager…) They’re just interested in what I know.

For me, the how is the more interesting part.

Posted by pjm at 1:22 PM | Comments (0)

SPF

I’ve had more sun in the last 48 hours than in the rest of the months of May and June combined.

Maybe April, too, come to think of it.

This morning I walked in to the Pacific up to my knees and stood there while the breakers whisked the sand out from under my feet. I stepped to the side and admired the eddy I’d made. I may do that again tomorrow. I probably need a nap more than I need to stand in the ocean until my ankles go numb, but then again, maybe not.

Posted by pjm at 2:26 AM | Comments (3)

June 23, 2005

Settling in

So, it turns out I wasn’t on an illicit connection from a sandwich store down the block; I was actually connected to the hotel network. A is doing fine with it, but my Powerbook hates it and drops the connection on a regular basis. I limp from website to website. Right now I’m at the track, where the network is actually pretty decent; I remember mentioning how nifty wireless would be to the facility manager two years ago, when the NCAA meet was in Sacramento, and here I am using it. (Of course, I remember the discussion because he said, “Yeah, we’re already on that.”)

Of course, the evening sun is full in front of me, up here atop the bleachers, and I can barely see my screen. You can’t have everything.

I did get buttonholed by the editor of a third-rank (by circulation, not necessarily quality) national magazine. He had an article he thought I’d be good for, a couple thousand words on one of the more incendiary long-term issues the sport is facing. I get the idea that he wants a well-researched flaying. Wonder when I’ll have time to research it.

There have been no finals yet, and won’t be for a few hours. Consequently, I’ve yet to do any real work. Things will start to get interesting right about the time of my EST bedtime (have I mentioned that I’m in, or at least near, LA? I am sitting in the Dominguez Hills, which are barely worthy of the name, and looking over at what I assume is Palos Verdes, which may be Palos but don’t look very Verde from here) and continue well past EST midnight. Hopefully I can stay sharp.

Posted by pjm at 9:24 PM | Comments (1)

Realized apprehension

Apparently one can claim “wireless internet” in a hotel listing on the web without actually having a functioning wireless network. I’m sipping a weak signal from the Quizno’s down the street.

Posted by pjm at 12:18 AM | Comments (1)

June 22, 2005

Apprehensive

Nearly every year for much of the last decade, I’ve gone to work at least one major, multi-day track meet. (I think 1998 was the last year I missed, but seriously, what happened in 1998?)

What I always forget, usually until the day before I leave for the next one, is how every year I promise myself not to do it again.

Posted by pjm at 11:09 AM | Comments (0)

June 21, 2005

An open letter to an organization in my field

I am getting more and more frustrated by old-media companies which refuse to stretch their minds to figure out what’s going on in media today. (Right up front, I’m not talking about my employers. It’s my job to “get it” for them, and they’ve been receptive to every suggestion I’ve had.) Specifically, personal publishing (i.e. blogging,) web feeds, and the separation of content from presentation.

(More in the extended entry…)

Continue reading "An open letter to an organization in my field"

Posted by pjm at 3:25 PM | Comments (3)

Wider release?

A few months ago I posted here about Heights, which opened Friday in NYC and LA. Unfortunately, I’m missing Amy’s party (tonight) due to logistical difficulties (my car is making intermittent un-car-like noises.)

I’m hoping enough people see the movie in New York and LA that it opens elsewhere. Like, y’know, here. (Or maybe I’ll have a few minutes to see it when I’m in CA later this week. Assuming I haven’t bitten off too much.)

Now Playing: Is This Where You Live? from Hindsight by The Church

Posted by pjm at 12:10 PM | Comments (0)

The big picture is a very small picture

It looks like they’ve hired a replacement for me. If you’re still shopping for work in this end of the state, though, it looks like his company is hiring (and it’s too early for them to have known he was leaving, so that’s at least two jobs.)

I’ve discovered that the competing pressures of maintaining thirty-odd machines while minimizing the amount of used parts kicking around have led me to some interesting solutions.

A very simple example: At least two machines need to be upgraded from 256 MB of RAM to 512 MB of RAM. The simple solution might be to buy two 256 MB sticks of RAM. However, it turns out to be slightly cheaper to buy a single 512 MB stick, install that in one of the machines, remove its existing 256 MB stick, and add that to the second machine. If there happens to be re-usable RAM in a retired box somewhere, that might make for even more efficient upgrades.

I’d like to build all our boxen with at least four RAM sockets, so I can aggregate old 64 MB and 128 MB sticks into enough RAM to run WinXP at a reasonable office-machine speed.

Now Playing: Satellite from Elliott Smith by Elliott Smith

Posted by pjm at 11:21 AM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2005

Undemolition

A little over a year ago, I posted photos of the demolition of two dorms on the Amherst College campus in preparation for their reconstruction. Since then, I’ve posted more photos at amerst.com, but if you’re interested in following the continuing saga of dorm renovation (I know, I know, you’re twitching with excitement,) I’ve got a photoset on Flickr with a few dozen shots of the buildings under renovation.

