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August 31, 2005

Don't overload

When I talked to my mother about course selection, she cautioned me. “Don’t overload,” she said.

Today was department orientation, and for all the relatively low-content speeches of yesterday, today was somewhat more intense. The department faculty gave the high-level overview of the courses they taught and the research they did, and for those few brief moments (before we began connecting the dots between what we knew and what we’d have to learn to reach that level of research,) we were all ready to sign on for several of them. Also, I knew I had some catching up to do, and I wanted to front-load my course work some in order to prepare for a thesis next year.

Then I talked to my advisor, who turns out to have been a grad school acquaintance of one of my undergrad co-workers. His advice: don’t bother trying to catch up. Take a few prerequisite courses you’ll really need, skip the rest, and pick the rest of your courses like an ordinary grad student. “You won’t be able to cover an undergraduate major and still do a proper Masters,” he said.

So, I’m punting. The current plan, should it stand, is Algorithms, which is a basic that I need; Operating Systems, aka “Learning C the Hard Way,” which promises to be a lot of work, but may be a professor I’ll be doing research with; and OOP for GUIs, which is both catch-up and simply an attempt to do something that won’t make my brain explode. (I haven’t done much proper Object Oriented Programming. In fact, some might argue that I haven’t done much proper programming. To those people, I say, can you give proper declensions of irregular Russian verbs? Neither can I.)

Current grad students agree that this plan is not entirely psychotic. I want to run it by a few faculty before I commit to registration, though.

Posted by pjm at 10:49 PM | Comments (0)

August 30, 2005

Two thousand words (with links to fifteen thousand more)

Scale The Knife Edge from the east

It’s not really practical for me to write about the Katahdin trip here. There are too many details, too many little stories (the time I left my GPS on the hood of the truck for ten miles of rough dirt road; the col between Pamola and Chimney Peak; the crowd on the Baxter Peak; etc.) It would be twenty little entries or one unreadably-large one.

Plus, the story is not entirely my own, and as the Scoplaw so vividly illustrated yesterday, telling it becomes somewhat less than simple. I will probably try to narrate the whole thing into a letter to my former roommate, a one-time camping companion, who will enjoy the tale.

The best way I’ve found to present it as a narrative without injecting too many digressions, details, and/or false (or personal) melodrama was the photos. I’ve put about seventeen in a set on Flickr, a sliver of the 120 or so I saved and the two hundred plus I have (since I grabbed copies of my brother’s shots as well.) If you want most of the story, start there, then ask questions.

Now Playing: Antenna from Starfish by The Church

Posted by pjm at 9:41 PM | Comments (1)


Orientation this afternoon was largely content-free, though at least a bit amusing. The main purpose seemed to be mostly symbolic, having all the entering graduate students in one place for one afternoon, but once they had us there they didn’t have too much to tell us. Most of the useful information was on sheets of paper in the packets we got on walking in; five or six of us who had met at a Davis Square meet-up Monday night (arranged through the incoming-grad-student message boards) took one of the sheets and skipped out at the first available moment to the Police office, where we picked up our student IDs, the most substantiative progress of the day.

We’re a mixed bunch. As you’d expect, most of us are 22, with still-drying BAs, but there’s a pretty high percentage of older folks like myself. I met one guy my age (we actually have mutual acquaintances, high school friends of his who I knew in college,) who has spent the nine years since graduation accumulating post-graduate baccalaureates through his first college, others in its consortium, and finally Tufts. He claims to have seven BAs or equivalents, if I heard him correctly, and I imagine it’s possible. He’s planning on a biology MS this year before going to med school next year.

From department to department, the level of handling we’re getting varies. In CS, I have a full day of department orientation tomorrow (including an hour for the entire Engineering School,) plus a good deal of TA orientation on Friday. On the other end of the scale, our German student doesn’t know who her advisor is, nor if she has an orientation; she’s heard nothing from her department since being accepted, and isn’t sure when or how to register for classes.

Now Playing: Man On The Mountain from Still Burning by Mike Scott

Posted by pjm at 9:23 PM | Comments (0)

August 29, 2005

Another layer

I’ve washed off most of the goo and returned to Medford, but after last weekend I feel like I’ve had a layer of my home state applied to me like a lacquer. I haven’t had such a strong accent in years. When I talked to A on the phone last night, she told me, “You’re talking funny.”

