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September 30, 2005

Ubiquitous wireless, portable computers, and SMTP

Or, Why I Can’t Send E-Mail.

I’ve been struggling lately with one of the hang-ups of mobile computing. In addition to home, where I am the network admin (and, therefore, know the answers to relevant questions,) in the course of most days I open the laptop and go online in several different places. I’ll use the campus wireless network in several buildings (the library, the computing annex, the CS building,) or, in some contexts, I’ll actually plug in to an ethernet cable. The downside of this is that I am actually bouncing between at least four networks: my own, the University wireless network, the University wired network, and the EE/CS network (wired or unwired.)

Now, in this age of spam, one of the strategies used by network administrators to cut down on spam going out of their network (presumably originating from zombies on the network,) is to prevent all machines on the network from sending mail, except through an approved server. This server can be audited, or perhaps require password authentication; the idea, in any case, is that it’s a choke point for outbound email from the network, which makes it easy for the network administrator to shut down a spam source.

You’re already familiar with this if, for example, you have your own mail server (as I do on the flashesofpanic.com domain) and you have broadband internet service from a company like Comcast or Verizon. Those companies force you to use their mail servers, even though the mail you send is coming “from” your own domain.

Now, as one of my professors says, you may be beginning to see the game. Many people never notice the problem because they use webmail almost exclusively; since webmail is entirely http or https traffic between the user and the webmail server, it doesn’t matter which network the user is on. The mail traffic using the SMTP protocol (usually on port 25, for those keeping score,) originates at the web server, not where the user is signed on, so the port 25 restrictions don’t apply.

In my case, I have four different email accounts which I check with any regularity. Three of them have webmail, but it’s about fifty times easier to let Apple Mail handle all four. However, that means the SMTP traffic—outbound mail on port 25—originates with me. As I move around from home to classroom to lab, I shift between networks which have restricted port 25 traffic to three different outbound servers. Sending email became an exercise in frustration.

What I’ve finally ended up with is a variant of the webmail workaround: I’ve taken my outbound email off port 25. I found a few outbound servers which accept an encrypted SMTP connection (using SSL) at a different port. (The port number varies at the mail admin’s discretion, but the default is in the 49x range.) I need a login and password, but I need that anyway to pick up my mail for that account, so there are no worries there. Since most networks are blocking port 25, I can use these mail servers from multiple networks without having to change my outbound mail server every time I open my laptop.

Now, if all this made zero sense to you, let’s look at it in terms of real mail. Imagine mailboxes as servers: most people have two, the box at their house where they receive mail, and some drop box on the street or at the post office where they send mail. (Let’s pretend, for this metaphor, that the postman won’t pick up mail you leave in your box.) Now let’s imagine that junk mail has become such a problem, with people stuffing bundles of the stuff in every blue drop box, that the postal service has decided to crack down: you can only send mail at post offices where the desk clerks recognize you. Now we’ve created a sort of special drop box, perhaps one with a key, which you can always reach.

Still, the fact that we had to come up with this system is immensely annoying. It’s incredible the degree to which the spammers have ruined a previously useful system.

Now Playing: Wild Horses by The Sundays

Posted by pjm at 10:52 AM | Comments (0)

September 29, 2005

Theory vs. implementation

Does it say anything for my inclinations that I’d rather hack on a programming assignment due Monday than review Algorithms for a quiz in less than three hours?

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

September 28, 2005

End of the ride?

It may be time for me to go bike shopping.

When I left class yesterday, the back tire on Heaven was flatter than mashed potatoes. Fortunately, I carry a hand pump, so I pumped it back up and rode it up to Health Services (for the second MMR shot—done with those now.) When I came out of there, it was flat again, so I knew I had a leak.