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

I like it here

This weekend has been a spectacular time to be in the Pioneer Valley. We’ve had neither the stifling humidity of two weeks ago nor the curiously prolonged cold bleakness of May, but a nice, breezy, sunny, weekend.

Ten years ago, I spent my last pre-graduation summer here, and discovered more of the area than I ever had before, running between Mt. Toby and the Notch and swimming for the first time in Puffer’s Pond. I knew then that summer is the best time to be here. Now, I’m rediscovering my larger back yard on the way to leaving it once again.

A. and I went up to North Leverett yesterday to run on a section of the M-M Trail (more popularly known as “The M&M Trail”) which I had discovered while caching on Brushy Mountain last summer. The trail section has a Quabbin-like feeling, because for a while it runs in the tracks of a centuries-old road between field-cleared stone walls. We ran out to where Jonathan Glazier’s pre-Revolutionary homestead is marked by a faded sign and a cellar hole in woods miles from modern civilization. Most of North Leverett was cleared for farming in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but as the Midwest opened, many of the farmers headed west, and Brushy Mountain, like almost all of the less-traveled sections of New England, reforested. The result is achingly old in a way the carefully preserved ruins of Europe will never be.

At the end of the run, we toured the Rattlesnake Gutter, a small but dramatic gorge which holds one of Massachusetts’ last stands of old-growth forest; it’s simply too rugged to log.

Rattlesnake Gutter and Brushy Mountain topo map

This morning, I rode to work by a slightly different route, and took pictures of the waterfall over the dam that makes Puffer’s Pond, and a fog bank over the river. The river is full, now, with chilly rain water spilling out of the ponds in Vermont and New Hampshire, and it cools the air above it until the humidity condenses into fog.

Puffer's Pond dam

As my loose shirt rippled in the breeze of my own passing, I watched the outlines of my shadow shifting and blurring.

It’s not perfect here. I miss the ocean, and I am not close to my own roots. But when we visited the Eric Carle museum yesterday with my nieces, at the base of the Holyoke range, I wanted to point to the sun on the mountains and say to my brother, “See why I like it here?”

Now Playing: The Hideout from You Were Here by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 12:43 PM | Comments (0)

Beholden to the geeks

Neal Stephenson contributed a very sharp editorial to the NYT last Friday, which may have been overlooked by some because it reads like a Star Wars sociological text for most of the text.

It’s the last few paragraphs, which follow on the theme he introduced in In the Beginning, Was the Command Line, which have the punch:

Scientists and technologists have the same uneasy status in our society as the Jedi in the Galactic Republic. They are scorned by the cultural left and the cultural right, and young people avoid science and math classes in hordes. The tedious particulars of keeping ourselves alive, comfortable and free are being taken offline to countries where people are happy to sweat the details, as long as we have some foreign exchange left to send their way. Nothing is more seductive than to think that we, like the Jedi, could be masters of the most advanced technologies while living simple lives: to have a geek standard of living and spend our copious leisure time vegging out.

Now Playing: Leaves And Kings from Josh Ritter by Josh Ritter

Posted by pjm at 11:15 AM | Comments (1)

June 19, 2005

Frogs

Something I never thought I’d do with my nieces: catch frogs (with a net.)

They liked the hunt better than the success; if they’d ever actually netted one themselves, they wouldn’t know what to do with it.

Posted by pjm at 9:39 PM | Comments (0)

June 17, 2005

Destination

For once, my family, or some fraction of it, is coming to visit me. My brother is bringing my favorite nieces to visit. I have hopes of establishing “Uncle pjm’s” as an exciting adventure destination, even if it isn’t here. (When we move, I can take them to the aquarium.)

I am interested in seeing how Iz reacts.

I was walking through the grocery store aisles, filling a basket with “safety food” like PB&J, and thinking about toddler smiles. I think I was probably wearing an expression wholly inappropriate for grocery shopping.

Posted by pjm at 9:16 PM | Comments (1)

More on smaller bites

When I see something to be done, and I think I can do it well (or do it at all, in some cases,) it’s hard for me not to take it on.

This tends to get me in trouble.

Now Playing: Away from Back to Me by Kathleen Edwards

Posted by pjm at 4:39 PM | Comments (0)

June 16, 2005

Elimination rounds

I participated in an interview for my job today. There are three more in the queue. My boss (weird word) started with a few dozen résumés, then did phone interviews with a fraction of them. Now we’re talking with a fraction of those.

I don’t actually have a big role here. I explain what I do, the major areas of my work. I answer questions about it. And that’s about it. I keep my eyes open, but I’m not evaluating closely. This isn’t going to be my decision, fortunately.

Others in the office were shocked. We’re interviewing? Is it happening that soon? They’re stopping by my office and saying, Wow, you really are leaving, huh?

I can’t figure out what kind of person should be in my chair. It might be good for the company to have someone more qualified than me sitting here; maybe they could fix all the things I’ve been holding together with duct tape, do new and creative things. Or would they get bored and annoyed with all my ugly code, muttering maledictions as they fix everything? Do we want someone who will jump in and want to learn stuff, or someone who already knows it?