Posted by pjm at 5:48 PM | Comments (1)

August 28, 2005


Plenty to filter through before stories emerge. Until then, a puzzle: I have not showered in (roughly) sixty hours, during which time I have committed strenuous exercise and deployed substances like bug repellent and sunblock. (Not enough of the latter, I’m afraid, particularly for having a mile less atmosphere than usual.)

In such circumstances, am I sticky, or greasy? Discuss.

118 photos to download.

Posted by pjm at 6:01 PM | Comments (2)

August 26, 2005


Good grief, that’s a lot of groceries. Hard to believe three of us will consume that much over five meals, but I suppose it’s possible.

I’ll be off-grid for a few days. Hoping to get my 200th cache.

Posted by pjm at 11:02 AM | Comments (1)

August 25, 2005

Base Camp

I am printing out maps from my topo map software. Unlike the usual maps which show clusters of geocaches waypointed on the page, this has only one: the Baxter Peak of Mt. Katahdin, the high point of Maine but better known to most people as the northern end of the Appalachian Trail. The trail across South Peak to Chimney Peak is known as the Knife Edge. It’s not a fun place to get lost, hence the maps and the packing list which includes multiples of items like GPSrs and compasses.

The territory up here is not only rugged, it’s not often traveled. Evidence: while most of the heavy black labels on the topo map are typeset, the elevations marked on the isobars are apparently hand-lettered.

I have a packing list to work through.

Now Playing: Sheltering Sky from Cherry Marmalade by Kay Hanley

Posted by pjm at 9:53 AM | Comments (1)

Done with Trackback

I’m turning off Trackback by default on all new posts. Nobody’s legitimately used the trackback links except me since March (maybe if/when they read Julie’s book they’ll try?), and I’m getting buckets of spam by that route. If it’s a problem, let me know; otherwise, just comment if you’ve posted on a theme I mention here.

Update: To close Trackback on all previous posts without opening/editing each one in the Moveable Type interface, you’ll need to manipulate the database by whatever means you get access to your database. The SQL you need is this: “UPDATE 'mt_entry' SET 'entry_allow_pings' = 0 where 1;”. Then you’ll need to go in to the “Templates” section of the web interface and edit the “Individual Entry Archive” template to remove the Trackback URL section, then rebuild your site.

Posted by pjm at 4:08 AM | Comments (0)

August 24, 2005

A semester goal

I’m composing an email to my newly-assigned advisor (who, as it turns out, is also new to the department this semester.) I realized, in thinking over what to say, that I’m not just cautious about articulating my goals for this program; I’m cautious about letting myself have any. This isn’t right, and it’s going to get me in trouble if I can’t square it away soon.

So, there’s my goal for the fall semester, if not the ‘05-‘06 year: get rid of this feeling that I can’t have goals because I don’t know what’s possible. Figure out what I can be legitimately curious about. And get curious about it, in an informed enough way that I can set more specific academic goals.

Now Playing: If I Were A Rich Man from Knitting On The Roof by Magnetic Fields

Posted by pjm at 9:11 PM | Comments (0)

Like running, but not

I realized today (eight, nine, turn) that the reason swimming is so different for me than running (ten, eleven, turn) is that it’s not really like running at all—it’s like steeplechasing (eight, nine, turn.) You hit a consistent number of strokes/strides, then perform a quick gymnastic maneuver before getting back into your stroke/stride as efficiently as possible. The pool I’ve been in introduces another quirk—a current which makes “down” and “back” a different number of strokes. Still, it’s pretty fun to watch the wall going by when you can do 25m in eight strokes.

I’ve also re-discovered that one of the growth phases in any racing sport is finding a distinction between “hard” and “easy.” The distinction eventually gets refined into various stages of “hard,” including one which focuses on the balance point between “pleasantly difficult” and “painful,” but that first step of “hard” and “easy” is the fundamental one. I did a workout this afternoon with only three reps: 600m, 400m, and 200m. They broke up, though, into hard/easy sections; the 600m, for example, went 50m hard, 50m easy, 100m hard, 100m easy, 150m hard, 150m easy. It’s an accomplishment, for me, just to do the workout; to have a “hard” pace which is different from “just get down the pool,” and an “easy” pace which is actually relaxed enough to allow recovery. It’s the same step I made, coming up to high school cross-country, when I started running variable-pace workouts and intervals, and learned about stress and recovery.

