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March 31, 2006

Name dropping

~9:25 AM, Saturday, April 1, Fukuoka

The introductions were a little gasped, but I think I ran with Yuko Arimori this morning. I also saw a pack of corporate runners revolving around the 2K park; we got word that they were running 30K there this morning! Fifteen laps of the park.

I never did find the marathoners footprints yesterday. I might have been at the wrong train station. It was pretty overwhelming; I managed to navigate the subway, but the English signage is just enough to lull you into a false sense of security and not quite enough to ever make me feel like I understand what’s going on.

In less than an hour, I’ll be on a shuttle to the course, and I’ll stop thinking about anything beyond the races and work. Anything that spills over, I’ll post here.

Now Playing: Brooklyn from The Fine Art Of Self Destruction by Jesse Malin

Posted by pjm at 7:37 PM | Comments (0)

The Campaign for Real Cross Country

My colleague for the weekend Steven Downes on why non-Africans might do better when the World Cross course is less fast.

Posted by pjm at 5:54 PM | Comments (0)

I am absent-minded

There’s something frustrating about leaving a few hundred dollars worth of electronics and prescription eyewear in a drawer when you switch hotel rooms, particularly when the hotel staff all speaks enough English to mostly understand you, but not enough to really figure out what’s wrong.

On the other hand, there’s something special about the relief when not only do they deliver the missing items to your (new) door, but it has all been bubble-wrapped.

Posted by pjm at 7:41 AM | Comments (1)

Mombasa '07

~8:45 PM, Friday 31 March, Fukuoka

As of earlier this afternoon, I’d seen more Kenyan culture in Fukuoka than Japanese. (I’ve since corrected this.) I went to a “luncheon” put on by the organizing committee of the ‘07 World Cross, which will be held in Mombasa, Kenya. Despite holding an invitation, I felt a bit like a gate-crasher, probably something to do with the fact that nobody except the food servers appeared to notice me or understand much of what I said to them. (This is not the fault of the Kenyans, of course; just a quirk of my experience.)

We had several speeches from dignitaries including the mayor of Mombasa, all saying what a great thing this was going to be—the phrase, “best cross-country championships ever” got used a few too many times, I thought, for a room so full of Japanese officials intimately involved in the current one, and maybe we “put our hands together” a few too many times to thank various dignitaries. (The MC also frequently used the phrase “please be upstanding for,” which I’d previously only heard in a certain XTC song.)

Along with decent food and a video presentation on Mombasa featuring Paul Tergat praising the course, we observed a demonstration of Kenyan drumming and dancing which was sufficiently loud as to damp most conversation at our table, which included three Japanese (presumably from the local organizers,) myself and two USATF officials, and (if I read his name-tag properly,) Hosea Mwok Macharinyang, who will run the long race for Kenya on Sunday. The Japanese and Hosea decamped at the earliest polite opportunity. One of the USATF officials, whose professional responsibility is the logistics of fielding a U.S. team at events like this, looked dubious about the entire enterprise; another Kenyan-watching journalist declared his opinion that the Mombasa meet would be “…an organizational train-wreck, but a lot of fun anyway.”

Now Playing: We Both Know Why You’re Here from A Quick Smoke At Spot’s by The Church

Posted by pjm at 6:48 AM | Comments (0)

It's not a big meet without a press conference

~8:30 PM Friday, 31 March, Fukuoka

…but this is the first press conference I’ve sat in with headsets and simultaneous translators in booths in the back. (By switching channels I could get English, French or Japanese; there are few to no translators available for Amharic, the other language in use, who can do simultaneous translation. Come to think of it, there aren’t many translators available between English and Amharic; I only know two, and they’re both here.)

An edited digest of my notes is in the extended entry, and since this is a weblog, I get to mix in batches of opinion. Starting tomorrow, I don’t get to do that…

Now Playing: Jason And The Argonauts from English Settlement by XTC

Continue reading "It's not a big meet without a press conference"

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March 30, 2006

Marathon station

~8:30 AM, Fukuoka

I’m allowed to be scattered at this point, right? Google knows where I am, anyway.

I have made contact with other Americans here for the meet—not with the U.S. team, but very involved in the sport. (I don’t want to name-drop, but I could.) A few minutes ago, we ran out (about ten minutes) to a smallish park in the middle of the city, around which there is a meticulously measured 2K loop (with restrooms conveniently located about every half-kilometer.) There’s a walking path, a “jogging” path, and a cycling path; the running path is marked every 100m, and is tartan-surfaced. That’s right, they have a 2K all-weather track laid out around a smallish lake.

