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February 28, 2006


I am busy with a phone-interview-heavy (but quite lucrative) writing job which I put off for too long. (In this case, putting it off at all constituted putting it off too long.) And of course, the whirl of regular schoolwork. I’d like to write about it, but I can’t really afford the time at this moment. There will be leftovers for here when I’ve sent in all the work.

Now Playing: Kid from Be A Girl by The Wannadies

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

February 27, 2006


ChainedLike my niece, who can’t eat ice cream without getting it in her hair, I seem to be incapable of getting my bike out of the basement and on the road without smearing my clothes with chain grease. I’m wondering if the long-term wear-and-tear reduction on the bike due to regular lubrication is going to be worth all the clothes I’ll need to replace if the stuff doesn’t come out. Unfortunately, I’ve only found one way to get the bike up to the door and out, and it requires me being on the chain side of the bike.

Now Playing: Clean Up Kid from Songs From The Other Side by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 3:51 PM | Comments (1)

Patience and the T

Despite the helpful comments on Universal Hub, it has now been over two months waiting on the promised T refund. You’d think there would at least be some kind of “denied” notice if they weren’t sending it at all.

I’m tempted to file another request citing this delay as delayed service, but I doubt the MBTA has enough institutional humor to see the joke.

Now Playing: Chewing Gum Weekend from Between 10th And 11th by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 9:50 AM | Comments (0)

February 26, 2006

Sarah Harmer at the Paradise

Friday night, I headed over to the Paradise for the first time to see Sarah Harmer. I first saw Harmer at the Iron Horse two years ago, and it was a great show; since then, she hasn’t really come nearby, so I was excited for a new CD and another U.S. tour. A was at a track meet all day—not even home when I left for the show—so I went by myself. (Probably should’ve asked here if anyone wanted to come.)

The Paradise isn’t at all like the Horse: a basketball-court sized floor with folding chairs for the “early arrivers” (and, at five minutes to nine, I turned out to be “early,”) and two ranks of risers (with counters) around the outside which, I think, constituted some kind of standing room. I thought I had grabbed one of the last chairs, but as it happened nearly as many (or more) people came in after me and stood, either behind us or around the risers.

The Shiftless Rounders were the openers, two guys playing very rootsy bluegrass tunes: dobro and guitar or banjo, and two-part harmony about drinkin’, gettin’ out of jail in Memphis, fishin’ with homeless men, and the show in Colorado where nobody showed up, “but we played our hearts out anyway.” Unfortunately, much of the crowd at the bar continued to talk through their songs; it wasn’t until Harmer came on stage that there was a lot of attention paid to the music.

Harmer has also taken a turn towards bluegrass with “I’m a Mountain,” which she played almost all of. Her band has changed a bit, with upright bass, mandolin/guitar, fiddle, clarinet, and piano; there was a drum kit which saw (almost) no use until the “last” song. In addition to practically everything from “I’m a Mountain,” they dipped into Harmer’s back catalog for some good stuff, which (of course) all sounded a bit different with this band. Harmer played a few by herself, including “Basement Apartment,” which dates back to her Weeping Tile days, and which she introduced by saying, “You know how you over-dramatize everything that happens to you in your twenties?” They also played The Shins’ “Young Pilgrims” (I think,) and a few other covers; Dolly Parton’s “Will He Be Waiting For Me,” of all songs, is on “I’m a Mountain.”

The crowd, which Harmer called the biggest she’d seen in Boston, was in to this show, cheering enthusiastically and recognizing a lot of the older songs (“Almost” and “Greeting Card Aisle” from “All of Our Names” in particular.) I got the idea that most of them knew her already; she did have a brief exchange with one man, asking how he’d come to be there, then saying, “Your wife brought you? I’m beginning to see the uses of wives.” Finally, on “Lodestar,” Harmer put down her guitar towards the end and ran back to sit at the drums for the outro, which also drew screams.

They came back for a planned encore (“I’m a Mountain” and “How Deep in the Valley,” I think,) but then enough enthusiastic fans kept hollering to drag Harmer back out one more time. She played “Dogs and Thunder,” also an old Weeping Tile track but an interesting connection between Tile and her current sound.

On my way out, I picked up my copy of “I’m a Mountain,” a Shiftless Rounders disk (see below,) and a few Weeping Tile discs which are pretty near impossible to find in the U.S. otherwise. I prefer buying my music at shows when I can, because more of the price is likely to go right to the musicians than if (for example) I buy online. There’s a lot to be said for supporting local music shops, of course, but I haven’t really found one nearby here yet.