I pumped it up again and coasted down the hill to the bike shop closest to campus. I wheeled it in, and the owner/mechanic put it up on a stand right away. First, he chided me for the relatively un-greased chain. Then he started peering around, starting with the things I pointed out (chain, rear tire, front hub,) and then finding more (worn gear teeth thanks to the insufficiently lubed chain, frayed and/or rusted brake cables, and “Who knows what shape the bottom bracket’s in.”) He estimated $250 just in parts for “what needs to be done,” then stopped, took the bike off the rack, and said, “It’s a can of worms. You’re better off buying a new one. I’ve got one like it here in the back now; I just built the wheel, but I can’t put it on yet because I keep finding stuff that’s messed up on the frame. We’ll just keep finding more stuff to fix.”

I accepted that judgment and walked the bike home (carrying it by the back rack, actually, since the tire was flat again.) This weekend I’ll have to decide what to do.

I could probably fix a lot of it myself, but I’d still be spending a good chunk of cash on parts and the specialized tools of bike mechanics. I also lack the time and the motivation; I’d rather be riding a bike than fixing it (or, as we’ve apparently proven, even keeping it up properly.) I could find a mechanic willing to take on the can of worms; there’s another bike shop not far off.

Or, I could go shopping for a used bike, then take salvageable components from Heaven (lights, bottle cages, pump bracket, back rack, maybe those slicks,) for the new ride, and find someone to take the can of worms. There is, I should admit, some real appeal to the idea of shedding some of the nagging little problems of an old bike.

But I should try to figure it out this weekend, because I’m going to lose a lot of time walking where I’ve been riding.

Posted by pjm at 12:22 PM | Comments (1)

The extent of my ignorance

Some days I think the value of the experience I’ll get here is likely to be greater than the value of the degree itself. In the small company, I was going to run out of new things to investigate; here, I feel like I’m going to be overwhelmed by everything I don’t know, but will need to know in short order.

I am going to be doing some system monitoring work on the University’s research cluster. The sysadmin (or one of them) pointed me to a few things I should know about to get started: the new cluster monitoring tool which they hope to extend, the cluster documentation, and the current monitoring tool.

This is all great documentation, but it’s opening up more doors I need to investigate. The graphing and data storage tool? Python and XML? The internal networking of clusters? This is all stuff I never would have run in to in the course of normal work.

Of course, it’s all coming at me so fast. How do I do this and classwork?

Now Playing: Cinematic from Grand by Erin McKeown

Posted by pjm at 9:14 AM | Comments (0)

September 27, 2005

You won't believe it unless you see it

Speaking of plunks…

First, you need to imagine a list of baseball players with the highest hit-by-pitch numbers for each initial. (Anderson, Biggio, Clarke, Dahlen, etc.)

Then you need to imagine this list in an alphabet rhyme, like an old New England Primer.

Then, you can stop imagining.

A is for the plunks of Brady Anderson
one hundred fifty four when he was done.

B is for Houston’s own Craig Biggio,
two hundred seventy three plunks as you know,

Now Playing: Invisible from El Momento Descuidado by The Church

Posted by pjm at 3:13 PM | Comments (0)

Turtle progress

The University pool is not much bigger than the one at the Amherst Middle School where I swam last winter, but at least they put in the lane lines. It was crowded early in the semester, but I suspect many students are finding it hard to fit undirected exercise in to the cycle of hard studying and intense relaxation. In the morning, there is always a lane for me. The lanes aren’t as wide as they are at the College, so it’s harder to split them. I imagine the University swim team practicing in shifts. All things considered, though, it’s not quite as bad as I was led to believe.

Turning up regularly is paying off. I frequently feel sluggish or tired during the warm-up, but I’m making it through slightly longer sets again. Sometimes, early in the main set, I’ll find my hands fidgeting between repeats, waiting to pull on the water again.

I note this kind of subtle changes because I don’t time most of my repeats, so it’s not easy for me to see progress beyond what I can feel. It’s very easy to see progress in running, but for me, not so much so in swimming. I can only check how I feel completing certain sets, and pay attention to my form. It pays not to thrash around, so I’ve been concentrating on smoothing out my stroke and maintaining good body position, and that gets me through the sets quickly enough.

