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October 31, 2005

I couldn't make this up

Some windows near my “office” on campus face out on the pavement beside the building. Today I noticed this sign in one of them:

(This is not an official sign,
but instead represents the voice of experience.)

Now Playing: September from Jacksonville City Nights by Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

Posted by pjm at 7:52 PM | Comments (1)

Which exit, again?

I think it important that anyone who knows me be reading the current Get Fuzzy story arc.

Get Fuzzy for Monday, 10/31/05

Posted by pjm at 6:57 AM | Comments (0)

October 30, 2005

Wearing the colors

This is one of those things that’s going to seem so trivial you’ll wonder that it’s worth writing about. It is, because it gets the thoughts out of my head and makes room for others.

I don’t think many people picking uniforms for cross-country teams are thinking about it much. Why would you, though? Not very important, right?

Well, pick a white uniform, and they will be showing mud after the first season. Yet so many teams do it; I remember a year when nine out of eleven teams in our conference had white singlets and solid-color shorts.

This leads to the next issue: uniforms are about teams, and one of the positive functions of uniforms is to help teammates find each other in the pack. If a runner is looking up at a pack of runners and just seeing plain white singlets and shorts which are shades of black and mud, they might as well be alone in there. Colby has often decorated the backs of their singlets with a big blue C, which is very useful in this regard. Trinity, on the other hand, has gone recently to navy blue shorts and white singlets with “Bantams” in masthead-type on the front, which makes them difficult to pick out on a starting line.

Admittedly, it’s not easy. You could go with a solid-color scheme and discover that another team in the conference with similar colors looks too much like you. (I remember the year in which both Nike and Adidas independently decided to outfit their athletes in blue singlets and black shorts, leading to at least one race in which sponsorship was quite indistinct.) More often, I think, these decisions are made in basement equipment rooms, a long way from the colorful fields of the fall.

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

October 29, 2005

Arithmetic effort, logarithmic return

Writing a short C program for a Monte Carlo simulation to approximate π: boring coding exercise

Running the script for 500 million data points on one node of the research cluster: cool the first time

Re-coding the script with MPI to run on multiple nodes simultaneously (with the number of nodes and data points per node both user-specified as command-line arguments): excessively cool

Accuracy of approximation: irrelevant

Posted by pjm at 9:29 PM | Comments (1)

Divided loyalties

Today was the NESCAC cross-country championships at Wesleyan University, down the road a ways from us. The championship meet rotates on an eleven-year cycle between the conference members, and starting with Bowdoin a few years ago we’ve returned to the point where the cycle was around my time in college. Wesleyan hosted in my junior year. (A and I overlapped for some years, and disagree about whether this cycle’s order—Middlebury, Colby, Wesleyan—matches the last cycle; she says Wesleyan hosted before Colby last time, and I say Colby hosted before Wesleyan.)

I had, as I told a few people I met there, quite a few horses in the race. My current university runs in this conference, and A is helping with their women’s team. Also, the fifth runner on their men’s team, which won, is in one of my labs. So that’s two. Now add in…

  • The “family college” attended by my brother, two aunts, and a cousin, where I attended cross-country camp in high school and have run a few times with the current coach. (The former coach, from my time at their camp, was also in attendance today.)

  • A’s college.

  • Various graduates of the Amherst high school cross-country program, scattered around the conference. (Three more teams that I can think of.)

The only thing I could really settle on was what team not to cheer for, which turned out to be pretty easy.

Since about the time of my senior year, they’ve run an “open” race for JV and such alumni who care to show up. I’ve run once or twice, and considered running this year, but A pointed out that I tend to have problems enforcing a moderate pace in such situations, and therefore I might be better off skipping that. (I should add that running in spikes would probably do me in for several months.) Instead, we took a forty-minute loop around Amherst this morning, which was enough for me for the day.

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

October 28, 2005


I’ve mentioned machine names before. Right now I’m working on connecting to a staging cluster for some software modification testing. The head node is “Gonzo” and the nodes are “Chicken1”, “Chicken2”, etc.