Now Playing: Fists In My Pockets from (Places) by The Shiftless Rounders

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

February 25, 2006

Bruce Schneier visits the University

We had a visit this weekend from Bruce Schneier, as part of the ongoing EPIIC project here at the University. I missed the panel discussion yesterday due to a prior commitment, but at the urging of a professor (multiple emails to the class list,) I figured out which building on campus would hold the second “break-out session” (for CS students only,) and got myself over there on a Saturday morning. (Saturday morning isn’t much of a feat. It’s finding a building on campus which isn’t either the CS building, the library, or one of the hidden corners associated with MPOW which is difficult.)

The students there were from my security class and a cryptography class being taught this semester as well, using one of Schneier’s books. The professor in attendance (from the crypto class) implied that the former was a grad class and the latter an undergrad course, which was an interesting characterization considering that I’ve not seen much sharp division in the catalog; most of my classes so far have been mixed.

Schneier implied that missing the panel he’d been on hadn’t been a big loss due to a pretty scattered subject matter, and only rehashed a few points from it, one of them having to do with the old security theory about risks and mitigation: one considers the cost of “getting whacked,” multiplies it by the annual probability of an incident, then compares that with the annual cost of mitigation. If mitigation is cheaper, you invest in prevention; otherwise, you accept the risk. He pointed out that in the case of terrorism, the cost is enormous—nearly infinite, in fact—while the probability is close enough to zero that it’s much smaller than the rounding error in any available statistics. Someone implied yesterday that the result of this math was zero; Schneier’s contention is that in fact it is whatever you want it to be: a little fudging with the data gives a massive change in the result. “People win the lottery every week,” he reminded us, “but statistically, nobody ever wins.” His suggestion is aggregating risks until there are enough numbers to work with.

His continuing theme for the talk was that people don’t understand how to think about security. He cited Ross Anderson in particular, and the idea that programmers code for “Murphy’s computer” (preparing for anything which could go wrong) instead of “Satan’s computer” (where there’s an intelligence looking for the one worst thing which could go wrong.) The fact that an attacker can survey the defenses and then pick the weakest spot should always be kept in mind when analyzing any security efforts, and it really highlights the futility of efforts like “protecting the Olympics” and so on.

He also suggested that “educating the users” wasn’t going to be a good security solution because there’s no good message to educate them with. The “right thing to do” from a security standpoint keeps changing, so the messages from the user-education sources will keep changing, and the users aren’t likely to learn any of them. Not a great situation.

It wasn’t a revelatory experience, but I was glad I spent the time to go; it was a refreshing new perspective on the things we’re discussing in class.

Now Playing: Old Time Sake from Back to Me by Kathleen Edwards

Posted by pjm at 3:31 PM | Comments (0)

Vacation week

My brother and I took my nieces to the Boston Children’s Museum yesterday, along with every other parent of children between the ages of 3 and 8 in the Boston area (and, if my nieces are any indication, much of the rest of the region.) It was mobbed.

I’m not sure the girls learned much, but they had a good time. Quite a few of the exhibits, unfortunately, were the worse for wear, or had poor user interface. For example, the “Boats Afloat” section had a pretend harbor boat with a video screen over the helm showing voyages around Boston harbor. There were buttons to shift the videos between different vessels: a tour boat leaving from the Museum of Science, a lobster boat, a water taxi, etc. But the kids didn’t latch on to that; they just hammered on the buttons in succession, looking for something to light up. I think the buttons were disabled, at that, and the videos on a predetermined loop. Weird.

We also discovered that a potentially expensive loop through the museum store can be avoided by a trip through the Recycle store on the second floor.

And, I think I was the only one at the Sarah Harmer show Friday night whose hand-stamp at the door was applied on top of an Arthur stamp from the Children’s Museum.

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

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

February 24, 2006

There's good news...

…and then there’s bad news.

For example, we recently discovered that our neighbors’ car wasn’t stolen, as we had previously thought.

Instead, it had been hauled away after being crushed when the mast holding a set of lights for the softball field across the street blew down on top of it.

Good news: Medford’s not going to the dogs.

Bad news: insurance covers theft, not inadvertent demolition by falling poles.

Now Playing: The Work That We Do from This Town Is Wrong by Nerissa & Katryna Nields

Posted by pjm at 8:02 PM | Comments (1)

February 23, 2006

If it wasn't assigned

I’d never try this on my own.

Specifically: VPN (or SSH tunnel) to the department network… then use the Macintosh Remote Desktop Client to connect to a Windows 2003 Server.