I’m thinking about asking the University coach for some help. I’m too advanced for the PE swim classes, I think, but I could probably benefit from some more direct coaching.

Now Playing: Fortress by Pinback

Posted by pjm at 10:03 AM | Comments (0)

September 26, 2005


I have an “office.” Our building, improbably, houses three departments: Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, and Athletics. Given the character of the school, it’s difficult to tell if the students entering are athletes, geeks, or both. My office is a not-quite-cube in the “extension,” which I share with another similarly-assigned grad student. He’s never there, preferring to work in the “lab” set up in a dorm basement on the other side of campus. (I have a key to that lab as well, but seldom have call to go there.) It has a shiny new Dell which I can’t (for some reason) log in to, and lockable drawers with little (except the miscellaneous debris of the Dell) in them.

Today I brought the adapter I needed to plug the Dell’s monitor in to my Powerbook. The mouse is USB, so I had no trouble with that, but for the first time in ages I need to dig up a mouse pad. (I’m sure I have one somewhere, but since I started using trackballs, they’ve been pointless.) The keyboard, unfortunately, is a PS2 plug, so I was stuck with the one on the PB. Maybe I’ll find a spare USB keyboard somewhere and let them take away the Dell.

It’s still not as nice as my attic-office here at home; after all, my books are here, and so is Iz. But it’s a helpful place to get a bit of work done between classes.

Now Playing: King’s Crossing from From A Basement On The Hill by Elliott Smith

Posted by pjm at 9:55 PM | Comments (0)

September 25, 2005

Systems programming humor

It should be noted that the punning and double-entendre possibilities for the fork() call (which, as it happens, is used to spawn a child process) are nearly infinite.

Now Playing: Golden Age Of Radio from Golden Age of Radio by Josh Ritter

Posted by pjm at 1:21 PM | Comments (0)

That could make a new nickname

My spell-check insists that “Mottram” is my mis-spelling of “Motorman.”

Maybe it’s on to something? (And my editor didn’t change a thing.)

Posted by pjm at 7:58 AM | Comments (0)

September 24, 2005

Another good excuse

I heard once that the rationalization for including a Solitaire game (or Minesweeper) with Windows systems was to acclimate users, who had presumably learned to use computers via a command line interface, to pointing and clicking with the mouse.

The course I’m TAing for includes a lot of students who’ve never actually used a command-line system; they grew up with GUIs. I found myself wondering if there was an analog to the Solitaire tool—some kind of CLI game that would get people used to typing in commands, hitting return, etc.

I wonder if that would be sufficient rationalization for installing Zork in the Sun lab? Mmm, probably not.

Now Playing: A New Season from El Momento Descuidado by The Church

Posted by pjm at 6:18 PM | Comments (2)

September 23, 2005

Thirteen years too early

I doubt you could pay me enough to go back to being a high school student, but I can’t really let the morning pass without noting this. (Especially considering my opinions on the matter.)

Posted by pjm at 10:53 AM | Comments (0)

September 22, 2005


There’s a fire truck blocking our driveway, with the lights on.

See, our apartment faces a park, with lights and multiple softball fields. I don’t know how many leagues there are in this town, but it seems like there’s been a game six nights a week since we got here; the lights stay on until eleven.

Not too long ago, I looked out, and there was a man lying on the edge of the infield between first and second bases. He was sitting up, but people were clustered around him; someone ran up with a towel. Now the EMTs have arrived. Actually, since I started writing this, an ambulance has pulled up in right field, and they’ve got him on a stretcher. I think someone’s going in for a few scans.

Thing is, he’s not wearing the obligatory t-shirt of either team.

What happens when the game is called because someone plunked the umpire?