Posted by pjm at 4:03 PM | Comments (3)

October 27, 2005

Further proof that buzz is stronger than common sense

Runner’s World, which less than a year ago couldn’t tell you what RSS was or why their updated-daily website might want a web feed, is doing a New York City Marathon podcast, press releases and all.

Meanwhile, their languishing Daily News, in which I occasionally have a column, like yesterday’s, has no feed. Why? Because “podcast” is a much sexier buzzword than “web feed,” and you get a lot more attention for jumping on the podcasting bandwagon than you do for implementing useful technologies that you’re two years behind on.

Now Playing: Good Times from The Lost Boys OST by INXS/Jimmy Barnes

Posted by pjm at 2:30 PM | Comments (1)

October 26, 2005

Absorption rate

It’s not uncommon for physiologists (or those posing as physiologists) to explain the body’s ability to absorb water as similar to a sponge. A sponge, of course, doesn’t soak up everything you pour on it; incoming water at a particular rate becomes more than the sponge can absorb, and the excess simply runs off. This doesn’t have anything to do with the sponge’s absolute capacity, but with a limit to the rate. The body is the same way: it doesn’t matter how thirsty and/or dehydrated you are, if you drink fluid at a rate in excess of the rate at which your body can absorb it, the excess will, well, run off.

I wonder if we learn the same way. I know that I feel like I’m in the path of a firehose stream of new material, and even though I know I’m absorbing a lot, I feel like some of it must be running off. But I haven’t figured out if there’s a real limiting factor. Can I simply not absorb information at this rate, or can I train myself to absorb it faster? In other words, will I get better with practice? Would I be soaking it up more efficiently if I had a better preparation? (Despite my determination to shed this idea, it’s not gone yet.)

Either way, I keep making an effort to put myself in the line of more. At some point, it will all make sense, right? Maybe that’s the flaw in the reasoning above: that when you can connect the information, hook it on to things you already know, you retain it more easily. And eventually I’ll be able to hook this all together, instead of climbing a ladder that’s not leaning on anything. (Nothing says I can’t switch metaphors midstream, right?)

Posted by pjm at 5:44 PM | Comments (0)

October 25, 2005

More data (rainfall soundings)

I don’t want to be one of the people whining about the weather, so I’ll just offer a few observations.

  • This cross-country season must be a wreck. I’ve been to two meets so far, and neither have been safe without umbrellas.

  • Today’s storm, whatever you call it, was sufficiently nasty that I drove to campus rather than walking or riding. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the first time I’ve actually parked my car on campus in over a year—since my visit last October, in fact. (Makes me wonder about the $200 commuter parking permit.) This was only practical because the commuter lot is directly across from the CS building; if I was required to park elsewhere, I’d be just as wet as if I’d walked from home.

  • They stopped playing softball in the park across the street a few weeks ago, but now they’ve given up on flag football and ultimate as well. Reason: there’s a small lake out there, and some ducks have joined the usual gulls.

Now Playing: Weirdo from Between 10th And 11th by The Charlatans

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

October 24, 2005

Obscure answers

It didn’t result directly from posting the question here, but I’ve picked up that the Slackware folks have a utility called rpm2targz which (surprise, surprise) turns RPMs into gzipped tarballs… and that it’s sufficiently portable to be worth trying on Gentoo, if not my Mac.

Now Playing: Boxing from Ben Folds Five by Ben Folds Five

Posted by pjm at 6:46 PM | Comments (1)

October 23, 2005

Intermediate stages

One of the most rewarding parts of web development is seeing the application (or site, or whatever) in intermediate stages. After a bare minimum of infrastructure coding, you can push the code up to the server (or, in a more professional environment, just hit the staging server,) and see what you’ve accomplished. It gives the developer a tangible feeling of progress, and a sense that it will continue to completion. (Compare this with C coding, for example, which requires, at the very least, a compilation step before any progress checks—and the need to have coded something which produces some output, which leads to development stages of any program having a lot of superfluous output.)

I’m having this same problem with Java, at least at the level of object-orientedness we’re functioning in for this particular class. The compile step is mildly annoying, but the fantastic number of files and declarations and sundry infrastructure required merely to say, “Hello, world,” (this project is somewhat more complicated than that,) is staggering and frustrating. It took me three hours to reach a stage in which it was worth trying to compile just to see what errors came up; nearly four before I could compile something runnable and see what it produced.