Seeing the Windows login dialog pop up on my Powerbook screen is a little disturbing.

Posted by pjm at 9:50 PM | Comments (1)

February 22, 2006

Armloads of apps

I’m taking a web programming course this semester which is resulting in me downloading and installing a few dozen software packages to my long-suffering Powerbook. (I’m surprised I haven’t mistakenly tried to install MPI on it yet.) I already mentioned AquaPath; here’s a rundown of the (many) packages I have downloaded for installation in the not-too-distant future.

  • DeerPark: I’ve previously noted my dissatisfaction with the official Firefox builds for the Mac, with my biggest beef being the inelegant form widgets. DeerPark offers “unofficial” builds tweaked for specific Apple processors (in my case, G4,) and including the option of Aqua form widgets. So I’m giving Firefox yet another trial as my primary browser (once I get some lingering open tabs in Safari read.)

  • While I’m at it, Camino 1.0 is out. Maybe they’ve solved whatever instability they had that drove me to Safari in the first place. (Safari is a fine browser, I’d like to add, and nicely standards-compliant. But it’s also largely closed-source and controlled by a big corporation; in that respect, I might as well use IE.)

  • We’re moving in to a unit where we’re working on a set of Windows 2003 servers, which we can only reach by Remote Desktop (and, if outside the CS network, via VPN.) Earlier in the semester it was suggested that we’d need to do this from Windows clients, but it turns out there’s a Mac OS client for Remote Desktop. From outside the network, we can even skip the VPN by creating an SSH tunnel (which Windows can’t do; for some reason, the Remote Desktop client refuses to open a connection to localhost, even if it’s the local end of an SSH tunnel.) So I’m setting up for the surreal experience of Windows on my desktop.

  • And even though I probably won’t need it, I’m installing Tunnelblick, which is a Mac build of OpenVPN.

  • Going back to the last unit (whence I got AquaPath,) the inestimable Marc Liyanage has, on his OS X packages page (also the home of OS X builds of PHP and MySQL,) an app called TextXSLT for “playing around” with XSLT and XML transformations. From there are links to a number of (also largely open-source) transformation engines which I have also downloaded, but not yet installed… there’s a lot going on which isn’t software, and dammit, I can’t hack all the time.

Now Playing: Calling America from Balance of Power by Electric Light Orchestra

Posted by pjm at 9:49 PM | Comments (0)

February 21, 2006

This is not an extension

I just got a homework assignment for one class via email. A due date was not mentioned, which confounds me: how can I procrastinate properly without knowing how long I have to put it off?

Now Playing: Ripple from Priest = Aura by The Church

Posted by pjm at 10:30 PM | Comments (0)

Long wait over

Fifteen years after I last hit the pool for my high school, they finally won the big one. The Press Herald calls it “three years of frustration,” but my brother’s note in his email was, “Try twenty-five years.” (The Times Record quotes the current coach, one of my brother’s former teammates, saying “This is a team 30 years in the making.”) It seemed like every year we were favored to run the table, and every year we fell short, almost Sox-like.

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

Posted by pjm at 10:12 PM | Comments (1)

Does this count as an extension?

The due date on a programming project was ambiguous, listing both midnight tonight and in class this morning as due dates. I was ready to hand in what I had for class, but the professor clarified to make the deadline midnight. So I have twelve (or so) more hours to debug.

I’m half tempted to just go with what I have so far, but there’s an ethical issue. The TA for this course is a running partner, and he’ll be doing most of the grading. Odds are this will make him grade me tougher than average, to avoid any ambiguity. So far my strategy in this class has been to always hand in my best possible work for that reason. So I should probably push to make this as close to perfect as I can. I could use some sleep, though! And it’s not as though I have nothing else to do.

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

February 20, 2006

So long, short course

…We hardly knew ye.

(I’ve filed three stories on this weekend’s USATF XC championships, and this topic didn’t fit any of them, so here you go.)

Less than ten years ago, the IAAF had the bright idea of expanding the World Cross Country Championships, which was at the time known widely as the single most competitive annual race on the calendar—and where Kenyan teams had been so dominant for so long they actually set records for one of the longest streaks in sports. (Not just running: sports.) The idea was to make the World Cross less of a distance specialty event by bringing in the milers and steeplechasers. Instead of four races on one day (two juniors, two seniors,) the IAAF divided the senior division into “short course” 4K races and “long course” races (8K for women, 12K for men.)