I doubt I’ll be in that pool more than once or twice more, due to their closing next Wednesday and my varied schedule before then. No tragedy, that. It’s been very convenient to have a pool so close to us (it’s barely a five-minute walk) and the fee for the pass is very reasonable, but there’s no dedicated lap-swim time and unless the pool is largely empty, I’m constantly having to steer around someone else (i.e. a clump of frolicking kids during “Adult Only” hours, or, on at least one occasion, the “lifeguards” goofing off.) And there’s the nonsensical “clear the pool every 50 minutes” rule/law/silliness. Maybe if they plopped in some lane lines (the hooks are there, in the wall,) it would be more usable, but the fact is they aren’t set up for lap swimmers, the same way my night school wasn’t set up to prepare students for graduate programs.

Now Playing: Girl by The Blueskins

Posted by pjm at 6:29 PM | Comments (0)


In my discussions with the department last spring, they had mentioned to me a specific “assistantship,” neither an RA nor TA position. (Note to non-academics: “RA” and “TA” are frequently-used academic jargon terms for the two common jobs for funded graduate students: “Research Assistant,” a coveted position helping with a professor’s research, and “Teaching Assistant,” a position nearly everyone who has gone to a large university is familiar with, respectively. Tufts CS has a third category, sometimes called “System Administrator” but more often not labeled, which involves direct support work on the campus network and IT systems.) In fact, I’d actually been contacted by this other organization (a university support organization outside the CS department) about the assistantship; they put me on a conference call and I got a tag-team interview with them. I didn’t hear anything more about it, and assumed that was settled.

As usual, assumptions are a mistake; today I got an email indicating that I’ve been assigned to TA for CS 11, the Intro course. This opens up a whole slew of questions.

  • The TA position requires more hours, and also pays better. It’s possible that the Department considers this a “better” position and put me in it when the spot opened up. It’s also possible that demand for RAs and TAs inside the department exceeded supply, and they decided not to send a grad student off somewhere else. How do these assignments get decided?

  • CS 11 is both the most generic assignment possible, and maybe the only course I’m qualified to TA (assuming I am, which may not be a safe assumption.) Related to the first question, is this a generic assignment because they’re confused by the other-department position? Is it more solid than the last one?

  • What happened to the other department’s position? Did the position vanish (possible,) or get given to someone else (also possible)?

  • Do I like this development?

Even though I’ve been in town for a week now, I’ve largely avoided going in to the department, because I’ve had a lot to do here and I’ve been apprehensive that they’ll put me to work and suck up the rest of my “vacation” time. It seems like it’s time to break that silence and see if I can get some answers to the questions above, with the second and fourth probably being the most important ones.

It may not hurt to get an appointment with my newly appointed advisor (same email) and start sorting out my class schedule, now that I have at least one time commitment to work around.

Update, 8/25: Apparently the TA position is in addition to the other graduate assistantship, not in place of it. It’s five hours a week to bring me up to the usual 20 (with the corresponding pay raise, as well, though that might not carry through the summer as the other one does.) Huh, they answered all my questions before I could even ask most of them, though the fourth one still stands.

Now Playing: I’ll Be You from Don’t Tell A Soul by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 4:27 PM | Comments (1)

August 23, 2005

One victory

I’ll get back to the pool later.

Tonight I tried out a “getting-downtown” method I’d considered, and found it to work very well. Specifically, I can hop on my bike, ride side streets to Davis Square, and lock it there outside the T station. (There is a small forest of bikes locked to the racks outside the College Avenue exit.) Stuff my helmet in my bag and ride the T downtown and back out, no worries; I even spent much of the ride in reading the PDF of Gerry Lindgren’s book which has been on my computer desktop for far too long.

On the way back out, I put fresh batteries in my wicked cool bike headlight (something like this but the older model) and was pleased to find that it still works quite well. The taillight needs some adjusting, though; the light I had with me didn’t fit the bracket that’s on the bike, so either there’s another light around somewhere which fits that bracket, or another bracket. I clipped it to the bungie cord on the back rack and it did just fine.

Of course, I saw no other cyclists with any kind of lights whatever. Either that’s not a municipal ordinance around here (as it was in my Pennsylvania town,) or nobody pays attention to that law. (Hah.)

Now Playing: Trouble from Parachutes by Coldplay

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

Short pool

Even if it is, in fact, a state law and not just a pool rule, that just makes it a silly law instead of a silly rule.

(Background: I had just turned into the final lap of a 2000m workout when the lifeguards whistled me out; they were clearing the pool as they do every 50 minutes. Good thing I wasn’t trying to do a 3000m set?!?)