Now Playing: It’ll Chew You Up and Spit You Out from Still in Hollywood by Concrete Blonde

Posted by pjm at 9:36 PM | Comments (1)

October 22, 2005

Obscure questions (the continuing series)

Is there a utility which will allow me to unpack and examine the contents of an RPM without installing them?

Even better, does such a thing exist (even on the command line) such that I can install it on my PowerBook?

No engineer like a reverse engineer, that’s what I say…

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

Posted by pjm at 1:15 PM | Comments (0)

October 20, 2005


I won’t remember this if I don’t write it down.

This is the week when things are falling into place. I’m not going to claim I’m not swamped, or that I’m not still in need of hard work and concentration to stay on top of things. But I can see that I am not only learning new and interesting things, but that my classes and my work outside class is hooking together. The pieces feed each other and work together. I’m finding entirely new ways of thinking about problems, in the same way that I’m finding entirely new routes to run.

There’s a little euphoria that comes with that, because it’s the proof that I made the right decision: that it was a good idea to leave my job and go back to school, no matter how much work it is (and what a massive pay cut it was.)

I make decisions like that too easily, sometimes, because so far I haven’t made one which has proved to be really wrong. It may be that the confidence born of so many right decisions makes me better able to make more of them; it may be that the confidence allows me to make wrong decisions into right ones. Either way, it’s nice to feel like I’m on the right path, even if I don’t know where it ends.

Now Playing: Blackbirds from Distillation by Erin McKeown

Posted by pjm at 11:24 AM | Comments (1)

October 19, 2005

I'm back, but I'm not BACK

While I’m on the subject, because I know these vignettes and asides do a poor job of carrying a narrative (a novel this ain’t): Yes, I ran this morning. Thirty-one minutes, no walking. Sunday, I ran thirty-six with my father, at something like 9:40 pace.

I could run a lot faster, but my sense is that patience is more important than anything else right now. My legs feel (relatively) strong, and I finish the runs feeling like I could go longer, but that’s not the point; muscle is the most incredibly shapeable thing about our bodies. We can do anything with the “pieces of rubber” that drive us forward, or the elastic pump in our ribs; they are there for the changing.

The catch is the frame, the sticks and baling wire and duct tape that those ever-strengthening muscles are pulling around. We can strengthen that (bones thicken in response to load,) but it’s so much slower than the muscle and the blood. It’s trivially easy to make oneself fit enough to do damage; ask any new runner who enthusiastically trains into tendonitis or a stress fracture.

Whatever my problem is, it’s there in the frame. So I have to be ever so careful about this build-up. Every so often someone asks if I’m “running again yet,” and I’m not quite sure how to answer. Yeah, I’m running again, but I’m not really training; I’m carefully performing a thorough set of trials on the current state of my foot. Half-hour runs with no walking was one of my milestones, and I’ll settle here for a week or two; the next milestone is consecutive-day runs.

So what’s the end state? I don’t really think I’ll know. It’s one thing to be out shuffling around for the sake of being outside and moving; it’s quite another to be running carelessly. I’m a long way from that long middle-distance stride I used to have.

Now Playing: Good Advices from Fables Of The Reconstruction by R.E.M.

Posted by pjm at 9:52 PM | Comments (1)

Unreliable source

I ran a loop this morning which I’ve done two or three times before, north of campus, down to Teele Square, then up Broadway towards home. Sometimes I go down to Davis Square and home by a different route.

The first time I came down Broadway, before I reached Powderhouse Circle I was stopped by a driver looking for Holland Street. That’s the connector between Davis Square and Teele Square, so I was able to send him down that way. This morning the driver who stopped me asked about Weston Street. I had no idea, of course.

A runner would appear to know where they were and would make an attractive person to ask for directions. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work that way. Odds are pretty good that the runner has covered some distance from the streets they know well. When I used to run out in the Hilltowns west of Northampton, the only roads I knew the names of were the ones I ran on, at least until I’d done the loop enough times to have explored several alternatives and peered at the map a few times. When I lived in Pennsylvania, and the towns were small, I used to consider it a poor run if it could be contained in one town. Sometimes I didn’t even know what town I was in, let alone how to get somewhere else.