Why does it matter to me? It does; I want to see what I have done sustained, maybe improved. I want what work I’ve done to be appreciated and provide at least a good foundation to build on. But it’s not going to be my problem anymore; if they wind up with someone not as good (how?) it won’t have any consequences for me.

Now Playing: Fall from Cherry Marmalade by Kay Hanley

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

Top model

Iz continues to be an internet star. (Scroll down.) This is the second time that photo has been picked up somewhere, so, like I did with the present-wrapping photo, I added a copyright line with this domain name and compressed it a chunk so it’s bandwidth-lite.

We’ve also had a phone message that one of his photo contest shots was a winner! The message didn’t explain which photo won, or what it won, but we’re going over to the Dakin tonight to pick up the prize. Hopefully we’ll leave without any of the little heartbreakers they keep in the front office; the apartment is small enough with one cat. (But if anyone else is in the market for a kitten, I know a source.)

Update: The third photo here (which I call the “running for office shot”) took second place! Iz is now (evening) blissfully stoned on the catnip in the prize bag.

Now Playing: Sparklegirl from Go! by Letters To Cleo

Posted by pjm at 9:21 AM | Comments (0)

June 15, 2005

Breaking in

My Powerbook has a new keyboard. It also has a new optical drive and a large helping of new memory, but it’s the keyboard that is really making a difference.

And it is. It’s visually identical, but it feels different under my fingers. First it was just the spacebar, which I always whack with my right thumb and therefore usually has a worn-smooth section on its rightmost corner. But with that reminder, I start noticing that the keys are just a bit springier, the textures a bit crisper. It’s like a fresh pair of shoes in a familiar model.

Posted by pjm at 10:04 PM | Comments (0)

Not fluent

I spent a good chunk of this afternoon in a language I don’t use much anymore. Specifically, I added a little Javascript ease-of-use widget to one of our site administration pages.

I used to be better with Javascript than I am now, back when it was the only way to do anything much on a website. When I started working with PHP a few years ago, I left Javascript pretty much behind, but they have a lot in common, so this time I’m coming at it from a different direction.

Still, like any time you work with a second language, I had to put more of my brain into what I was doing. It was fun. I wish I could get that hooked in to a project every day.

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

The parting of the cattle

Nicole has left France and is touring in Ireland. Today she’s sharing one of those obscure bits of vital knowledge you may never use. Read, and be prepared.

Now Playing: Laughing from Murmur by R.E.M.

Posted by pjm at 10:50 AM | Comments (0)

June 14, 2005

Coal to Newcastle

Yesterday afternoon, during the obligatory late-afternoon downpour that comes with all really muggy days, I saw the lawn sprinklers cheerily spritzing the lawn outside St. Brigit’s. I would’ve gone for my camera, but the rain wouldn’t have been visible, ruining the utter oddness of it.

(Of course, late afternoon isn’t the “best” time to run the sprinklers anyway. Water at night when the grass will get most of it, instead of it all evaporating in the heat before the grass can drink.)

Now Playing: Somewhere Else from Back to Me by Kathleen Edwards

Posted by pjm at 9:44 AM | Comments (0)

June 13, 2005

Tock

50 minutes in the Quabbin = 5 ticks (one on me, 4 on A, probably because I was riding and she was running.)

I am not one to whine about the weather; I live here because I like it, and if it’s unpleasant sometimes, that just means I don’t have to deal with a few million others who want to live here too.

But the dark and wet May we had is still kicking us in the shins. The “red tide” that has shut down shellfishing around the state (and, presumably, elsewhere in New England, though you’d never know reading our papers) is a direct consequence of low sunlight and cool temperatures in May; that’s what brought on the algal bloom. And you can’t venture ten steps into the woods without first drenching yourself in Deet, because there was (is) plenty of standing water for insect breeding. The hum of mosquitoes was audible whenever I stopped to snap a picture: not the whine of a single insect, but a background hum of millions of the little things.

I blame the humidity on May, too.

I just hope there’s some insectivorous upside. Ooh, maybe Iz will get another bat.

Update: The sixth tick was found on A’s running shoe this morning. The problem with the ticks is that once you find one or two, every itch or tickle feels like another one. I was feeling phantom ticks all night.

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

Wheels within wheels

So, I use this beautiful little script which, run daily, sends me a capsule overview of most of the “interesting” things in my system logs over the past day. It depends heavily on Perl and regular expressions, and installing Postgrey and upgrading one of the mail servers meant I had a lot of log lines it wouldn’t recognize. So I’ve spent part of this afternoon installing the latest version on the relevant servers.

My mainstay server is showing its age. The default system Perl is now too old for some scripts, but with other services depending on the older version I’ve worked around this by installing a second Perl at a slightly different path. After installation, I need to correct the shebang on each file which has one, to use the “correct” (modern) version of Perl.

Which either has me opening and editing a few dozen files one by one, or learning the obscure geekiness which is sed. Timewise, it’s a wash, but learning about sed is more fun. (On my Mac, there is BBEdit’s wonderful multi-file find-and-replace. Why doesn’t emacs have that? It has everything else, after all.)