(And, I might add, these lifeguards do not inspire one to follow rules obediently. On which more later, if I still feel peeved.)

Posted by pjm at 5:38 PM | Comments (1)

August 22, 2005

Excuses, excuses

I’m still here. But nothing’s really happening worth sharing. I’m doing things, and thinking things, but none of it’s particularly interesting, and the main theme seems to be, “I thought I would be finished with this three days ago! Why am I not yet done?”

My “two week vacation” where I thought I’d clear some back-log has pretty much evaporated.

Posted by pjm at 10:44 PM | Comments (0)

August 19, 2005

Long pool

There is a park out our front windows, and at the other end of the park is a pool. We arrived too late to get much use from it, but since I won’t be in the University pool for a few more weeks, I trotted down yesterday to get a $15 pool pass for the days remaining until it closes at the end of this month. The staff was brusque and prickly as you might expect yesterday when I was signing up, and in fact, they were a bit difficult today when I showed up today, as they were kicking the kids out for “adult swim” time, to collect and use my new pass.

Practically nobody turns up for the adult swim hours. When they kicked the kids out at 4, I got in, and I was the only one in the pool until they closed at 5. (I didn’t swim the whole hour; nobody got in after me.) I believe the pool is 25 meters (not yards), aka “short course meters,” and it has a current: it takes me eleven strokes swimming towards the building, and nine swimming away. A 25y pool with no current is either eight or nine strokes, depending on how tired I am. I asked a lifeguard if it was 25 yards; he was uncertain and suggested 27 yards, which would confirm my 25m theory, since 25m is 27 yards and three inches.

The lifeguards were a crew of high school and early college age kids, and typically uninterested in someone who only went up and back in the pool, but the adult staff was fascinated with me. When I was leaving, the woman who had given me my pass asked if I was a “serious swimmer.” I’d only done 1500m, and a good in-season winter workout should be twice that; I was doing 2,000y to 2,400y in Amherst. I wasn’t particularly self-impressed, but I guess it made me about as serious an athlete as they ever see there. I told them I would be running more than an hour a day if I could, so half an hour of swimming didn’t count for much in my view.

They were still pretty impressed, and it clearly had changed their attitude towards me. Instead of being yet another person ignoring the rules (the multitude of posted and printed rules in that place is staggering) and making their jobs difficult, I became someone who was positively interested in improving myself with the service they provided, and they started telling me which hours were the best times to come and have the pool to myself, which is actually very useful information. I also suspect they’re overlooking some of the more inconvenient rules for me, like the one which would appear to keep me from leaving my pull buoy, kickboard, paddles, etc. on the wall while I’m not using them.

Now Playing: The Shore and Stars by Austin Hartley-Leonard

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

Oh yeah, that

I’ve been a bit distracted lately, as you can imagine. So I forgot that I had a column running last week.

Now Playing: Pendulums from All of Our Names by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 2:09 PM | Comments (1)

August 18, 2005

Broken glass

There’s some quirkiness in the timing. A year ago today, I posted an article detailing the steps I was starting to take to enable my users and my company to handle emergencies without me. My primary motivation, though I didn’t mention it at the time, was to provide some continuity for my successor (Hi, N!) since I knew I wasn’t going to be there much longer than a year from then. But I also noted, half-whimsically, that maybe I’d get hit by a bus or something.

This morning, I got an email from a former co-worker with a subject line bearing the name of one of my former roommates from Pennsylvania. (I won’t go into more detail, because more of you than you’d expect would recognize the names of both the roommate and the co-worker.) Seems my former roommate had a bad headache on his run this morning. His wife took him to the hospital, where they determined he’d had a brain aneurysm burst. He’s described as “lucid,” but he’s going for surgery tomorrow.

The co-worker notes that this former roommate lives two blocks from one of the local hospitals; however, later today he was supposed to be driving, alone, to a meeting in central PA. He was also planning on running Hood to Coast next week; he could’ve been running through the woods alone when this happened.

Somehow I feel like we’re too young for this sort of thing to be happening. And I wonder how up to date my information is.

Posted by pjm at 9:01 PM | Comments (1)

Cutting the knot

We ended up resolving the immunization problem with the Alexander method: as Chris suggested, they gave me the shot. They were quite apologetic about it, and wanted me to try checking with Health Services at my undergraduate college (as wolfangel suggested,) but somehow I didn’t see another few turns around the Gordian knot of my documented medical history helping the situation. So they jabbed me and told me to come back in a month for another one. Just now, I checked the shoulder and realized I’ve had a band-aid on ever since, without noticing it.