Now Playing: Tomorrow, Wendy from Bloodletting by Concrete Blonde

Posted by pjm at 10:44 PM | Comments (1)

September 21, 2005

I'll code better with some sleep

Now, there’s a weak excuse if ever I saw one.

I’m flailing in Java. This is my first functional Java program (we won’t count “Hello, World” this time,) but, as I mentioned in an email earlier today, the first derivative of ns in “My first functional n program” has been pretty high lately. (There: you now need some calculus to understand what I’m saying. We don’t talk down to you, here.)

A meeting earlier today suggested that I’ll be learning Python in a hurry, as well as this beast and some components of this. This sort of stuff doesn’t come up in a small-installation sysadmin setting, but I’m definitely not in Kansas anymore.

Maybe with some sleep, I’ll be able to concentrate.

Now Playing: Ain’t No Lights from I’m On My Way (EP) by Rich Price

Posted by pjm at 11:29 PM | Comments (0)


Less than two hours after handing in the kludgy, ugly program I spent most of the night on, I learn the deadline was extended by a week.

Fortunately, I can use that time to revise/improve my code. Unfortunately, I won’t get that sleep back, because there’s a different program due tomorrow in a different class.

Posted by pjm at 4:23 PM | Comments (1)

September 20, 2005

Testy server

It would be a lot easier to finish this program if the load-sharing server I connect to for access to the department network didn’t insist on throwing me off at irregular intervals, causing me to pound my desk, curse, and sign back on again.

It may not help that I keep two sessions open—one to edit the source, and another to compile/run/research.

I’d do it all here on my Mac, but it’s systems programming; the different kernels can’t be counted on to have the same system calls (or respond the same way to the ones they do have in common, or several other subtle variations.)

I suppose I could ride over to the lab, but I’m comfortable here, frankly, and I’d rather have something other than my own kludgy code to complain about.

Now Playing: The Drug’s Not Working from Rock N Roll by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 9:35 PM | Comments (0)


The Globe ran an article yesterday, titled “Many gas guzzlers are gathering dust” which should appeal to the schadenfreude in every compact-car driver, especially with this opening sentence:

In May, Holly Kennedy bought an SUV. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Of course, the lead photo shows a cyclist riding on the wrong side of the road, so we can’t have everything. And the article is careful to point out that any change in behavior due to relatively high gas prices remains anecdotal; there are no statistics to back it up.

Despite acquiring two new parking stickers for my car (Medford street parking and Tufts commuter parking,) I’ve not filled up since my last trip to Maine. It’s simply easier to walk or bike to campus than it is to drive.

The problem is that Heaven is showing signs of needing a trip to the shop. Skimming my repair manual, I suspect it would benefit from a rebuilt front hub (the front wheel wobbles) and a new chain (grinding noises, poor shifting.) It wouldn’t hurt to apply some touch-up paint in some spots, but that at least I can do myself.

I’m not afraid of walking, but being a few days without wheels will undoubtedly slow me down. I wonder how long they’ll need to keep it in the shop?

It’s picked up another sticker, too. It has three high-powered college registration stickers now.

Now Playing: I Predict A Riot from Employment by Kaiser Chiefs

Posted by pjm at 9:45 AM | Comments (3)

September 19, 2005

Hacking, again

The part of this class that worried me was the degree of programming. My C programming, to date, has been pretty much limited to “Hello, World” and some kludgy things for a systems course two years ago. It turns out that that, plus my jittery reading of K&R for much of the later part of this summer, is helping a lot. I’m roughing out pseudocode and generating a skeleton of a program which compiles and works as expected in intermediate stages. There’s a lot of complication yet remaining in the current assignment, of course, but it’s a relief that I’m not completely at a loss. Maybe I’ve been learning something about programming with all this PHP work.

The amusing part, I think, is that three weeks of this class appear to equal an entire semester of that systems course.