I was not thrilled with this idea when it launched. For one thing, at the time the addition of the “short course” race was a pretty transparent attempt to draw Moroccan mile star Hicham El Guerrouj out for cross country. (In this regard, it failed.) I also thought it was likely to dilute the prestige of the World Cross; at the time, Paul Tergat (now the marathon world record holder) was working on a historic winning streak which gave him immense credibility as a rival to Ethiopian superstar Haile Gebrselassie.

I wasn’t the only one. Adam Goucher, who won the 4K at the USATF meet in ‘99 and ‘00 (then returned to win it again on Saturday) told us that he didn’t think the 4K got much respect at first. The fields weren’t terribly deep, he figured, and certainly the names that turned out to contest the 12K have traditionally been bigger. At the international level, the first few men’s races were won by unheralded and essentially forgettable Kenyans sprinting out of the pack in the closing stages of the race. It’s a merciless race, where the field (usually in excess of 100 at the World Cross) takes off at full stride and does nothing but hammer to the finish, with only seconds separating those who make the team (or medal) and those who don’t, and a poor start, bad corner, or sticky mud-patch can mean the difference between fifth and fifteenth.

The tweak came when Sonia O’Sullivan won first the long-course race in Marrakech, then doubled back the following day to take the short course as well. It was a hint of what was to come. Starting in 2002, when Kenenisa Bekele became the first (and, so far, only) male to win the double, the short course race became a way for the long-course winners to add an exclamation point to their wins, like Emil Zatopek’s marathon in Helsinki, or pretty nearly anything Paavo Nurmi did in Paris. Tirunesh Dibaba doubled last year, then came back for a Zatopek-like five-and-dime double at the Helsinki world championships that even Bekele has yet to manage.

Meanwhile, the US trials have become more competitive at 4K, and there’s a chance that this year’s men’s short-course team might be stronger than the long-course team. Maybe short course will be how we finally manage a team medal for the men? Our women have picked up a few short-course team medals already, as well as one (in 2002, when Deena Kastor and Colleen De Reuck finished 2-3) in the long course.

Lately, the IAAF has decided that perhaps the short course wasn’t such a great idea after all. El Guerrouj never came out, and the short course became “just” another venue for East African dominance, albeit now Ethiopian rather than Kenyan. So this year will be the last year of the short course, may it go out with a bang.

Dropping the second race will have a lot of positive effects. For one thing, it will make the U.S. nationals a one-day meet again, and significantly less expensive to host. It will halve the number of people who can make a Worlds team, hopefully making that a more desirable goal and the long-course into a more competitive race. Cross country and indoor track will be less likely to cannibalize athletes from each others’ national and world championships.

But I may actually miss it a bit.

Now Playing: One More Song The Radio Won’t Like from Failer by Kathleen Edwards

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

February 19, 2006


I am forever giving Dathan Ritzenhein hand-warmers after winter cross country meets.

Posted by pjm at 3:17 PM | Comments (0)

February 18, 2006

Irrelevant to the story

The last time Adam Goucher won the 4K at the USATF cross country championships, it was in Greensboro, NC, and I was in the race. Of course, this time, it was his birthday. (No byline on the second story, but they’re both me.)

Now Playing: Begin The Begin from Life’s Rich Pageant by R.E.M.

Posted by pjm at 5:51 PM | Comments (0)

February 16, 2006

Tenuous Olympic connection

Seth Wescott’s father was my brother’s college cross-country coach, and I went to his cross-country camp before my senior year in high school.

Now Playing: St. Robinson In His Cadillac Dreams from This Desert Life by Counting Crows

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


Am I glad that I have new mudflaps on my bike, to keep all the salt and slush and melting snow from spraying up on me while I ride back and forth to campus? Yes, I am very glad, even though I had to remove the carrier from the back to put on the rear flap. That will be going back on when mud season is over, I figure.

I got some “winter” chain lube as well, and hopefully regular lube and the reduced spray will help my drive train get through the winter with minimum damage. I’ve become sensitive enough to the feel of the bike that I can tell the difference between a newly-lubed chain and one in need of some TLC. (For one thing, the lubed chain shifts more easily.)

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

Posted by pjm at 1:39 PM | Comments (2)

February 15, 2006

Going back by going forward

I do a certain (small) amount of work on the university’s research cluster for MPOW. The cluster represents one of the better technical advances of the late ’90s: glom together a stack of commodity hardware (sometimes referred to as COTS, or Commercial Off The Shelf,) with the right “glue” software, and you’ve got something which handles specific data- or compute-intensive tasks significantly faster than any individual system would. This is not too far from the cutting edge.