The tech who gave me the shot observed that this generation is the most immunized in history, and I believe it. I’ve had to have a few shots that didn’t exist when I last needed shots. She also asked if I was allergic to eggs. “Wow,” I said, “That would really put a dent in my diet.” Then, for a moment, all I could think about was that she hadn’t specified what kind of eggs. I mean, for the price per ounce, they could be making this stuff from caviar, wouldn’t you think?

[Now Playing, by the way, will be back when I manage to unpack something like an office and actually have music playing when I post.]

Posted by pjm at 8:43 PM | Comments (1)

August 17, 2005

Puzzle at Health Services

I am faced with an interesting bureaucratic conundrum. The University Health Services is demanding I complete a form prior to enrollment (which, I am daily reminded, is approaching rapidly.) The box on the form which they note (correctly) is un-checked is the one confirming that I have received a particular series of immunizations.

This is, of course, such a painfully basic set of shots that my parents probably would’ve had some interviews with the State DHS had I not had them by, say, age five. It is highly unlikely that I would’ve been allowed to enroll at my undergraduate institution (or, for that matter, high school,) without these shots. I know I’ve had the shots.

The problem is that I can’t prove it.

I have not visited the doctor who gave me the shots in some ten or a dozen years. I did call his office as a sort of pro forma thing, but they just confirmed that they wouldn’t have kept records that long (where “that long” >= 20 years.) My physician in Amherst didn’t give me the shots, so he doesn’t have record of them. Likewise my doctors in Pennsylvania, who I visited so seldom I didn’t even bother calling to check with them.

So, as I stated above, it seems like a logical impossibility that I would have avoided these shots, but I lack a witness, and that’s what they want.

Sometime soon, possibly tomorrow, I’m going to drop by Health Services in person, and see what we can do. It seems likely that the solution will involve them drawing blood and checking for the antibodies directly.

If I can prove these things to the satisfaction of Health Services, I’ll feel ready to take on the Bursar.

Posted by pjm at 9:11 PM | Comments (3)

August 16, 2005

Not quite "Hello, World!"

Hello, Medford.

Posted by pjm at 9:14 PM | Comments (1)

August 14, 2005


I was standing near the 6-mile mark, waiting to meet up and head for home. I was idly watching the runners stream by.

One of them bobbled. Wavered. Weaved. Started for the pavement. The man behind her caught her, held her up. The spectators to my right stepped out and grabbed her arms. I hurried to unfold my chair, and they dropped her in it.

We poured water on her and fetched a policeman from the corner. He radioed for medical staff. He asked her her name (which she knew) and the date (which she didn’t.) She got progressively less lucid as we watered her and waited for aid. We couldn’t let her drink, because if she was hyponatremic we could make her worse. One of the samaritans was a lifeguard.

The medical staff arrived, and I decided to abandon the chair. As I looked back, I saw that she was cramping, or something, moving convulsively. As we headed to the car, the ambulance was coming.

I don’t know the end of the story. I hope it’s good.

Posted by pjm at 1:45 PM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2005

Last day

They made me a cake.

Posted by pjm at 1:31 PM | Comments (2)

August 11, 2005

Not this time of year

Amidst the packing melée, we’re planning a quick trip to “the Cape” for the Falmouth Road Race. (It seems possible that A will be shooting from a motorcycle; I want a photo of that.)

While mapping destinations we’ll need to find amid summer traffic, I flicked over to the satellite photo view to check buildings. I found a hotel near where we watched the last time we went to this race, and realized this photo had been taken at a very different time of year.

The lot wasn’t full of cars. It was full of boats.

Posted by pjm at 9:53 PM | Comments (0)

В Русском Доме

Yesterday morning I dropped off the last set of give-away books before moving. It was a bunch of books from my Russian library, some text-in-translation stuff and some actual Russian I brought back from my summer in Petersburg. I’m keeping quite a lot, but I’m also getting realistic about my odds of actually cracking some of these books ever again. Instead, I left them at the Russian department office to be put on the shelves of my one-time dorm, the Russian House.

The department secretary warned me, as I dropped them off, that books in the Russian House “tend to walk.” They were happy to get them, because the library shelves were apparently relatively bare, but I’m pretty sure some of the translations, at least, are assigned texts in some classes. They’re likely to be permanently adopted by students.