Now Playing: Twilight from From A Basement On The Hill by Elliott Smith

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

September 18, 2005

Driving music

My top 10 list of songs to play with the windows open while driving a large van down New Hampshire back roads very, very early in the morning:

  • “Everyday Should Be A Holiday” by The Dandy Warhols
  • “Back to Me” by Kathleen Edwards
  • “10 A.M. Automatic” by The Black Keys
  • “The Dawn Patrol” by Ride
  • “Living Like a King” by Patiokings
  • “Good Times” by INXS (with Jimmy Barnes)
  • “Secret Handshake” by Too Much Joy
  • “Monday” by Wilco
  • “Dan Takes Five” by The Georgia Satellites
  • “Shooting Dirty Pool” by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 9:41 PM | Comments (3)

September 15, 2005

Overmanned side

In the ghostly light spilling over from the floodlit all-weather field, a few more than a dozen geese are strung across right field, near the western goal of the soccer field. There is no other team present to play against them.

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

Low bandwidth

I have not settled in to a routine which allows time for writing here.

To be more specific, I’ve been attempting to practice a sort of time triage. First, I go to classes. I do my classwork. (I wish I had time for more careful reading.) I meet my TA/GA responsibilities. I try to exercise, I try to sleep. I try to ensure that A remembers what I look like. (This is a joke.) I meet unavoidable prior commitments and try to avoid new ones. Everything else is on a time-available basis, and after all those, not much time is available.

I have two programs due, on Wednesday and Thursday of next week, in languages in which I have not previously done much programming. And Friday and Saturday are my so-far-annual blitz through New Hampshire.

Posted by pjm at 7:26 AM | Comments (2)

September 13, 2005

Pick the right venue

I’m a fan of the scale where my brother swims. It reported me, before we headed up Katahdin, as less than one cat over marathon weight. I think that’s probably optimistic, but not wildly inaccurate.

The scale in the fieldhouse, however, says I’m nearly half a cat under weight, which strikes me as flat-out absurd. Sure, I’ve been eating erratically lately (every now and then a schedule is too tight to allow lunch,) and probably less, overall, than before. But not that much.

Posted by pjm at 8:59 AM | Comments (2)

September 12, 2005

Classroom manner

I have, in the margins of my notebooks, the beginnings of the sort of collection I once made for one of my Russian professors, and I could easily whip up a post about the verbal quirks of the characters who are my professors here.

However, it’s a bit too easy to figure out who I’m talking about, I think, and even easier for the sort of fond amusement which goes with such things (often the “quotable” instructors are the ones students have the most respect for) to be misinterpreted as derision at the instructor’s expense. So I won’t. (Or, as one of today’s quotes went, “Just because you’re not paranoid, doesn’t mean there isn’t someone out to get you.”)

It’s true that we have one or two real characters in the department, and I don’t think I’d have it any other way. The studied eccentricity of the humanities professor can be entertaining, but the out-and-out oddness of a computer geek who either isn’t aware of his own strangeness or, more likely, simply doesn’t care, is somehow more honest.

Meanwhile, we’ve been assigned to write a system monitor which notifies on anomalous events. Consider that in order to test such a program, one needs to create some anomalous events—out-and-out anti-social behavior on the shared machine. Oh, what glee. Infinite loops with large calls to malloc(), anyone? Fortunately, there’s a box dedicated to this class alone. Meanwhile, since I’ll probably be doing initial development here on my Mac, I expect my uptime is going to dive. I should probably not have other apps open if I make it to the testing phase.

Now Playing: No Beauty from The Greatest Gift by Liberty 37

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

September 11, 2005

Tidal pull

And the cumulative weight of this relatively singular reading focus is seeping out into the rest of my life. Such as this afternoon, when I caught myself, astounded, before this staggeringly geeky sentence construction was uttered:

“Did you notice that I implemented a power strip over here?”

Implemented. Yikes. If there was any question that my speaking (and writing) voice is affected by what I read and hear, it should be answered now.