Of course, a significant amount of the software which runs these data- or compute-intensive tasks is legacy code written in Fortran. Don’t laugh.

“GOD is REAL (unless declared INTEGER.)”

Now Playing: Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) from Funeral by The Arcade Fire

Posted by pjm at 1:00 PM | Comments (0)

Drinking down

There’s something about tea drinkers, that we accumulate the stuff. I filled most of a (smallish) box with various bags, boxes and tins of tea when we last moved, which is silly considering that my habit has been to get a box of Twinings at the grocery store.

A few months ago, I resolved to drink more than I bought for a while. Aside from regularly marveling at my own pack-rat tendencies, I’ve learned a few things. For the most part, I liked bags because they were convenient, but my little two-mug Bodum pot is actually more tea-efficient than bags. By making pots at a time, I get more beverage from roughly the same amount of loose tea, and it’s easier to clean than one-mug infusers. Once the tea is brewed, I can take the infuser section out and re-heat the pot in the microwave, as well.

I’ve also discovered that the little sampler tins from Adiago go farther when I make pots than if I was going cup by cup.

I’ve managed to clear out one tin and get pretty close to finishing off a second. The first was Fortnum & Mason “Millennium Tea,” which was OK; the second is actually from Harrod’s, a box of their “Kenyan Tea” emptied into a previously-used F&M tin (Keemun, I think,) with the box panel then taped on the tin. Both date back to the week or so I spent in London after the 1999 World Championships (aka my trip to Seville,) so I’m not entirely sure why they’re still around, especially considering how good the Kenyan tea is. I suppose I’m worried that once it’s gone, I’ll never find any more, but this defies logic: if I don’t drink it, what good is it? It might as well be sawdust.

Next project: some of the tins, particularly the F&M one, are quite decorative. I can just recycle the little Adiago tins, nifty as they are, but it seems like I need a use for the F&M tin. Maybe I should move the “found money” collection in there?

Now Playing: The World At Large from Good News For People Who Love Bad News by Modest Mouse

Posted by pjm at 9:07 AM | Comments (3)

February 14, 2006

Missing tools

Ever reached in your pocket looking for something and not found it?

I was in the finishing stages of this assignment requiring a number of XML/XSLT transformations. The page is produced, the links work, the parameters are handled properly. I’ve checked off all but one item: a drop-down menu that needs to work in both Firefox and IE/Win.

I’ve done this before. But the last time I did it, I was sitting at a desk with a G4 and a Dell on a KVM switch. That tool just isn’t there anymore.

I’ll need to finish this tomorrow in the lab.

Now Playing: Everytime from You Were Here by Sarah Harmer

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

How you know you're not running with undergrads

Discussion on this morning’s CS-grad-student run:

“They wanted me to come out to do the relay at the Hyannis marathon, but then they explained that they usually stayed out really late and got plastered the night before they ran, and I said that didn’t really sound like my kind of thing.”

Posted by pjm at 8:03 PM | Comments (0)

February 13, 2006

Operational requirements

I’m getting up-sold on a writing assignment. That is, the assigning editor needs some other bits surrounding this event, and wants to know if I’m interested.

Normally I’m interested in anything with a direct bearing on the bottom line of my invoice, but I’m being evasive about this one. I know a bit about how this outfit works; they have high standards, which I appreciate, but sometimes the methods by which they choose to maintain those standards is frustrating.

That is, it’s nice to feel like I continue to get assignments from them because they think I do good work, and I like working with demanding editors. But I like working with demanding editors who take what I give them and make it better. I don’t like trying to write to a vaguely-described assignment, because I don’t want to file what I consider good work and have it rewritten by someone who has a different concept of the work the words are supposed to be doing.

I suppose that the role I’ve come to fill as a writer is really that of write-to-order. I can hit word counts, inverted pyramids and who-what-when-where. My language… well, it doesn’t exactly take flight, but it hops around and flaps its wings sometimes, and generally it comes in under the acceptable number of spelling and grammar errors. But it does that within the defined bounds of the game; that’s the interest and the challenge for me.

Now Playing: Always Dancing, Never Getting Tired from Universal Hall by The Waterboys

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

Catching the details

Classes were not so bad. The sections definitely were at different levels of engagement with the material; one section asked lots of questions, the other was mostly determined to be quiet.