I have the U.K. junior women’s team in rooms on either side of me.

Fukuoka has as much running tradition as any other city in Japan, and perhaps more by virtue of their marathon. During the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, the Fukuoka International Marathon was one of the three big international marathons at a time when international travel for marathons was difficult even for elite athletes. (The other two were Boston and Kosice, Czechoslovakia; I am, apparently, one of very few people of my generation who knows Kosice still exists.)

Like most Japanese marathons, Fukuoka is an invitational race only; there is no mass entry. (The Honolulu Marathon is, essentially, the only mass-participation Japanese marathon; it’s not surprising, therefore, that JAL is a sponsor. This is changing: there are rumors that there will be a Tokyo Marathon which will be a mass-participation and elite marathon on the lines of the Big Five.) In the 60s and 70s, Fukuoka was the de facto World Championship marathon, and part of Frank Shorter’s claim to fame is that he won in Fukuoka as well as in Munich. You’ll find Fukuoka a few times in the American record progression for the marathon, I think.

Later this morning, I’m planning on going over to the train station, where supposedly the footprints of all the marathon winners are placed in the sidewalk like a walk of fame. I won’t find the footprints of my former boss there, but he ran his PR here: 2:14:29 in 1968, the year he won Boston.

Now Playing: The Phoenix from I’m a Mountain by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 6:24 PM | Comments (1)

March 29, 2006

Fan with a notebook

(I’m writing this in O’Hare, too, but again, it probably won’t be posted until I’m in Japan.)

In The Perfect Distance, Pat Butcher mentions that the worst insult that can be delivered to a track writer is to call them a “fan with a notebook.” The implication is that the subject is not interested in writing an objective report on an event or an athlete, but is simply using a press credential to gain closer access to their heroes (or simply see a meet for free.) The issue is perceived professionalism.

There’s a recent Sports Illustrated article which implies that a greater fraction of sportswriting is being committed not by journalists per se, but by this kind of “fan with a notebook”: bloggers, generally, and message-board mavens on the ‘net. The SI article is at pains to point out how this new coverage, while often dependent on traditional media (DVR’ed video of game telecasts,) is not often tied to journalistic standards like fact-checking, sources, or even being present at the event. There are good sides and bad sides to this, of course; a tightly-focused sports blog can serve an audience and a message without needing to be ever-present. But the message boards and weblogs can start and spread rumors (about dope-testing results, for example,) which can border on libel. (If you’ve spent much time on running websites, you know exactly which board I’m talking about.)

Another aspect of the online-coverage explosion mentioned by the SI article is the increasing amount of coverage sponsored by (and, some might say, spun by,) the teams and leagues themselves. It’s probably fair to say that a lot of my work in the last two or three years has been in this area: I’ve been assigned event-coverage articles by the IAAF and NYRR, and I’ll be working directly for the BAA at next month’s marathon. The fact is, in this sport, that when the individual business units being athletes rather than teams, the event organizers and federations are in the best position to offer continuing, in-depth coverage of their events and sports. As I noted earlier, it’s not coming from the newspapers.

I’ve mentioned before the sort of sideways route I took into track writing. It would be very easy to brand me with the “fan with a notebook” label—I’ve been a fan of the sport much longer than I’ve been paid to write about it, and I will continue when I’m no longer getting assignments. What’s more, there’s precious little market for a full-time track writer, and as a result there will always be work for an interested part-timer like myself.

Could athletics, at least in the USA, benefit from a more professional corps of track writers? Probably, but there would have to be a market for them, and who knows where that’s going to come from.

Beyond that, it’s a bit of a mystery to me, personally, where I should be going with this. I’m reasonably good at it, at least such that I continue to get assignments; when I left RW, they wanted me to go to journalism school rather than CS grad school. Could I make a full-time living out of it? Probably not. So why do I keep getting more work? How long can I keep doing this?

Posted by pjm at 10:57 AM | Comments (1)

Track writing

(It’s time to start disregarding the time-stamps on these entries. I’m writing this in the terminal at O’Hare, so I’m already an hour off; it’s possible that I won’t be able to post it until I’m in Japan.)

When I mentioned the pathetic state of athletics journalism (“track writing”) in the U.S., I shouldn’t really be talking about journalism so much as the market for it. There are some excellent writers working in track: Kenny Moore, John Brant, Dick Patrick, John Crumpacker, etc. The problem is where their work appears. Moore and Brant are almost exclusively magazine and book writers; Patrick, though he writes for USA Today, is representative of many newspaper track writers in that he’s increasingly restricted in his available space and his travel budget. As a result, the bulk of the track and field stories in most newspapers are:

  • Focused on a single local athlete, e.g. an Indy Star article on Bob Kennedy’s retirement.
  • Wire stories written by stringers local to the event, who may or may not know the sport and definitely aren’t encouraged to use words on things like “color” or “vivid description.”
  • Only run once a year in connection with some major event, such as one of the major marathons.