Still, how did I get there from log files?

Now Playing: Bring A Gun from Seven by James

Posted by pjm at 2:58 PM | Comments (0)

Styles and voices

Sliding back and forth between voices is actually easier than I thought.

The Reuters story, which was apparently on the front page of the China Daily sports section, was telegraphic, choppy, and very bare. Another writer I know who has done Reuters work before said, “Think one-sentence paragraphs,” and in many cases that’s what I did. The editor actually added more than he cut.

Then I wound up with a pretty lengthy piece for the IAAF, of which the editor said, “It’s obvious that you enjoyed watching the meet, and it’s good to see that coming through in the report.” Utterly different voice.

There’s no such thing as unaccented English, but by and large my speech lacks an obvious regional accent. If I talk to a person who has one for long enough, I will half-consciously mimic aspects of what I hear; for example, while in Pennsylvania I found myself using the inverted question structure that’s peculiar to parts of that state. And when I’m at home, I will flatten and stretch my vowels according to the accent of the person I’m speaking to, in the same way my father does, without noticing it.

I’ve found myself doing the same thing with reporting, zooming in on the style and cadences of an outlet and fitting myself into them.

Still, I got a secondhand compliment from another track writer earlier this month, suggesting that I had a distinct voice. And with all the other voices coming from my mouth and my keyboard, I don’t know where it came from.

Now Playing: Another Satellite from Skylarking by XTC

Posted by pjm at 11:31 AM | Comments (0)

June 11, 2005

Three and done

Third one’s away. I can’t figure out if my editor is six hours ahead or five. Either way, it will probably go up while I’m sleeping, which I should be doing soon.

Somewhat more than 2,200 words, by my count.

Update: It was posted four or five hours after I sent it. Kind words and very few changes from the editor; I think I’m finally figuring out the right tone for that site.

Posted by pjm at 11:21 PM | Comments (0)

Two down, one to go

And the short, choppy one. And I did get a byline (surprise!)

Posted by pjm at 8:56 PM | Comments (1)

One down, two to go

That was the easy part.

Posted by pjm at 1:35 PM | Comments (0)

June 10, 2005

I got it

The unnamed assignment is to file the Reuters report from the track meet. And I got it.

This is not a particularly glamorous job. It’s a short article (300-350 words) and needs to be filed quickly, within an hour after the event. There’s no room for color or much creativity; it’s all about simple, declarative sentences. Main idea, supporting detail, supporting detail, supporting detail.

But the report (sans byline) will probably appear in twice as many outlets than I’ve been published in over my entire reporting “career,” buried deep in the sports sections of dozens of Sunday newspapers.

Now Playing: Falling Down from Whirlpool by Chapterhouse

Posted by pjm at 11:33 AM | Comments (0)

Weighted shuffle playlist in iTunes

I’ve hinted at this before, but it’s painfully geeky and I figured nobody else would want to know. But Joe asked.

The central idea is this: I don’t want to hear any song so often I get sick of it. But I do want to hear songs I like more often.

The problem with creating a complicated playlist criteria in iTunes (and hence on the iPod) is that “smart” playlists must be either made entirely of AND rules (“Match all of these criteria”) or entirely of OR rules (“Match any of these criteria”.) You can’t combine ANDs and ORs in one list. So what I do is create a series of playlists made of AND rules, then a master playlist which is, essentially, an OR of all those AND playlists. Like so:

First, I created five “smart” playlists with two rules each, one for the rating of the song and one for how long since it was last played. For example, if the rating is five stars and the last-played date is more than ten days ago, it makes that list. Songs need to match both rules to be on these lists.

As the ratings get lower, the “how long” is longer; one star, for me, is currently 70 days. This is barely relevant, because one-star songs are usually the first to go when I’m deleting music, but it gives an idea of the range. The larger the collection, the longer these times go; when I had half as many songs on an iPod, one star was only forty days and five stars was only five.

The next step is the master playlist. This list includes songs which are on any of the five rated playlists; there’s just a rule each of those playlists, where “playlist is X.” So that bundles up the whole library, generally showing a bit more than a third of the total. I also check the box which says only to play “checked” songs, so I can un-check the checkbox next to the song and it won’t play no matter what its rating. Needless to say, I “shuffle” the master playlist (play it in random order.)

The weakness here is that all my music needs a rating. The simple way of dealing with this is to create a sixth sub-playlist, “Unrated,” which includes all unrated songs, no matter how long it’s been since they were played. This means if I want a song to go away, I need to rate it! It’s an ongoing process; I have songs still in the library which haven’t been rated because they haven’t played in three months. I also continually change ratings; any time a song catches my ear, I’ll bring up the iTunes menu and check the rating, bumping it up if I like it or down if it bugs me. (Sometimes if it bugs me, I’ll just delete it. Why should I keep something I don’t like?)