Google Maps shows a Watson Street beyond Teele Square. He was headed that way; maybe that’s what he was looking for.

Now Playing: No Fear from Everything Changed by Abra Moore

Posted by pjm at 9:27 PM | Comments (1)

October 18, 2005

Expensive tools

I don’t always write about races I go to. (Most of the time, though, yes.)

Now Playing: I’m Running from Big Generator by Yes

Posted by pjm at 11:38 AM | Comments (0)

A tuba in the Somerville Theatre

  • I wouldn’t have expected the Frames as a double bill with Josh Ritter. For one thing, I wished I’d remembered to bring earplugs during their set, which was quite loud, but I seldom missed them during Josh’s. On the other hand, Josh’s duet with Glen on “Come and Find Me” during the encore was quite good.

  • The Somerville Theatre also has movies (generally second-run,) as Josh noted: “It’s so nice to come back and see the marquee reading, ‘Josh Ritter, 40 Year Old Virgin.’ I’m not even 40.”

  • Yes, they brought out a tuba for the encore. I just about fell out of my seat.

  • The new album should be up to standard. I can’t say I’m in love with “Thin Blue Flame,” the track available for download on his site, but “Idaho” is beautiful and “Wolves” fits in nicely with other uptempo songs like “Harrisburg” and “Me and Jiggs.”

  • “Playing new songs live is like taking someone home to your parents. Someone with a record. From Philadelphia.” No kidding, the crowd clearly knew the songs well; I think nearly everyone sang along with “Kathleen.” I told A. on the way home that one of the things I liked about Josh’s concerts is that, in general, the ones he likes and plays often are also the ones I like, so the set list is almost certain to hit everything I want to hear. (The one that didn’t get played was “Wings.”)

  • I have chronic obstructed-view issues with Josh’s shows.

Now Playing: Wings from Hello Starling by Josh Ritter

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

October 17, 2005

Looking forward

By virtue of trying to get ahead, I’m actually getting to do a little looking forward. One of my current professors will be offering a graduate-level web programming course next semester, for example. I don’t even think it’s a question of whether I want to take it; I think I have to take it.

Posted by pjm at 5:30 PM | Comments (0)

Slipping in some fun

I spent a chunk of Friday and some more of the weekend chewing away at a problem set due tomorrow. I wanted it done before I went to tonight’s concert, and it is done now.

It’s amazing, now that I think about it, how hard I have to work to feel OK about taking a block of time “off” like that. It’s just an evening, but tonight I have class until 45 minutes before the concert starts; in that 45 minutes, I need to meet A., get down to Davis Square, and get something to eat (not necessarily in that order.) And there would be plenty of ways to eat up a few more minutes of even that time—for example, there’s a professor with office hours then who I really ought to be seeing about the next problem set due. I made sure I could go to the show, but I haven’t answered the problem of whether there are other things I ought to be doing.

So instead of taking a day off from work to relax and shake off some stress, I get to take a few hours off from being a student. I guess I’ve just been surprised by the degree to which that is a 24/7 job.

Posted by pjm at 3:54 PM | Comments (1)

October 16, 2005

Corporate weasels

Friday, I bought tickets to see Josh Ritter (again!) at the Somerville Theater tomorrow night. For several reasons having to do with my not having bought the tickets sooner (I’ve known he was coming for a month—what was I waiting for?) I bought them through Ticketmaster instead of paying cash at the box office down in Davis Square. (I simply had no remaining time to get to Davis.)