I plugged my laptop in to the classroom projector to display the review sheet on the class website, which gave me an appreciation of how many things instructors need to consider when using such things. I’ve seen faculty bumping up font size and adjusting screen resolution, etc., before, but the real unexpected part was while I was discussing levels of abstraction in code, and my screen saver kicked in. It’s hard to hold the class’s attention when you’re competing with this image projected six feet high on the screen:

Sleepy kitten

Now Playing: Fisherman’s Blues from The Live Adventures of The Waterboys

Posted by pjm at 4:03 PM | Comments (0)


The Comp 11 professor is out of town this week, so the students get an exam on Wednesday (because they’ll miss less teaching this way.) This does mean that today will be an exam review for both sections, and since I am the only one who can make both sections, I get to do it. The drill is, 75 minutes, roughly split between lecture and exam review, repeat for two sections.

Except that I have very little idea what the lecture is supposed to be, and I wasn’t in the last class, so I don’t know where they left off. I’m not sure if I was told what I was covering, or if that’s just slipped everyone’s mind. At least I know what’s on the exam, so I know what I really need to cover in the review.

I really need to not think too hard about this.

Now Playing: Election Day from Nothing For All by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 8:41 AM | Comments (0)

February 12, 2006

Increased demand

I’ll admit to a little admiration for the two boys who have (twice, already, today) rung our doorbell and offered to shovel the steps and the walk. They’re cruising the street for business which has been pretty slow, so far, this winter, and they’re out in the worst weather pursuing their business.

That said, though, not only is the snow still coming down (and the forecasts I’ve seen suggest we’re in for five or six more hours,) but it’s blowing like mad, and there’s as much drifting as there is falling. Any work they do now is likely to need re-doing in just a few hours. Certainly that’s a renewable resource from their point of view, but it also suggests that now isn’t the best time for me to be investing, if I was going to.

Meanwhile, our neighbors, who were out of town when the snow was forecast, have had their cars towed. I feel somehow responsible, though there was no way I could’ve moved the cars myself.

Now Playing: Listen Like Thieves from Listen Like Thieves by INXS

Posted by pjm at 3:57 PM | Comments (0)

On expectations

I think I’m becoming a little audience-concious here. Not in the sense that I feel like I have one in any wide sense; a dozen or so people I know in some way, a dozen or so others I’ve never met, whatever. More that I’ve slipped into a feeling that I’m writing for you rather than for me, and I’m pre-editing stuff in my head.

It goes like this: no, writing about the snow is boring. (It’s not really snowing; it’s more like it’s blowing, with a lot of snow involved, and it’s not clear how much of the snow is new, and how much has been whipped up off the ground by the wind to re-circulate.)

I don’t write much about classes and work because I either feel like I’m not making progress, and consequently saying the same things over and over, or I feel like I’m boring. (Sure, I’m excited that I finally understand what XSL and XPath are all about, and it’s nifty to have AquaPath to work with, but what do you care?)

And I don’t actually post the long rambling thoughts (re-mastered Waterboys CDs with extra tracks: discuss,) because it would take some time to write them up, and that feels self-indulgent when I have work and classwork to do, which is nominally more important. Right?

Maybe I need to post some short, silly stuff again.

Now Playing: A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours from Strangeways, Here We Come by The Smiths

Posted by pjm at 11:08 AM | Comments (1)

February 10, 2006

Broken egg

I might not understand all of the code I’ve seen inside this project, but I understand a pop-up window, which appears with the correct set of form inputs, containing a Java applet implementation of Tetris. Of course, the referenced codebase is currently 404.

Now Playing: Billy’s Shirts from Stutter by James

Posted by pjm at 8:29 PM | Comments (0)

Not Getting Things Done

The lead TA tried to herd the rest of us together to grade a programming assignment, but made the mistake of saying, “Or we could do it next week after we finish the lab exams.” Nearly every other hand went up in favor of waiting until next week, but of course, at this time next week, I’ll be working. So, yeah, I’m in favor of putting it off, too, if nobody else feels like looking ahead at the consequences of procrastination.

I wonder how much of the storm we’re supposed to get this weekend is going to settle in Van Cortlandt? The National Weather Service seems to think New York will get off lightly.

Now Playing: Fountain Of Youth from Gotta Get Over Greta by The Nields

Posted by pjm at 2:53 PM | Comments (0)

February 9, 2006

When I get bored with one, I switch to another

I have three distinct and non-overlapping problems projects on my plate for MPOW.

One of them actually requires me to be in a specific place and working on a specific box, since the project is working with a cloud of Perl scripts providing a web interface (via IIS on Windows, to my horror,) to an expensively-licensed piece of bioinformatics software. Like listening to a person with a strong accent, I’m finding that the longer I pore over this Perl, the more I actually become able to answer my own questions about what it’s doing. The question is whether I can climb the learning curve fast enough to satisfy (a) MPOW, and (b) the specific client. The fact that I’m beginning to come up with possibly-intelligent questions about how the software works all on my own is encouraging.