This can, of course, be The Death of the Album. I do still play CDs from start to finish now and then. I also make occasional mix playlists because songs just work well together. (Kelsey played a set on Saturday which could’ve been a good playlist from my library; in fact, I’m making a playlist with the ones I’ve got.) And sometimes, particularly when I’m at the gym or in the car, I will just play the five-star playlist.

So, yeah, I’m kinda geeky about my music. And all in all, it works surprisingly well.

Now Playing: Roses Grow from Free by Concrete Blonde

Posted by pjm at 9:25 AM | Comments (4)

June 9, 2005

Pawsfest '05

Longtime readers will remember that one of my roommates was the model for an award-winning photograph last year.

This year’s winners will be announced Saturday, unfortunately while we’re in New York. We’ve entered five photos: the one I posted last March, these two (the second and third ones, thanks,) and the two below in the extended entry. A. took all but the first one. When I was having them printed, they asked what camera we used, and I was able to rattle off the model numbers like I knew what I was talking about. They acted impressed, like I knew what I was talking about.

Continue reading "Pawsfest '05"

Posted by pjm at 9:51 PM | Comments (0)

Small bites

I need to learn: small bites. Not big mouthfuls.

I am waiting to hear about the possibility of an assignment from a second outlet for Saturday’s meet. It’s not certain yet so I won’t name it, but it would be, for me, pretty huge.

And it would mean a Saturday schedule involving a road race, a track meet, and (at least) three stories probably totaling around two thousand words. (Not getting this assignment, which appears to depend on factors other than my qualifications or availability, would mean only two stories.)

So, yeah, I’ll be in New York this weekend… but I’ll have my mouth full.

Posted by pjm at 9:31 PM | Comments (0)

5 music questions

Remember the saying, “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it?”

I used to see various “pass it on” questions going around blogs I read, and wonder if anyone would think to pass them on to me. Then came the stick. Now it’s music, and Ralph has tapped me. And, as he noted, it would be rude…

Total volume of music on my computer:
Depends on the computer. There’s 23+ GB of music on my laptop; I suspect there’s some significant duplication in there, though. I carry an iPod back and forth between work and home to keep the bulk of my library available in both places; there’s 1.3 GB in the “music” folder here at work, but it’s not all actually music. (Long story; it’s work.)

Last CD I bought:
Ooh. The last CD I actually paid money for was probably part of a batch of used CDs I bought back in February, trying to replace all the cassettes I might otherwise be keeping from junior high years. (Most of my high school music I’ve long since bought on CD.) I got R.E.M.’s “Green,” INXS’s “Kick” and “The Swing,” and The Waterboys’ “Room to Roam.”

But the last CDs added to the collection were Kathleen Edwards’ “Back to Me” and Erin McKeown’s “Grand,” which were gifts from A.

And all of it has been swamped by the SXSW Showcase, which amounts to more than 10% of the songs on the iPod even though I’ve deleted over a hundred songs from it. I’m still trying to absorb it all and weed out the stuff I don’t like, and that’s kept me from feeling the itch to buy more.

Favorite song from that album:
Green: Orange Crush, of course.
Kick: Mystify.
The Swing: Dancing on the Jetty. (It’s really worth looking up some of the stuff INXS did before they got huge in the USA. The combination of Michael Farriss’ songs and Michael Hutchence’s voice is really, really impressive even now.)
Room to Roam: Worst. Waterboys. Album. Ever. I can’t believe they followed up Fisherman’s Blues with this stinker. I can get along with A Life of Sundays, though.
Back to Me: Oh, I like too much of it. I’ve got five favorites.
Grand: Probably Cosmopolitans.

Song playing now:
Look down. But a few others, while I write this, as well.

Songs I listen to a lot or that mean a lot:
Oh, no, I can’t do this. I just looked in to the first page of the current playlist, and I could find vivid associations with nearly all of them. And I’ve given over my life to the iTunes “shuffle” feature (though I use an insanely complicated weighting system to ensure that the more I like a song, the more often it is played.)

Now, I’m supposed to pass this on to five people, but let’s face it, nobody I pick is going to be thrilled about it. So I’ll ask for volunteers. The first five people who track back to this post (or just tell me you’re doing it,) I’ll link here and pretend I invited you. Deal?

(Later, takers: Zee (so that’s where you are now!), Joe B… and I’ll cheat even more than Sherry by retroactively handing it on to her.)

Now Playing: Be My Enemy from This Is the Sea by The Waterboys

Posted by pjm at 12:33 PM | Comments (2)

June 8, 2005

Proper Names

I think I must be very tired to be so amused by the “correct” suggestions produced by spell-checking Ethiopian names.

Posted by pjm at 11:20 PM | Comments (0)

True Believer

I think I’m relatively fortunate in that the two companies I’ve worked for since college have been relatively idealistic companies. My first employer was recognized as a prominent woman-led company and made a few “best places to work” lists while I was there, and was very heavily invested in self-help and “service” publishing, carrying their mission and message to the public. Their magazines accepted no alcohol or tobacco advertising (apparently exceptions are now being made for some alcohol advertising.)