Now Playing: Ten Feet Tall from Drums And Wires by XTC

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

Bandwidth spike

I knew graduate school would be different. I don’t think I had any concept of quite how different.

Classes are one thing. I had plenty of mind-bending classes as an undergrad, and I don’t think this is any tougher than, say, third-year Russian was for me. The difference is that I am more determined to get it right. In night school, the instructors spoon-fed to the class at a careful and deliberate pace, and I got used to easily absorbing the material retail. This is wholesale; it’s coming at us in shovelfuls. I’m spending much more time than I ever have grappling with the coursework outside of class. At least I managed to protect my Fridays from regular obligations, so far (the department doesn’t offer courses on Friday, and I ducked responsibility for TAing labs then,) but at the expense of a late Thursday (labs until 8.)

But what good is a long weekend when you spend the whole thing in the library? I’ve got five books in play right now, and only two are primary texts for courses I’m being graded in. One of those isn’t even in my hands; I’ve been getting it from the reserve desk at the library and reading it (and re-reading it) in three-hour chunks. The other three are an optional text for one class (and you can bet I’m paying attention to optional texts if they look useful,) the text for the course I’m TAing, which I should probably get familiar with in order to answer questions with the tactful, academic version of “RTFM,” plus the text for a course I haven’t taken but should have for two of the courses I’m in. That’s a lot of reading (and, for that matter, a lot of mass.)

And then there’s MPOW, which is the sort of work which can make you look up and say, did I really start in on this three hours ago? (By pure coincidence, the Sakai installation wrapped up right around five on Friday. OK, I stretched it out a few minutes by going back and cleaning up my known false trails, but it really was coincidental.)

The good news is, so far I’m up to my eyeballs as promised, but not over my head. The less-good news is, I wish I had time to absorb what I’m learning better. I feel like this whole program is going to fly by before I notice it.

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

September 9, 2005

My cat, the hacker

Some months ago, while pointing out that Iz was overweight, a vet suggested we buy him a particular kind of toy. One puts dry food inside the toy, and it comes out bit by bit as the toy rolls around. The idea, I think, was to give Iz a little bit of exercise with his dinner, since he’s already on a pretty restricted diet. (When you consider how much a cat sleeps, it’s a wonder he sees the need to eat at all.)

We finally found such a toy the other week, and started loading a portion of his dinner into it every night. He took a while to figure out the ball contained food, but once he did, he leapt right over the “toy” function and zoomed right in on the “food” function. He figured out that if, instead of chasing it in hot pursuit from room to room, he just nudged it slowly around the kitchen floor, it would dispense food fairly reliably. So now he paces slowly behind it, like a bloodhound on a faint trail, pausing briefly every few steps to gobble up the kibbles that come out. The exercise value has to be pretty close to nil. In effect, he has hacked the system to get the most food for the least effort.

At least it keeps him from scarfing down his entire dinner in one sitting. And he hasn’t yet solved the optimization problem of getting his breakfast at the earliest possible moment, either.

Now Playing: I Know What I’m Here For from Getting Away With It…Live (Disc 1) by James

Posted by pjm at 6:25 PM | Comments (3)

September 8, 2005

There's no escape

Back in July, at the textbook company, we were talking about ways to provide a flexible quiz serving application on our web server. Simply put, instructors could build quizzes which they could then assign to their classes to take online. I’ll spare you the details, which were manifold, but one of the routes we considered following was starting with a module from the Sakai project rather than starting from scratch.

Consequently, I investigated Sakai, and determined that starting from scratch might be easier, given our server. Tomcat, Maven, JSPs, oh my aching head: I’d spend a week installing and configuring dependencies just to run the demo. (And, while open source is nice in theory, to hack Java, I should be a Java hacker. Just saying.)

Skip forward half a dozen weeks. I’m starting a GA position as a sort of support administrator for the department at my university which handles large-scale software installations, usually research-related, on the university’s clusters and research servers (henceforth, following Dorothea’s example, to be known as MPOW: My Place Of Work.) They haven’t got me 100% in the loop yet, so they throw me a smaller project to keep me busy until things pick up.