On another project, I crashed Tomcat hard on Tuesday, and haven’t been able to bring it back up. Thankfully, this is at the bottom of my priority stack.

The third one has to do with compiling LAM-MPI libraries for a particular set of compilers on the research cluster. I’m actually most interested in this one; I’m supposed to be getting 7.0.6 functional, but 7.1.1 “might come in handy,” and I’m thinking of trying OpenMPI 1.0.1 just for icing if it turns out that I actually can figure out what I’m doing. I’m really having a good time figuring out what makes the cluster tick, and I’m glad I dropped the (required) Theory course to grab the Parallel Computing special topics while it’s being offered.

Now Playing: Baby That’s Not All from Hello Starling by Josh Ritter

Posted by pjm at 10:55 PM | Comments (0)

February 8, 2006

Steering in fog

Sometime last week, I was sitting in my “office” at the department, and the interim department chair—who also teaches one of my classes this semester—came by on another errand. She looked at me quizzically for a moment, then asked, “Whose student are you?”

I misunderstood the question and told her my name. Once we got straightened out (“No, I know who you are,”) I told her I wasn’t really anyone’s student (yet), and about my multiple advisor situation. (The department thinks I have one advisor; the registrar thinks my advisor is someone else.) She asked about my undergraduate college. (Everyone does, even though in my case it’s barely relevant, but it’s easier to answer than to explain.) Then she looked thoughtful and left after an exchange of polite pleasantries about the town (she got her doctorate at the large university there.)

Am I allowed to be paranoid about what things like this might or might not mean, or am I being sucked into some kind of surreality?

Now Playing: Like A California King from So Much For The Afterglow by Everclear

Posted by pjm at 1:05 PM | Comments (0)

Different routing

I figured out the problem with getting the Palm Tungsten and its GPS to re-connect: I need to reset the Palm each time. It’s a soft reset (no data loss) and it only takes a few seconds, but what an ugly kludge.

Having it working is actually helpful, though. Coming back from Exeter on Sunday, I told it to avoid toll roads, and it led me perfectly through a few back-road turns to dump me out on 95 south of the New Hampshire tolls. It’s not exceptionally helpful for trips where I know where I’m going, but I can imagine it really coming into its own when I get thrown off the thin strip of route I know and into the unknown territory on either side.

Now Playing: Polar Bear from Nowhere by Ride

Posted by pjm at 9:52 AM | Comments (0)

February 6, 2006

"...ping to see if they've crashed..."

It isn’t often that my class reading makes me laugh out loud.

You can simply start with early Windows DOS attacks (Ping of Death, Winnuke, etc) and move up a little further to attacks such as Teardrop and Land. After each attack, ping them to see whether they have crashed. When you finally crash them, you will likely have narrowed what they are running down to one service pack or hotfix.

Now Playing: Straight To Hell from Combat Rock by The Clash

Posted by pjm at 10:17 PM | Comments (0)

February 5, 2006


I decided on Friday night to do the mini-meet at Exeter this morning. I got up with the cat and got up there in good time, though my directions were faulty (I had directions to the campus, but not the pool.) This was a relatively small meet, though not as small as the one I did at Simon’s Rock last year, so I had no trouble getting registered and getting 800y or so of warm-up, including a bunch of starts, before they cleared the pool.

(Exhaustively boring report below…)

Continue reading "Payoff"

Posted by pjm at 5:15 PM | Comments (0)

February 4, 2006


The problem with being in a city, where I could theoretically find anything, is that I don’t have the time to look for it.

However, I really need to track down my own swim cap if I intend to do any more races. I emailed my brother asking if he could loan me one for tomorrow’s “mini” meet in Exeter. I need to stop setting him up like this.

I think I have one you can borrow. You did the 5K postal swim, right?

Now Playing: Cherry Lane from Cold Roses by Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

Posted by pjm at 10:09 PM | Comments (0)

February 3, 2006

I am invincible

My family used to joke about “Volkswagen Door Disease.” In the late 80s and early 90s, we went through four or five VWs of varying vintages, and every one of them had something wonky about the doors. More recently, it’s been Hondas, and the chronic problem across Hondas (three of them, now,) is putting down a window and having it not go back up. It happened to my car two years ago at the state inspection (an inconvenient time, and one of the reasons the car didn’t pass that year,) and again to the other window a few months later. Then, tonight, A ran the passenger’s window down to clear some of the condensation from the outside, and it stuck down.