My current employers don’t wear their corporate heart on their sleeve quite so much, but there is a clearly stated focus on doing good work: “The goals continue to be to work with talented and knowledgeable authors, to create books and media that are beautifully designed and produced, and to communicate effectively with each title’s intended audience.”

The first company was in a transition period while I was there, as it began to pass to the third generation of the family and the fierce idealism of the first two generations was moderated. While certain positive parts of the mission were universally embraced (everyone likes a nice place to work, after all,) there was a certain amount of snickering at some of the holdouts from the company’s more fanatical past. They were called, with mixed sympathy and derision, “True Believers.” The term reminded me of Russian history and the Orthodox “Old Believers” who were one of the earliest purges in that litany of national self-abuse. The other implication, in a hipper phrase, was that they “drank the Kool-Aid.”

While I was there, I plowed through a high level of enthusiasm, to a shrugging indifference, to outright cynicism. I don’t think I could’ve been called a True Believer for very long; it was good that I left when I did.

There’s less of a need for True Believers here; we’re more likely to meet our goals simply by hiring the best people we can find, and encouraging to do the best job they can. There’s nothing very ideological about it. But I have been a True Believer, and still am, about some things.

I’ve been a True Believer about my college for years. I don’t see my time there through rose-colored glasses; there were times when I was pretty miserable, and I spent a lot of time stressed, fatigued, sleep-deprived or some combination of the three. I missed a lot of opportunities. But I’ve always felt that the place is/was special somehow, even though I also intellectually recognize that other people have similar feelings about totally different institutions. In a way that’s why I wanted to help with this site; I knew the primary contributor is also a True Believer, and I like that there’s more than one of us.

What’s important is not maintaining ironic detachment, but being able to step back and recognize what it is about the organization that you like, believe in, and want to pour energy into. Maybe it’s not that bad to be a True Believer if that means recognizing the faults—and trying to fix them.

Now Playing: In State from Back to Me by Kathleen Edwards

Posted by pjm at 12:22 PM | Comments (0)

June 7, 2005

Evening

The day always escapes me, and then I dream that tomorrow, I will finally catch it.

Posted by pjm at 10:15 PM | Comments (0)

Secret Identity

Working to perfect the flow of energy. I think I’ll make that my personal mission statement.

Now Playing: Thankful by Glen Phillips

Posted by pjm at 8:58 AM | Comments (0)

June 6, 2005

Early exit

We were doing the walking loop of my errands this afternoon when we spotted a few people apparently sitting on the sidewalk on South Pleasant Street, near the new restaurant in the space which used to be Il Pirata (which used to be a bank, and the vault is still there.)

As we walked around them, I noticed a grey heap of feathers and fuzz on the sidewalk between them. It flopped. Bird? Tame bird? One of the three people got up and moved on, looking sad. Another hurried off purposefully.

I happened to have my camera with me. (Good habit, which I’m working on developing.) I got it out and looked more purposefully at the bird. At first, I thought he’d been hurt, but on closer inspection it was clear that he was simply too young to fly. The remaining man said, “My girlfriend went to get a box for him. We think he fell out of his nest, or something.” I looked up and spotted a pigeon looking over the rooftop. I imagined some twigs and grass poking out. I pointed. “Up there, I’d bet.”

Then I took a few pictures. Hey, when a kid takes his first steps outside the nest, someone should take pictures.

Fallen

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

Yet another appearance

We’ve gone worldwide, ladies and gentlemen.

Now Playing: She’s A Star from Whiplash by James

Posted by pjm at 1:25 PM | Comments (0)

Tournament

The Great Northern Tier Geocaching Tournament is in the planning stages, and is almost certain to combine two things I really enjoy: geocaching and the Quabbin. It doesn’t hurt that it appears to be hosted by The Trustees of Reservations, the only conservation organization I actually belong to; I’ve done numerous caches on their land, and Notchview, where I skied all winter, is one of their properties.

I wonder, though, if the competitive aspect might not be enough to kill the fun of it. I think a lot of what I enjoy about caching is being out in the woods alone, and imagining others slipping up to the hides quietly, little blinks of activity in an otherwise placid site. The idea of a few hundred people dashing around… I don’t know. Could be not-fun. I wonder.

Now Playing: Harmed by Film School

Posted by pjm at 1:17 PM | Comments (0)

June 5, 2005

After business hours

Sometime early on Saturday morning, there was a lot of screeching outside.

Animal screeching, I could tell. Iz was a bit jumpy, and followed me while I walked to our one window which faces the yard (long story, never mind) and scanned the garden with a flashlight, like a guard in a watchtower. Nothing.

I’m not sure it was in the garden; maybe it was the grove of trees directly behind the house, but the flashlight would not penetrate and the screechers had fallen silent.

I suspect a return of our local bandits. Iz remained nervous, but I had to sleep. So no pictures, this time.