Have you guessed yet? I’m installing Sakai.

Posted by pjm at 7:02 PM | Comments (0)

September 6, 2005

In the corner of my eye

I keep feeling that I’m not the only student in this section of the library, because I can see someone reading out of the corner of my eye. But sometimes I look up and am reminded I really am the only one in this seating area; my peripheral companion is made of bronze, I think. According to her plaque, her name is Sophia.

Over my shoulder

Posted by pjm at 5:32 PM | Comments (1)

Book prices

I walk both sides of the textbook-pricing fence.

See, for the last four years I’ve been employed by a textbook publishing company. You know, those evil profiteers who pump up the prices of their books by including extra, supposedly unnecessary CD-ROMs and study guides in order to charge top dollar for the same old book. In fact, I was technically in the ancillaries department: the ones who produced the extra CD-ROMs, websites, etc. etc.—which are actually part of an arms race between publishers trying to convince professors to “adopt” their book over the others.

I also heard the complaints (whines?) from students protesting that publishers produce new editions too frequently in an effort to squash the used-book market. Sometimes that’s true; sometimes (as is often the case in the sciences) one needs a new edition to catch up with the science.

At any rate, my salary from four years on the Dark Side is subsidizing my gradual student lifestyle, thanks. So I can forgive them a good bit.

Now, however, I’m on the other side of the price tag. I’m trying to assemble all the books for the classes I’ve registered for, and it’s really a headache.

First, I’ve become a fan of the used book. This partly happened this summer, when I was selling excess books to avoid moving them. Also, I recently read an article in the NYT which pointed out something Amazon discovered when they opened up to used books: a healthy used market makes customers more willing to buy new. So I’m contributing to the healthy used market.

Second, in my time in night school, I developed an antipathy to college bookstores. They tend to feel like ripoffs when I stack up all my books and plop down my credit card. So, I start online.

Saturday, I cruised the course websites, built a book list, and opened windows on B&N and Amazon. I discovered a few years ago that a B&N Membership will really pay off if you’re buying textbooks (the 10% discount pays for the membership inside a semester) but Amazon’s used market is bigger and more competitive. So I shopped each book on both sites, built two orders, and submitted them.

The catch with online book orders is delivery time. I may be past the add-drop period before I have all my books. It’s impossible to tell when they’ll actually arrive, because the predicted arrival times are so cautious, but the forecast dates are pretty scary. I’m planning a lot of library time for reserve reading. I also whiffed completely on one book, ordering the wrong title from the right author; I’ve resubmitted that order.

Fortunately, my Monday-Wednesday courses only meet once this week, which gives me some time to get things together. However, next semester I need to either (a) start earlier, or (b) figure out an efficient way to hedge the arrival times, like shopping a physical bookstore first, or (c) some combination.

Posted by pjm at 4:53 PM | Comments (0)

First day

Is it still the first day of school if you only have one class? What if it doesn’t start until noon?

Now Playing: You And Me Song from The Wannadies by The Wannadies

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

September 4, 2005


We are still doing odds and ends in the apartment. This afternoon we hung things, which involved (at one point) getting out the power drill and installing wall anchors. I’m a big fan of the power drill, which at one point I would simply have called a “Makita” even though it happens to be made by Ryobi. It serves multiple roles at different points in the process. (It’s a drill! No, it’s a screwdriver! Hooray for a keyless chuck.) I think it’s probably the most useful power tool I own, though the circular saw had its moment when we first moved in. I took a fifty-cent piece of scrap luaun plywood and cut a piece such that a particular hole in a closet was covered and inaccessible to a certain curious cat.

As I get ready to set out on a drive, I’ve been thinking some about gas prices, which have added about a dollar a gallon in this area over the last week. I tanked up before they spiked, on the advice of the appliance-store owner, but my day will undoubtedly come.