This is fine, in my view. I’d toyed with the idea of putting some kind of labels in them (“A gift from…”) but on further thought, decided that my goal here wasn’t to create some kind of bibliophilic self-memorial; my goal was to take the books off my shelves and put them in the hands of someone who could read them or otherwise make use of them.

I didn’t go so far as to create labels that read, “Steal this book!”

Posted by pjm at 3:02 PM | Comments (1)

August 10, 2005

Brushed by a champion

So, in our horrible flight back in June, we were crammed in a row with an athlete on the flight out of LAX. A talked to him briefly, found out his name, and we figured out that he was going to the World Championships.

Well, he didn’t just go; he won.

Posted by pjm at 10:27 PM | Comments (0)

August 9, 2005


I have talked more at work in the last two days than I usually do in two weeks.

It would take more than this week to do a complete brain dump from me to my new successor.

I am much more appreciative of how my familiarity with my tools (and reuse of prior work, and time spent working on infrastructure) makes me able to do more in less time. It will take more time for him to get there. But he has taught me things already.

I have more to do than I have time to get it done, but that’s status quo for those moving in under a week, isn’t it?

Posted by pjm at 10:06 PM | Comments (0)

August 8, 2005

The novelty is wearing off

We had Bat #3 last night, around 12:30. Izzy cornered this one in the bedroom and “helped” me trap and release it. I’m not sure if it wound up in the bedroom because it fled there, or if Iz was trying to bring it to us to show off what a good job he’s doing. I think the carpeted room made this one a bit harder to scoop up than the first two, though. The poor little thing was clearly terrified of both Iz and my flashlight, and chittering like it could hold us off with sound waves.

I hope it is hoovering up mosquitoes in gratitude.

Now Playing: Empty glass from I’m on my way (EP) by Rich Price

Posted by pjm at 8:21 AM | Comments (1)

August 7, 2005

Life in the land of boxes

We have seven days to M-day, and I’d say we’ve probably got two thirds of the apartment packed. The remaining third fits in a number of small classes:

  • Things with alternative destinations. This includes subclasses like items I have listed on Freecycle but haven’t found homes for yet, books going to Reader to Reader, and a small set of books which will find their way to the shelves of the Russian House, where I lived during the ‘93-‘94 school year.

  • Furniture which won’t be broken down until right before the move, or will be moved intact.

  • The kitchen.

  • Things we need between now and move day, and

  • Odds and ends which haven’t fit easily into boxes packed so far. These will probably be packed in a muddle at the very end.

This is a good state to be in, because there’s another work week and a some-travel weekend between us and the move. We won’t have much last-minute time, and I now feel more comfortable about being able to do what needs doing in the time available. On the other hand, the place is a disaster area. I can’t believe we’ll have it clean and bare in just over a week. Izzy is always edgy, but today he seems more agitated than usual, poor little guy.

I don’t know if I’ve said it already, but I loathe moving. My idea of a good move is leaving my (intact) apartment on Friday, and returning to a different (intact) apartment on Monday. I am telling myself the things that I tell myself about all approaching deadlines: namely, no matter what happens, after that date, it’s over. When the movers are done, it’s over. This time next month, no more moving, for at least two years if all goes well. So I just keep working that long, and I’m fine.

Posted by pjm at 9:20 PM | Comments (0)

August 5, 2005

More debris

I cleared the last folder in my file cabinet tonight, the one optimistically labeled “Miscellaneous.” Lots of tickets to long-ago concerts and soccer games (Metrostars vs. Revolution! The Hershey Wildcats!) and programs from (and invitations to) various weddings.

I laughed several times when flipping through the sub-folder of stuff formerly located in the cubicle of my previous job; I kept a lot of goofy stuff there. My personal Dilbert greatest-hits stash. Photocopies of some surreal eighties-era running shoe ads (including Khrushchev banging his shoe on the U.N. lectern, with “These shoes hurt!” in Russian as the head.)

On the other side, I found my draft card. I appear to have passed “draft age.” I wonder if I should update my address, though.

Now Playing: 99% from Grave Dancers Union by Soul Asylum

Posted by pjm at 9:54 PM | Comments (0)

One foot out the door

This is my last day at work as the one-man IT department. My replacement starts on Monday; we have a list of things to get him started with, along with my hopes of just touring him through as much as I can remember of the range of things I do. I’m hoping to strike a balance between explaining what solutions I have in place and leaving him room to find his own solutions. (Yes, “he.” I didn’t see all the résumés, but I’m not aware of any women applying.)