Posted by pjm at 10:24 PM | Comments (0)

Turnover and spin

The race was over by the mile mark. Leghzaoui, the one returning from the doping ban, stomped on the gas just after the kilometer mark and was substantially clear of the field by the mile mark. As a simplification, let’s say she runs like a boy; by that, I mean that she has a long stride, not the chopped shuffle that many women run with. With her tiny build and relatively long legs, that makes her a middle-distance oxygen-burning machine; it’s no surprise she’s got speed, or that she rolls on the downhills like a runaway kickball. Her husband was there, running sometimes along the sidewalk shouting encouragement while the USATF officials scowled from the the truck beside me. She broke the course record.

I watched, I took a slew of photos, some of which may actually be usable. I got sunburned. I didn’t push through the mob of TV cameras and reporters at the finish to get quotes, translated by her husband. I did talk to the masters winner.

There was an interesting article in the Washington Post earlier this week about Leghzaoui, a much more balanced story than the one in Runner’s World on Monday. It reversed the spin, and made the athletes who withdrew look like whiners. Leghzaoui came out looking like, well, an innocent who made a mistake. True enough, but I can’t honestly believe she didn’t know she was doing something wrong when the needle went in.

So it’s spin on both sides, and what’s missing is that doping rules in the sport, so far, are largely about trust. You aren’t required to pass a doping test to enter a race; you pass it afterward, because the race organizer is trusting you to pass it. I’ve noticed that the races Legzhaoui is running are not the races she ran a few years ago. The races that trusted her aren’t the ones she’s running this year. Their trust was bruised. It’s that simple.

Update, 6/6: The Albany Times Union gets it too. Their column includes this analysis: “…Yet we don’t know what we saw. Did we see greatness or a great swindle?”

Posted by pjm at 3:04 PM | Comments (0)

June 3, 2005

Ticket

Anyone interested in Sunday’s Sox game? A friend of mine has two tickets available. (He is a mutual friend of some of my readers, so some of you have already passed on this offer.)

Actually having met me, while helpful in arranging the meeting, is not required. Residence within reasonable driving distance of Boston is recommended.

Update: He found someone interested in the set, so neither you nor I are going to the game. (I’m moderately disappointed, but I’m more glad he found someone to take both tickets.)

Now Playing: Alex Chilton from Pleased to Meet Me by The Replacements

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

Lapsed

After a very good streak starting in April, and the triumphant four-out-of-five days in Bike Week, last week passed without me riding in once. Last week, however, I had the excuse of generally lousy weather. This week I must face up to the fact that, aside from my running (I may manage ten miles this week,) I’ve just been lazy. I’ve been trying to grab extra half-hours of sleep. I’ve been blindsided by car-requiring errands which, had I planned better, might have been clumped together in one or two days.

I need to get back on top of this.

Now Playing: Fast Way from Wholesale Meats And Fish by Letters To Cleo

Posted by pjm at 8:48 AM | Comments (0)

June 2, 2005

How to succeed in track writing (without really trying)

For reasons I won’t get in to here, I thought it might be a good idea to trace the steps that got me to my current level of writer-hood.

(I will leave aside, for now, the many more-refined words to describe what I do, and their differences; let’s say that I provide words in an easily-readable order which describe an event, a person, or a group of people, based on notes and interviews gathered at the scene or over the phone. I also sometimes provide words, also in an easily-readable order, designed to present an argument or opinion surrounding an issue. The common shorthand for this is “track writer.”)

I started out running a website for a magazine. I wanted to write for the magazine, of course, but so do 75% of the other people who’ve ever read it and have constructed a complete English sentence in their lifetime. The stories look like so much fun (or, at least, they did when I used to read them. I don’t read (m)any magazines nowadays.) It turned out that the writers tended to be well-established wordsmiths with a history of previously-published articles behind them and, usually, a contract with the magazine to provide X articles of Y length in a given year. Not early-twenties web geeks with a feeble grip on the magazine’s audience.

Eventually I did have a short piece published in the magazine, alongside several other of my co-workers. It was a personal-experience bit about two hundred words long, not the usual “service journalism” we published. Still, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

I started out with one event. The Maine Distance Festival ran annually on the weekend of the 4th of July, from 1994 or so until 2003, at the Bowdoin College track. (They say someday it will happen again, but two years is quite a hiatus in the track world, especially when one of them is an Olympic year.) I was going to be there anyway, so I offered to file a report for the website. I got myself a media credential, borrowed a tape recorder, and followed the real reporters around until I got the drift of how it worked. I produced a meet report and an interview, now sadly lost when the site’s archives went offline a few years ago.

I did this annually for a few years, often enough that I stopped being excessively nervous when talking with the athletes. I also stopped being excessively nervous about my writing, once I realized that it was barely being edited. I even put two more personal-experience articles up, one about my first USATF cross-country meet and one about the Boston marathon (before I DNFed there; I still haven’t finished it. The race, not the article.) I started going to more events, with A, with the understanding that if I paid my own expenses and wrote an article, I wouldn’t be charged vacation days for my time out of the office.

When I left, it seemed pretty natural for me to keep freelancing with reporting for the site. Over the intervening years, they started paying less for articles, then eventually stopped almost entirely, but since then I’ve moved on. It certainly didn’t hurt that I was writing regularly for two other sites right away.