I’m not the first person to complain about Ticketmaster; it should come as no surprise to anyone that I’ve decided they’re weasels. Here’s why:

  1. The tickets were listed at price $x at the beginning of the process. Pricey for a night’s entertainment, but I knew it would be worth it and was willing to pay.
  2. Then, upon clicking through, there was a small “facilities fee” and a whopping “handling fee” added, both per-ticket. The handling fee, despite the fact that I selected “Will-Call” and Ticketmaster will never touch the ticket.
  3. With the fees, the price of the tickets went up nearly 50%.
  4. I wouldn’t have been mad if the fees had been included in the price of the tickets; in fact, I might have considered the tickets expensive but worth it, and bought them without feeling cheated. Instead, they were tacked on above what I had been told was “the price.” It wasn’t the total that angered me, but the way it was presented, something which should be easy to fix.
  5. The fees can’t be included in “the price” because then the fee revenue would be included in the concert revenue shared with the artist.

In other words, Ticketmaster squeezes, beyond what the market wishes to bear, both parties which contribute to concerts being something worth attending, while adding nothing commensurate to their revenue themselves. They anger their customers and screw the performer. See? Weasels. I don’t understand how that kind of business model is allowed to stand without being undercut by competition.

Now Playing: Thin Blue Flame from The Animal Years by Josh Ritter

Posted by pjm at 11:13 AM | Comments (0)

October 15, 2005

Workout group

This morning I swam with one of my brother’s workout groups. (This is the team I’m registered with, but I’ve never met more than three or four of them before; one is required to be registered with a club to compete in many Masters events, particularly New Englands, and I can claim more association with them than with most clubs closer to either Amherst or Medford.)

Swimming with a group is both easier and harder than I expected. I am not the slowest one in the pool by any stretch (though I suspect that my brother and I were at the young end of the group, which tips that scale a bit.) I can keep up—but I can’t sustain the pace as long. We closed the workout with a set which involved swimming 50y free repeats, reducing the time by a second with each repeat until recovery time vanished.

(An extended aside: Swimmers, unlike runners, will do a set “on X” where X includes both the interval and recovery. A set “on 60” means a new swim starts every time the second hand makes a full lap of the clock, and a set “on 2:30” starts a new swim every two and a half minutes, regardless of how long the last swim took. A runner who reported doing 800m repeats “on 2:30” would mean they had run each 800m in two and a half minutes; they have said nothing about their recovery time.)

The first trick of this set is simply figuring out when to start; the math is more challenging than any single swim. Roughly, the first and second swims start on 60 (60s for the first cycle,) the second on 59, then 57, 54, 50, 45, 39, 32, 24, 15, 05, 54, 42… some time around here, I arrived at the wall after everyone else had left, so the workout was over for me; it was two or three more repeats before everyone else fell off.

In an earlier set, I discovered that my backstroke still has issues, and my fly is downright dysfunctional. But that comes as no surprise.

(This is also the place with the optimistic scale. It told me I am nearly half a cat lighter than last time. That may have something to do with weighing in before breakfast, of course.)

Now Playing: Tracks from Under The Big Top by Rosemary Caine

Posted by pjm at 6:07 PM | Comments (0)


Beloit College has published its Mindset list for the class of 2009.

I’m not as impressed with this list as I once was; sometimes I think they’re getting a little lazy about the specific years. Yes, it probably means something that these students “have always lived in a single-superpower world,” and that’s relevant; the dozen or so years I have on them means I grew up with a Cold War and they didn’t. But noting various television ad campaigns? I’m not sure what that has to do with anything, except reminding professors that catch-phrases they’re used to may just confuse their students.

I’m also troubled by their free use of the word “always,” for example, “Biosphere 2 has always been trying to create a revolution in the life sciences.” Really? Constantly? Sure, I remember when B2 was in the news when they started, but I thought they had failed by now; certainly we’re long past the point of revolution. I think the only people who have “always been trying to create a revolution” are the dogmatic Communists. (Unrepentant Marxist-Leninists, not mere socialists, that is.)

Posted by pjm at 11:26 AM | Comments (1)

October 14, 2005


It looks like I need to break down a package.

I’m still working on this system monitoring problem. I’ve found the relevant package to expose the system diagnostics to Linux (Dell calls it OpenManage, to match a similar package for Windows,) and I’ve found a guy who reverse-engineered the package for Debian. This tells me a lot about the structure of the package, but unfortunately, not much about whether it will work with Gentoo.

For those who aren’t deeply involved with Linux, I’ve established that a particular recipe written for apples can also be made to work with bananas, but I’m not quite sure what that tells me about the oranges I have.