Since he’ll be taking over my desk and my computers, I’m working on clearing the office up a bit. Mostly it’s just the “clean your room” aspect, but it’s also getting the computers ready for user switching and other things. I want him to have tools ready to hand, without having to deal with my logins and passwords, and I want him to have work to get on right away. In both of my jobs, I’ve had weeks or months after arriving when nobody quite knew what to do with me, and I made my own tasks. I tended to spend that time a bit bored and questioning my decision to take the job, so I’m hoping to keep him clear of that.

So even though I’ll be here for all of next week, there’s definitely a “last day of work” feeling. They brought in lunch a few hours ago, and the president and my department head said nice things. No gold watch, but they did have one of these and some useful tools to go with it.

I said, “This confirms that I’ve done a great job hiding how little I really do.” They thought I was joking; maybe I was. Or maybe I was just thinking about how little time I spend “making license plates.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just got a box with a fan I need.

Now Playing: Wonderwall from Love Is Hell by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 3:33 PM | Comments (0)

August 4, 2005

I am getting sloppy

We’re at the stage, with one last book-companion site, where I march through interminable check-lists of little tweaks to what seems, to me, like a solved problem.

Just now I backtracked through a function which isn’t working. It wasn’t throwing any errors; it just wasn’t doing what was asked. Imagine my shock when the entire code of the function was a single variable assignment, and a comment reading something along the lines of “Something should happen here.”

Right: something should

(Bear in mind that I wrote this code myself, a bit more than a week ago…)

Now Playing: Nobody from All Shook Down by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 3:10 PM | Comments (1)

August 3, 2005

Grinding down

My Mac here at work is making intermittent sighing noises, and as they increase in frequency they are starting to sound more like grinding noises. Today I opened up the case to see if I could track down the source, and discovered a fan placed to draw air in through vent holes in the back of the case and blow across the cooling vanes over the CPU. When I unplugged the power leads to the fan, the noise went away. Aha.

Blowing the dust off the fan produced no improvement in the sound, so I concluded it was probably shot. Fans, fortunately, appear to be inexpensive (even glowing ones) so I’m currently hunting up a replacement. The original equipment is one of these (PDF link), but the fans themselves don’t appear to be available by retail. Instead, I’m trying to track down one of similar size (60mm a side, 25mm thick, appears to be a standard size, like this) and power requirements—maybe even a quieter one—to put in the spot. The alternative would be similar to what Emily did with her PowerTower in college: leave the case open with a desk fan blowing on it. (Heavy case mods, I think, probably won’t be endorsed by management.)

Meanwhile, I’ve got two older Powermacs up the hall with different (louder) grinding noises. In these, I tracked the noise to a smaller fan which appears to be glued to the video card. I could probably get the fans up and find glue to reattach replacements, but in these cases I’m probably better served by just getting new video cards.

Now Playing: Maneater from Polterchrist by cathode

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


If I was running these days, I wouldn’t be.

As I waded back to shore at Puffer’s Pond yesterday afternoon, I stubbed my toes on a rock—not particularly hard, I thought, but I did trip and splash.

By an hour or two later, the second toe of my right foot (yes, the lame paw) was looking bruised, and by bedtime about half the toe was an attractive grape color. I iced it a bit, then taped it to the third toe and hoped for the best.

It seems likely that there’s some tendon damage; at worst, it may be broken. It’s not aching in quite the same way this morning as it did last night, so I’m hoping the bruise dissipates and I can stop taping it after a few more days.

Fortunately, due to a former phase of foot issues which I thought might be helped by taping, I have a lot of athletic tape around.

Now Playing: Insomnia And The Hole In The Universe from Secret Samadhi by Live

Posted by pjm at 8:57 AM | Comments (0)

August 2, 2005

Shredded debt

It’s tempting to read too much in to this, but I’m spending part of this evening shredding a lot of student loan documents.

I’m purging my file cabinets as an effort of mercy for the poor movers, so over the past week or so I’ve been shredding like an Enron executive. Anything with a Pennsylvania mailing address is ribbons, and much with previous addresses here (depending on what it is.) I’ve got enough shredded paper for a small victory parade.

I’m keeping a few sheets. The scary one I first got, while in the internship-that-wasn’t-yet-a-job, telling me what I owed and how I would be expected to pay it off. And the last statement before I did pay it off, probably four and a half years ago, telling me that I was paid up three years into the future.