This is where the web is supposed to come in and save the day, right? It’s true that it’s now possible to tie together all the stories that fit in the first and third categories, above, and come up with something that looks like comprehensive coverage. But the fact is that you have to work for that; you have to be interested. What the IAAF (and USATF, and most fans of the sport,) would like to see is new fans—they’d like to see stars like Kenenisa Bekele get some regular face-time on ESPN, for example.

ESPN programming, I figure, is driven by two questions: “Will we sell advertising on it?” And, “Will it get good ratings?” The questions come in that order—that’s why highly-rated track programming (track telecasts actually get good ratings for sport events,) loses out to the likes of professional fishing, which apparently sells loads of advertising. (This also explains televised golf.)

It would also help to see a lot of regular track articles appearing in print outlets like the NY Times, Sports Illustrated, and so on. That’s not happening, because those pages and sports sections are filled with wall-to-wall coverage of American football, baseball, basketball. If you launched a Marca or Gazetto dello Sport in the U.S., it would be dominated by the big professional team sports.

The idea of bringing me to Fukuoka is to lower the cost barriers that would otherwise prevent some outlets from covering World Cross. I’m not sure I’m a terribly good investment; I didn’t get assignments from the NYT, Washington Post, or Sports Illustrated. I think most of the outlets I’m writing for would be covering the meet in some way, even if I wasn’t going. I’d like to think I’m improving the quality, but we’ll see.

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

March 28, 2006

Tim Berners-Lee and web hopes and fears

Tim Berners-Lee gave the Richard E. Snyder President’s Lecture this afternoon. I was tempted to sit in the front row and gaze admiringly on him—after all, his invention rendered me employable—but I thought better of it. Supposedly, a audio-video stream of the event exists somewhere, but it’s nearly impossible for me to find. Berners-Lee’s prepared notes are online, though they’re only the barest outline of what he said.

President Bacow did the introduction, and compared Berners-Lee to early colonists in America, around whose labors new communities were formed.

It was a weirdly scattered talk—in a way, he’s still chasing the same desire for easily-accessed, widely-interconnected information. It’s as though the web went awry somewhere, over to the Dark Side, and while he doesn’t mind what did come out, he still hasn’t reached the application he’s really looking for. Unfortunately, the result wasn’t really the sort of talk that inspires students to go out and change the world, I think.

In the extended entry, some notes from the talk, and from the brief questions-and-answers.

Continue reading "Tim Berners-Lee and web hopes and fears"

Posted by pjm at 5:21 PM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2006

Out with a bang

It looks like the last short course race at the World Cross is going to be, as my father might put it, a barn-burner, at least on the men’s side.

  • The U.S. team is probably the strongest we’ve ever sent: Goucher, Lincoln, Hall, Torres, Watson, Dobson. Of Americans who have really run well for 5,000m over the last two or three years, the only person I really see missing is Tim Broe. Sad to say, they’re probably running for third.

  • Kenya: “[T]he coaches’ biggest hope is in the senior men’s 4km race.” Choge, Limo, Songok. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the Kenyans have decided it’s better to pick one race and try to overwhelm the Ethiopians there rather than try to sweep both races; more likely it’s a point of pride to win the last team title, since I think only Kenya and Ethiopia have ever won it. What’s more, the coaches have supposedly been concentrating on finishing speed—these guys will run the last quarter-mile at something on the close order of 55 seconds or faster. As Larry Rawson would say, try running just one of those, let alone as the last lap of ten.

  • Ethiopia: Bekele, Sihine, Gebremariam, and Dinkessa are all doubling between the senior races. Bekele has won the last four runnings of this race (‘02-‘05) and was second in ‘01, when he also won the junior race; with his four long-course wins, he is the most-decorated athlete in World Cross history. (More on that later, perhaps.) He is the world record holder at 5,000m and 10,000m, demonstrating his superior ability to sustain a fast pace; he is the Olympic and World champion at those distances, demonstrating his superior ability to outsprint a world-class field in the manner of Yifter and Gebrselassie. Sihine and Gebremariam would be dominant athletes in their own right if not for Bekele, and this will be their first race of the weekend.