The problem (so far) lies in the way the Linux distribution people market their various distributions. I know that the fundamental source and structure of the Linux kernel is the same for all of them; I know that they sometimes differ in the way they manage software packages (rpm vs. deb vs. emerge vs. what-all else) and which packages they ship with (or don’t ship, as the case may be.) I know there are sometimes some file-system differences, e.g. where configuration scripts are found.

What I can’t find, so far, is documentation of just what those differences are. In fact, so far with Gentoo, all I’ve been able to find out about the kernel is that it’s very, very customizable… which means I could find someone else who has made this package work on their Gentoo system, then do the same things and have it not work on the one I’m dealing with. Gentoo is very high on their “emerge” package system, and how it’s “more perfect” than other package managers, but that doesn’t tell me a whole lot about how it actually works and what I need to do to work with it.

It seems like I may have to deconstruct this package after all, and take it apart the long way. Maybe I can learn something someone else can use.

Posted by pjm at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)

October 13, 2005

Secret messages in the classroom

There are two good reasons, I think, not to keep your hat on in the classroom. First, it’s rude to the instructor: you’re hiding your eyes from the instructor and making it hard for them to do what you’ve implicitly asked them to do.

Second, it’s rude to your classmates: it makes you artificially taller to any students behind you, making it harder for them to see the chalkboard and/or projection screen.

Take it off, or sit in the back.

Posted by pjm at 11:22 AM | Comments (0)

October 11, 2005

Better comprehension through rudeness

This being a CS program, there are plenty of us with laptops, and it’s not uncommon to see them open in class. They’re handy tools; with the back of the screen to the instructor, there’s no indication given of whether you’re attentively taking notes which you will actually be able to read, or if you’ve got the email client (or chat client) open, aside from whether you manage to contribute to the class.

I’ve resisted having the machine open most of the time, figuring that I would rather not even offer the option of inattentiveness. Today, I experimented with the open laptop.

It was a class that leans heavily on Java, and the professor works frequently with examples on the course website. He has his laptop jacked in to the classroom projector, which puts his browser window (at a relatively low resolution, in order to be big enough to read) on the screen. As a result, there’s only a dozen or so lines of code visible at a time, which makes it hard to grasp them in context. When he flips back and forth between the running code and the source, that’s another chance to lose the context.

Today, I grabbed the code from the website early in the class and pasted it into text files open in TextWrangler. With the whole screen available, I could see much more without scrolling, and look around the project if I needed to follow my own thread. And I could compile and run whenever I needed. Despite having that potential distractor, I actually understood more of what was going on. I was actually surprised at how quickly the class passed, compared to my usual clock-watching in there.

Of course, it probably didn’t hurt that the building’s wireless connection went down quite early in the class session.

Next step is getting Xcode running (I keep missing software, and discovering that I had installed it at work, not on the laptop,) and using that instead.

Now Playing: The Myths You Made from Somewhere Else by The Church

Posted by pjm at 8:40 PM | Comments (0)

The power of live music

Ever since the concert in May I still need Edwards’ warning when this song (below) comes up.

‘cause I don’t know who to call,
and I don’t know who to write,
and I think I forgot
what your face looks like
I’ve been away

Now Playing: Away from Back to Me by Kathleen Edwards

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

October 10, 2005

Half a bubble off plumb

There’s a lot to be said for the “character” of our apartment. It’s a good renovation of a clearly old building, so while walls and such are solid and up to code, there are some odd angles. Bookshelves, for example, sometimes run downhill. Izzy’s ball toys will sometimes take an erratic break and roll back towards him after he swats them.

The less amusing parts are when you find that it’s nearly impossible to make a floor lamp stand straight. Maybe, instead of picture hangers on the walls, we need eye-bolts, where we can attach stays.

Now Playing: We Learned The Sea from The Green World by Dar Williams

Posted by pjm at 8:43 PM | Comments (0)

October 8, 2005

Limited privilege

I suspected it would be frustrating to not be running the show, but I didn’t know quite how it would come up.