I had a love-hate relationship with that debt. I hated sending money, and I hated having a future of debt. I felt harnessed by it, and though I don’t expect I would have made many different decisions, it definitely colored the way I looked at my world for a few years. On the other hand, I would definitely be in a different place had I opted not to incur the debt. And once I finally had a handle on it, I began to enjoy sending in the checks early and trimming the interest charges. One of the wonders of compound interest is that once you start getting ahead of it, it gets easier to get even farther ahead, and by the end, sending in the checks was like running up the score against the Yankees.

There’s a discussion about college choices going on at Stay of Execution, where I put my oar in (of course.) A lot of the comments put heavy weight on the expected graduating debt as a factor in the decision, and they cite many of my “hate” aspects. But none of them bring up what was positive about the debt: I wrestled with it, and I won. In fact, after a close early round, I wiped the mats with it. I’m coming in to another spell of tuition-finding in the next few years, and though I’m fortunate not to be incurring debt (at least this year,) having shredded my first round of student debt does good things for my confidence if I happen to need a second round.

Now Playing: Don’t Pass Me By from Open All Night by The Georgia Satellites

Posted by pjm at 10:22 PM | Comments (1)

August 1, 2005


There’s no way I’ll get all the mental posts from the weekend done. So, bullet points. I will expand if someone thinks any of these are that interesting, but somehow I doubt it.

  • I figured, based on map-site estimates, that we’d get to Montreal around midnight if we hit all our exchanges. But first, I got held up on 91 in Greenfield (before I even got out of MA!) and then beat my brother to West Lebanon by nearly an hour. We wound up bound for Burlington right around 8, and we still made it to the hotel by 11:30. Apparently the map sites budget too much time for crossing the border.

  • I don’t think I fully appreciated the degree to which Montreal is a francophone city. I snapped back into my travel mode where I don’t really expect people to understand me when I talk to them.

  • The swimming World Championships are much smaller than track. It’s clearly a big deal, but I’ve seen high school basketball games with more seating (and higher attendance). I realized that one advantage to sitting in the press section is that you have heat sheets and results handed to you during the meet. I missed that, a little. On the other hand, since the swimmers touch every 50m and stay in lanes, they’re able to split out every race and track progress in very fine detail, which is nearly impossible on the track (just ask anyone who’s tried to split multiple athletes in a 10,000m.)

  • We had lunch with the pseudonymous wolf angel, at a hip little place called Kilo. Needless to say, there will be no pictures posted, since the cats did not attend. We carped about everyone else’s concept of what IT departments are for. She delivered us to the top of Mt. Royal, where we gawked at the scenery before hoofing it back down to the Metro.

  • Despite the size of the crowd, when the Canadian woman was swimming for second in the women’s 800m free, it was loud.

  • On the drive back to the border, we passed an (ahem) exotic dancing establishment shrouded in smoke from a neighboring barbeque. We raced for the obvious joke… “That place is smokin’!”

  • The locals looking for a bar at the convenience store in Barre—having apparently closed down the Applebee’s next door—definitely had the potential to get me in trouble by laughing at them. I managed to contain myself.

  • After midnight, you can drive from West Leb to Amherst in an hour and a half, assuming you don’t meet any state troopers. (Vermounties?) Total travel time from Montreal to Amherst, including a few stops: somewhat less than 5:30. So, not as close as New York and Boston, but somewhat closer than Philadelphia.

Now Playing: Wildflowers from Wildflowers by Tom Petty

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

Maine Powah

I think the first world record I saw in person was Michael Johnson’s 400m in Seville at the 1999 World Championships. Since then, what with the women’s pole vault going up a few centimeters every year and a few fast indoor meets, I’ve lost count of how many world records I’ve witnessed. I’m pretty sure it’s still in single digits, though.

As projected, we saw another one Saturday evening. Ian Crocker, who as a high schooler trained in the same pool my brother did, had nearly half a body-length lead by the time he reached our end of the pool in the 100m fly (called “papillion” on the scoreboard.) He beat Michael Phelps by over a second, and put up a world-record time of 50.40.

Somewhere around Iberville on the way home, my brother was telling me about the things the embedded-circuit engineers in his office screen on internal-use boards. One of them was a power contact. The label? “Maine Powah.”

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

Posted by pjm at 10:31 AM | Comments (0)