  • Anyone missing? Oh, yes, the “other Kenyans,” the Qatari team led by the former Kenyan now known as Saif Saaeed Shaheen. Shaheen, who holds the world steeplechase record, was Bekele’s main challenger in the 3,000m at the World Indoor Championships, tried and failed to steal the short-course race at last year’s World Cross, and will likely try again this year. There may be some North African challengers from Morocco or Algeria, and Eritrea and Tanzania have shown flashes of Rift Valley brilliance. (We’re so used to thinking of Africans under the lump of “Kenyans” that we forget stars like Burundi’s Venuste Niyongabo, who won the 5,000m in Atlanta ten years ago this summer.)

Now Playing: Leave Them All Behind from Going Blank Again by Ride

Posted by pjm at 9:47 PM | Comments (0)

On scholarship

By inference through various messages, I’m learning a bit about this funny sort-of “scholarship” I’m on for the World Cross. We’re an interesting group—a Kenyan, a Spaniard, an American-based Ethiopian (at least, I think she’s Ethiopian—she could be an American who’s fluent in Amharic, I’ve never asked,) and someone with a .uk address who could be from anywhere, plus myself and another Brit who will also be working on the “official” web coverage.

It’s interesting to try to extrapolate some purpose behind this selection of people. I suspect the unknown .uk address does not actually belong to a British journalist; UK newspaper coverage of the sport is among the best in the world. Kenyan and Ethiopian publications don’t really have the resources to give their world-beating athletes the kind of coverage they deserve when they’re as far away as Japan; the IAAF actually has a parallel and very public program to subsidize travel for some developing-nation teams who would not otherwise be able to compete.

The Spaniard is a puzzle; it may be that they are coming for the same reason I am. Spain has, in recent years, had some quite good teams, able to catch the odd third-place finish (behind the Kenyans and Ethiopians, who are a class apart team-wise,) and so has the USA. I don’t read Spanish enough to know what kind of coverage they get in their national media, but I remember from my long week in Seville that Spanish papers don’t skimp on the sports section, and like the French L’Equipe and Italian Gazetto dello Sport, they have a sports-only daily—Marca or something like that, if I remember correctly.

Does the Spanish media publish copy proportional to their teams’ international success? Maybe not—and maybe that’s why the IAAF is bringing a Spanish journalist to Fukuoka.

The pathetic state of U.S. track coverage should be self-evident to most track fans, but if I have time (maybe on the plane) I’ll do a rundown of why the IAAF might be trying to subsidize it. It’s worth noting the company we’re in, though: either we should be proud that we’re seen as having teams that rank close to the Kenyans, Ethiopians, Spanish, et al… or we should be embarrassed that we’re giving them third-world coverage.

Now Playing: Pretty Polly from Josh Ritter by Josh Ritter

Posted by pjm at 4:19 PM | Comments (0)

March 26, 2006

Rivalries in print

(I wrote this in an airport yesterday…)

I plowed through two books on vacation which turned out to be more alike than I’d expected. Duel in the Sun, by John Brant, tells the story of the 1982 Boston Marathon, when Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley ran “in each others’ pockets” for the last nine miles of the race in a duel so hard-run that Salazar wound up in the hospital and neither ran as well again. The Perfect Distance, by Pat Butcher, is a British book about the early-80s rivalry between Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe which led to numerous world records, three Olympic gold medals and more lesser medals than bear thinking about.

I first discovered Brant when I was working at RW and he was a senior writer there. He also writes fairly regularly for Outdoor Life and Men’s Health, but I remember him for writing the stark and striking articles about the California high school cross-country team built largely from migrant workers’ children, or the explanation of the crisis in public school P.E. and its connection with childhood obesity rates. Duel in the Sun grew out of an RW article, but it doesn’t read like a magazine piece. Brant interweaves narrations of the race day, the race weekend, along with both athletes’ histories and their lives after the marathon. Salazar, who came to Boston as the two-time defending NYCM champion, struggled for the next decade with health problems that curtailed his training; Beardsley, who suffered a career-ending injury within months, slid into an illicit addiction to prescription painkillers after a farm-machinery accident.

Both are still active in the sport, Salazar as a coach (I spoke to him briefly in New York in February about one of his athletes, Adam Goucher,) and Beardsley as a speaker and overwhelmingly nice guy. 2007 will be the 25th anniversary of the “Duel in the Sun,” and you can bet much noise will be made at the marathon; they make a point of bringing back the champions celebrating five-year anniversaries of their wins.

Brant never mentions the actual result, though he mentions the winning margin, two seconds, and quotes both athletes saying, “As far as I’m concerned, there were two winners.” You need to check the cover to see which one is wearing the laurel wreath (Salazar.)