I’m working on system monitoring. Specifically, monitoring the health of a particular system, which happens to be running Gentoo on Dell hardware. Dell does not support Gentoo, specifically; if you’re going to run Linux on a Dell server, they’d rather you use Red Hat. There’s talk of re-building this server with Red Hat, but there are ramifications I won’t get in to here, and the decision isn’t mine anyway. (I don’t know the second thing about Gentoo vs. Red Hat, but I think I’d consider switching hardware vendors more quickly than switching distros. Just saying.)

Now, in any Linux there’s a lot you can learn about the system if you have read access to the /proc/ directory; in fact, last week I handed in a big C program centered on the idea of reading process data from /proc/[\d+]/status. (I wish I’d been able to write it in Perl, but the idea was to use system calls.) I can get a lot of the data I want there, like swap page-ins and page-outs; I just need to massage that data to present a vector (that is, change since last check) instead of a running tally. Should be a reasonable little project in Perl.

The thing I’m missing is CPU temperature. What I’ve been able to find out this evening is that there is an optional module (an LKM) to allow the Linux kernel to get this information from the BIOS and put it in /proc/ somewhere. This stands to reason; the operating system stands between the user and the hardware, so anything that talks to hardware (and the BIOS must be considered hardware) needs to be built into the system.

It looks like this module is not installed on the system in question, which is reasonable considering its circumstances. However, I can only say “Looks like,” because I don’t have enough privilege on the system to run lsmod and check. Even if it was loaded, that might not be the whole solution; apparently Dell distributes an RPM to expose this stuff to Red Hat, and there’s some question about whether it could be used on Gentoo. It’s possible that the RPM is, in fact, this kernel module, but I haven’t been able to find it and unpack it, nor could I install an LKM anyway; there are enough people using this system that it would be A Bad Thing if I crashed it by accident.

Really, though, I do miss being root.

Now Playing: Trying Your Luck from Is This It? by The Strokes

Posted by pjm at 8:49 PM | Comments (0)

October 7, 2005


It’s a big running weekend in Boston. New England Intercollegiates on Saturday, BAA Half on Sunday, Tufts 10K on Monday. So, I hung a column on it, and that ran today.

And the forecast for the weekend?

Rain, Rain, Rain

Now Playing: Good Things from Back to Me by Kathleen Edwards

Posted by pjm at 8:14 PM | Comments (0)


Nobody is allowed to gripe about their workout when the man in lane 1 leaves his right foot on the deck with his sandals.

Posted by pjm at 9:04 AM | Comments (0)

October 6, 2005

Buried deep

In my Algorithms reading, the discussion of shortest paths is introduced by the problem of finding a route from Chicago to Boston. Eventually, this sentence crops up (links mine, of course):

Our goal is to find the shortest path from a given intersection in Chicago (say, Clark St. and Addison Ave.) to a given intersection in Boston (say, Brookline Ave. and Yawkey Way).

Anyone else notice anything in particular about those intersections?

Now Playing: No Promises by Icehouse

Posted by pjm at 11:23 AM | Comments (5)

October 5, 2005

Bashful buyer syndrome

We have this box spring which wouldn’t go up the stairs to the third floor. (The matching mattress is much more flexible.) There’s no place for it on the second floor, and Iz will have it destroyed soon (dandy scratching post, it is,) so it needs to go.

After striking out utterly on Freecycle (the local list is about a third the size of the busy Amherst community, and almost useless,) I listed it on Craigslist for $10. I thought it was unlikely that I’d have much luck selling what I’d tried to give away, but Craigslist has a much larger audience.

We got one response the day I listed it (Saturday.) I dutifully told the potential buyer where we were located, and that I was available Sunday, less so on Monday, more so on Tuesday. No response. On Monday, finally, another contact: maybe Tuesday? Sure, I said, here’s when I can be home, let me know when you’re likely to come by. Once again, silence at the other end of the line.

This afternoon (Wednesday,) improbably, I got another query. I wrote back to say, yes, I’ve had someone inquire, but so far they’ve been a no-show, so come on by, and I listed some times I could be available. Be there tomorrow (Thursday) they say.

You can see where this is going, right?