I’ve mentioned before that the rise in gas prices can be mitigated by simply driving less, and I still adhere to that to some degree; I have yet to drive to school, though I bought a parking pass. However, there’s more to gas prices than commuters eschewing the T and suburban SUVs. There are school districts trying to figure out where the money will come from to run the busses. I bought a used textbook on Amazon from an MIT student, and found myself wondering about postage rates; would it be cheaper, or more expensive for him to drive the book over and drop it off in Medford? And how long will it take for rising fuel prices to put pressure on grocery prices?

Plenty of people are going to be pinched by this, and the ones who’ll be more pinched are the ones who were closest to the edge to begin with—people who can barely afford to get to work, people budgeting groceries to the dime. A minority, I think, but there’s more to this than SUV drivers with higher credit card bills.

Coming back from Maine last week, I saw a full-sized pickup cruising down the turnpike with a sticker saying, “My truck uses the gas your hybrid saves.” He thinks he can afford it; it’s his money. Fine. But he’s not the only one whose expenses will rise.

Now Playing: Telepath from Forget Yourself by The Church

Posted by pjm at 6:15 PM | Comments (1)


After several days thrashing around in orientations, I’m closer to figuring out what my day-to-day life will look like for the next few years, but oddly enough, not much closer to bonding with the institution. The name has pretty much submerged into an adjective used only to distinguish how-we-do-it-here from how-they-do-it-elsewhere; you don’t think of it much. I am a graduate student (or gradual student, if you’ve read too much John Irving,) but I don’t consider myself a Tufts Student, at least not in my mind.

I don’t think it’s like this for the undergraduates. They aren’t bound as tightly to one department, and they are expected to identify with the university as a whole. They play sports, they work on the newspaper, they look down on the other institutions which may or may not have turned them down, and they have reunions and get hit up for cash for the endowment.

There was plenty of identifying done at my college, and I was both surprised by it, and took it for granted. We had a strong rivalry with a (relatively) nearby college, and since a large part of rivalries is about identifying yourself, we dug right in. That was no surprise. Then again, both my high school and my older brother’s college had blue and white colors, so it did come as a bit of a shock to see the house break out in purple before I left for my college. I’d never noticed all the blue. I haven’t gone to brown and blue yet, and I doubt I will; aside from a t-shirt my parents gave me, all I have with the university’s name is a hat A. gave me for my birthday. It started blue, but is fading, improbably, towards brown.

When I started this whole circus, nearly five years ago, it amused me to pick up a hat from the night school I was then attending, and wear it. I only took Calculus there, but it still amused me; it was almost like pretending to be someone else. I was less willing to identify with my night school in Massachusetts, but now I’m tagging myself again.

It’s very subtle, though; when I wandered through the gym yesterday, the emeritus something who picked me up and toured me around the place latched on to my t-shirt from my undergraduate college before he noticed the hat (if, indeed, he ever did mention it.) “Well, you’re in the wrong place, aren’t you?”

“They’ve given me a degree,” I shot back. “You all haven’t yet.”

Now Playing: Never Believe You Now from Strangest Places by Abra Moore

Posted by pjm at 3:35 PM | Comments (0)

September 1, 2005


There are pigeons on the roof sections visible from the dormer windows on the third floor. Izzy appears to be taking this transgression personally, though screens prevent him from properly patrolling his territory.

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

No stress, nope

I woke up this morning from a dream which involved a fellow grad student calling from a cell phone and whispering urgently into the phone, “[pjm]! Why the hell aren’t you here! This session is mandatory!”

Of course, the session was in Northampton. (Yeah, right across the bridge.) I can’t recall if the fellow student was in my department or not; the role might have been played by a former co-worker. And I was addressed by my last name, though so far we all know each other by first names if at all. And who has my phone number?

But the idea that I should be at the University, not sleeping, has clearly seeped into my subconscious.

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