This is more inconvenient when you have a large stock of concessions inventory for tomorrow’s track meet in the car. Once home, I tried forcing the window back into its track, but it wasn’t getting anywhere.

So I resolved to pop off the door panel. Between the old Mercury I’ve mentioned, and one of the above-mentioned VWs, I’ve taken the interior panels off a few car doors in my day, and I figured this would get me to the root of the problem. I grabbed a metric socket kit and a bag of screwdrivers, then started removing:

(1) Screw in the arm-rest.
(1) Screw hiding behind the door latch. (Top, front, only visible with latch open.)
(2) Screws behind the speaker grille.
(3) Pop-in clips. (Top rear, bottom rear, top front.)

Then: Unplug the speaker, leave the window control dangling, thread the latch through its plastic dingus and place the now-detatched door panel where the back door would be if I had one.

The rail that holds the front of the window is fastened with a bolt in the bottom front of the door, concealed by the speaker assembly. After I’d tried worrying the window back on the rail, I just undid that bolt, placed the rail on the window, then re-tightened the bolt. The window went up like a charm. I then re-applied duct tape (it’s not just for ducks anymore!) to the various places holding the plastic sheet on the inside of the door, plugged the speaker back in, and (mostly) reattached the panel. (It’s a bit wonky around the door latch; I’m going to try again in daylight tomorrow.) I’d post pictures, but it was quite dark.

Before locking up the car, I tripped the child-safety lock that keeps the passenger from putting the window down with their control.

This project gets extra points for (a) use of duct tape, and (b) requiring Fast Orange for the clean-up stage.

Now Playing: This Town from Kids in Philly by Marah

Posted by pjm at 11:02 PM | Comments (0)

February 2, 2006

Pocket check

The tickets to the Bruins game were marked, “No Bags,” so I made a stop at home to drop mine off. Fortunately I realized I’d left my ticket in it before I got on the T, but not before I’d nearly locked my bike in Davis Square.

The idea for the group trip to the game (“CS people are so much fun,” said one attendee’s wife, “Over in Child Development we just drink,”) was that of our Canadian classmate, for which we were all quite appreciative. Would that Boston sports fans were the same; I should’ve remembered the Sox-Yankees game I saw a few years ago. We were quite high in the balcony, but there were enough people behind us to raise a decent boo when François put on his Canadiens jersey. I’m always disappointed; I wish I could still be surprised. François was not bothered; he observed, “They must not have noticed that this is the TD Banknorth Garden, and ‘TD’ is ‘Toronto Dominion.’”

When Les Habs scored the first goal, that flushed out the rest of the Canadians in the crowd—those little pockets of people standing. There was a big party a few rows down from us, with one particularly vocal guy who turned around at us, shouting “Habs! Habs! Habs!” in the same tone of voice you’d use for “In your face!” He quieted down later, of course.

But if there’s a saving point to Boston fans, it’s that they’re even-handed in their distribution of foul-mouthed opprobrium. They felt free to boo whoever they wanted: the Canadiens, the refs, and the Bruins all got about an equal share. If you want to see New England cynicism in action, a Bruins game is a great place for it: a big collection of people who’ve paid decent money for the privilege of sitting with a beer and bitching about something they profess to enjoy.

(Our group, of course, was having a good time, despite some of us cheering for the losing side.)

Posted by pjm at 11:17 PM | Comments (0)

February 1, 2006

Fine, just gloat

I know I’m beating a dead horse when I say this, but folks, I sent an honest question by email to a developers list. I do not need to know which members of the list are on vacation.

If you set up out-of-office, unsubscribe from lists before you go. Or have it ignore list-mail, whichever is easiest.

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


We are, in this industry, fond of long names. We’re also pseudo-engineers, so we abbreviate everything, because the names we came up with were too long. (Example: Java Server Pages becomes JSP, because it’s quicker to say “jayesspee” than “Java Server Pages.”) We train ourselves to trip lightly through abbreviations like XSLT. (Say that three times, fast.) But sometimes we need something a bit more colorful and evocative. We need some vivid images. And we need jargon that makes us sound like insiders.

bounce, v. - To restart or reset a system (hardware, or a software daemon,) in order to clear possible problems and reload configuration files. ex. “Sometimes you can change JSPs without needing to bounce Tomcat.” “I couldn’t figure out where the problem was, but when I bounced the box it went away.”

Posted by pjm at 12:43 PM | Comments (1)