The first potential buyer wrote back within an hour, asking if they could come by to pick up the box spring on Thursday.

I think the right thing to do is tell them, sorry, I didn’t hear from you for two days, so I sold the box spring to someone who actually showed up. But I have this suspicion, based on some frustrations I had getting Freecycle people in Amherst to commit to showing up and taking the stuff instead of just sending email, that the second buyer will back out as well, and we’ll wind up with a big, ugly scratching post.

Now Playing: Leave from New Adventures In Hi-Fi by R.E.M.

Posted by pjm at 9:11 PM | Comments (2)

Attention to detail

It is, undoubtedly, unfair of me to say anything here about students in the class I am TAing for. I know it’s not easy for some of them that we ask them to submit text files for their homework assignments, and want them to do that so they get comfortable in emacs.

Still, would you (as more than one of them still does) hand in anything with this header at the top?

;; This buffer is for notes you don't want to save, and for Lisp evaluation.
;; If you want to create a file, visit that file with C-x C-f,
;; then enter the text in that file's own buffer.

Now Playing: I’m Waiting For The Man by David Bowie

Posted by pjm at 2:26 PM | Comments (0)

October 3, 2005

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny

There was, for a while, a theory in developmental biology which suggested that all species went through each phase of their evolution in the course of their development to adulthood. The theory—known sometimes, now, as “Haeckel’s Lie“—has been largely discredited, but I still think of it in the pool.

While I’ve made some gains in strength over the last few years in the pool, much more of my improvement has simply been form. I’ve learned how to breathe more efficiently, control my body roll, kick more powerfully, streamline longer when I push off the wall, and get more distance from each cycle of my arms.

As I get tired, though, these advances desert me in roughly the reverse order I picked them up, a sort of reverse ontogeny of my swimming form. I seldom let myself get tired enough to thrash the way I see some people do, but it would come eventually.

The point of training, of course, is to push back that degeneration of form, to be able to swim the length of ever-longer races while maintaining efficient form. To evolve, in fact.

Now Playing: Georgia O from Play by The Nields

Posted by pjm at 10:54 AM | Comments (1)

October 2, 2005

Managed location

The aspect of mobile computing that I left out was software: the system software which manages network connections should be able to manage this as well. Could DHCP, the protocol which assigns your machine an IP address when it connects to the network, send an SMTP server address along with the other addresses it sends? How about if the system includes a “location manager” daemon which silently selects the appropriate SMTP server from an established list, based on the network you’ve just joined? (Even better if that location manager has a little bit of a brain, and can identify the scope of a particular server—for example, it might set my server to smtp.comcast.com on any network served by Comcast, not just my home network.)

The point is, this is exactly the sort of adjustment which can be managed with logical rules, which means it’s perfect for software. Why is the machine nagging me about it?

Now Playing: I Wish You Would from Drops of Jupiter by Train

Posted by pjm at 8:51 AM | Comments (0)

October 1, 2005

New wheels

I just made what may be my biggest long-term investment in transportation for a few years: a new bike. One of these, in the color they’re calling “Radium Blue.” It is that—so blue it looks nearly radioactive, which was one of my reservations about it. On a university campus, being the shiniest bike in the rack is probably not a good thing. I’ll have to take it out in the Fells sometime to beat some of the shine off. If I ever have time.

I started the errand off by having a new tube put in the flat rear tire of the old bike, so I could ride around on my shopping loop. I saw some nice-looking bikes in that shop, but they were busy and I couldn’t find anyone to show me the hardware. With the new tube and some lube on the chain, I almost felt like I was riding a new bike when I left, but I remembered the frayed and rusted cables, the wobbly front tire, and the jumpy shifting, so I kept shopping.

Once I’d found this one and brought it home, I spent a bit less than an hour stripping useful stuff off the old bike (rack, lights, bottle cages, etc.) and putting it on the new one. It looks a bit less flashy now than it did in the store—a rack will do that to a bike—and a bit more like mine. It kinda glows in the basement, though.

Now to get rid of the old one…

Now Playing: Not Fazed from Going Blank Again by Ride

Posted by pjm at 5:00 PM | Comments (2)