The thing was, the work I’d done on the site had made me an “established” writer. The pros were used to seeing me in the press box, the media coordinators knew who I was and where to look for my stories. They knew I wasn’t just a fanboy with a digital point-and-shoot and a voice recorder. And when they were contacted by editors looking for freelancers, they’d drop my name. I got a few more print publications in other magazines mostly on the strength of the reputation I’d built. It didn’t hurt to be able to supply links to my other articles, allowing editors to check out the quality of my work before hiring me.

I could probably work more than I do. Right now, it’s primarily an excuse for being at events and seeing them first-hand. I like doing a good job, and I like working with the others I see at the events, but over the course of a year I probably break even at best, with travel expenses eating up my paychecks. If I was determined, I could send out a few more query letters, do a few more interviews and non-event work, but I lack the motivation to do so.

Now, if you’ll notice, there are two very large strokes of luck here that make it unlikely that anyone else will follow this path into the field: First, I landed an editorial (if somewhat technical) job with a magazine and website which ran the kind of writing I wanted to do. Second, I had an event nearby which was both low-key enough that they had few other reporters there, yet important enough that we’d want a first-hand story.

Now Playing: Paint Your Picture from Josh Ritter by Josh Ritter

Posted by pjm at 5:00 PM | Comments (1)

Limited use of tools

I’m a poor vacation photographer. I took few, if any, photos last weekend (excepting a few hundred of the marathon with A’s camera,) and I took none on April’s trip to Nantucket. I’d plead rain as my excuse for that second one, but Brian was there the same weekend and took plenty.

I take more photos of what’s around me every day. The shots I’ve posted here and on Flickr are either part of my daily round, or day-trips to relatively familiar places.

I think the reason for this is that I’ve stopped taking photos as an attempt to capture a moment, and I’m less ambitious in my attempts to capture views. I find myself trying to take photos which will make good pictures. That’s not going to happen every time I trip the shutter, of course; you have to take a lot of bad pictures to get a good picture. But I’m composing my shots more, and thinking about how the image will look on a screen or printed on a 4×6.

I might take more scenery shots if photos could resolve objects at the same distance my eyes can, I suppose, but I know that the big view photos will never match what I’m seeing. Maybe I need to get better at shooting (and cobbling together) panoramas.

Now Playing: U-Mass from Trompe le Monde by the Pixies

Posted by pjm at 11:19 AM | Comments (0)

June 1, 2005

In the shop

My laptop is away, and I don’t expect to get it back until tomorrow, at best—maybe even Friday.

The CD drive started making a horrible shrieking noise a few weeks ago, and rattled when the machine was shaken gently. I figured that was probably the end of the drive, which (unfortunately) croaked with a disk inserted.

I had to shop around a bit for the repair. The last place I took it admitted that they were so backed up that it would be ten days before they could even look at it, let alone order replacement parts. I didn’t want to be without the machine (which still works, if you don’t need an optical drive,) for so long, so I contacted a local shop which we’ve sometimes used here at the office. They were inclined to just order a new drive without needing to look at the thing, so I agreed to a drive upgrade (I’ll be able to burn DVDs now, should I ever want to,) and a memory upgrade (a bit more than twice the RAM, which should keep it kicking for at least another year.)

The parts were in yesterday, so today I dropped off the machine. Now I’m completely offline at home. I’m looking forward, I think, to an internet-free evening or two. I wonder what I’ll do with them.

Now Playing: Close My Eyes from Live Light (France, 11/1994) by Ride

Posted by pjm at 5:13 PM | Comments (1)

Job application tips

Every now and then my boss comes over to share a favorite bit from the applications for my job. I’m reluctant to share the details here, but I’m definitely assembling a small list of “what not to do” examples. Maybe generalities?

  • Expect to be Googled. Or, more specifically, expect that we’ll check out the website at the domain your email address is on. If there’s anything there which you wouldn’t want to explain to your parents, the FBI, or the RIAA, you might consider not using that email address, rather than letting us speculate on your level of responsibility towards company servers.

  • Listing programs or applications you have experience with is cool, but you don’t need to include every single one. Certainly there are jobs for which you’d need to claim experience with web browsers, for example, but we’d prefer to take the basics for granted and hear about your PHP experience, or how you write iptables rules for fun in your spare time. (Or, at least, that you’ve heard of iptables.) Don’t try to pad the list.

Now Playing: Hope from Up by R.E.M.

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

Current events

If nothing else, 419 scammers are up on their current events. Within a day of the news, I was offered a share of “a large amount of funds” stranded in Russia by the conviction of “Boris Mikhail Khodorkovsky(sic).

Timely as the swindle might be, they aren’t quite pitch-perfect; no Russian male has “Mikhail” as a middle name. (Nor have any of the news reports been using this new “Boris” name of his.) If I was bored, I might write back to this supposed “personal assistant” to ask: “How long have you been misspelling your boss’s name?”

Now Playing: Summerlong from Back to Me by Kathleen Edwards

Posted by pjm at 2:31 PM | Comments (0)