Butcher follows this example in The Perfect Distance, emphasizing the rivalry itself over the results. Unlike the one-day clash between the favored Salazar and the outsider Beardsley, the Ovett/Coe rivalry spread over half a dozen years—though, as Butcher often laments, the pair only raced each other seven times in eight years, and four of those races were Olympic finals. Coe and Ovett ushered in the era of professionalism in track, of rabbited record attempts, and perfected the art of “ducking”—that is, avoiding showdown races which might change them from two Number Ones to a One and a Two.

They also, by Butcher’s account, by themselves managed to hold Western interest in the Moscow Olympics (where Ovett won Coe’s specialty, the 800m, and Coe won Ovett’s, the 1500m,) and launched a golden age of middle-distance running in England. The heyday of the rivalry, between the Moscow and Los Angeles Games, is where the book crackles—Coe’s nine-day tear of three world records, for example, or Ovett’s “backwater” races and week-on-week record trading. Butcher is the track correspondent for the Financial Times, among others, and he’s a resourceful and determined reporter. He includes interviews with significant rivals, and outlines past rivalries between milers, even to the point of interviewing the great Swedes, Arne Andersson and Gunder Hägg, who ran thirty-five match races during the Second World War (Sweden was neutral) and lowered the mile world record from 4:06.4 to 4:01.4.

What’s less easy to follow is Butcher’s bouncing back and forth between Coe and Ovett in the early parts of the story, comparing their development so closely that at times it’s difficult to tell which athlete he’s telling us about. Also unlike Brant, Butcher is unafraid to make himself a character in the story—and, as a correspondent at the time, he was—sometimes simply to disclose his own biases and potential agendas, but sometimes simply waving at us as if to say, “I was there!” Brant is so unobtrusive that when he mentions Salazar meeting a reporter for an interview on the Nike campus, we almost forget that the reporter must have been Brant himself. (Butcher also slips by naming Salazar as the Boston champion in the year of Rosie Ruiz, when that was actually a Bill Rodgers year.)

Duel in the Sun, I think, should be required reading for anyone who follows marathoning. The Perfect Distance (which we got, I think, by ordering it from amazon.co.uk, though it appears to be available through the mothership nowadays,) will make entertaining reading mainly for hardcore track geeks like myself.

Posted by pjm at 5:17 PM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2006


I don’t think I’ve ever done a sun-and-sand vacation before. I learned some things.

  • Driving on the left: Easier than I expected.
  • Red Stripe lager: Better than Sam Adams.
  • Sunblock: Nearly as important as food.
  • Goggles: Just as good as a mask, if you don’t need to breathe through a straw.
  • Turtles: Much bigger than the ones in Maine.
  • “I still have sand between my toes”: Apparently meant more literally than I expected.
  • Ocean: Thirty-five degrees (or so) warmer is a big difference.

Posted by pjm at 11:55 AM | Comments (0)

March 17, 2006

In the unlikely event that you miss me

I’m taking a vacation. If we hadn’t planned it seven or so months ago, I probably wouldn’t be, but we did, so I am.

I’m sort of hoping there’s no ‘net access for a while.

Posted by pjm at 8:02 PM | Comments (0)

March 16, 2006

The right place

The course I’ll probably be taking this summer is being taught by a professor visiting from the other university which accepted me. I noted that in a short discussion with my advisor this afternoon, and quipped, “Now I’ll get to see if I came to the right place.” He said, without a blink, “Oh, you came to the right place.”

I talked with him some about what I’ve been finding interesting lately and what, in consequence, I might want to do in preparation for the next academic year. (It’s nice, now and then, to look up and past the next week.) Then later this afternoon, I was unofficially and indirectly invited to join a grad student working group focusing on systems administration—the group that produced this year’s best paper at LISA. Which is flattering even if I don’t do it.

And the day before I fly off to Japan, one of my classes is adjourning to attend a lecture by the man I owe my career to.

Sometimes I think my life is characterized by this sort of blind luck—gut decisions, made for irrelevant reasons, which put me in good situations out of pure coincidence. Others have suggested that this is simply a good outlook on life—I don’t spend much time thinking about other places I might be or other things I might’ve done.

Or maybe I am in the right place.

Now Playing: What You Need from Listen Like Thieves by INXS

Posted by pjm at 8:04 PM | Comments (1)

A creative training commons

Jeff referred me to a post by Bill, who has a really long weblog title, about “open source fitness.” Here’s the concept:

What I’d like to do, were I tech-savvy with a couple of weeks on my hand, would be to set up a flexible fitness correlary to Wikipedia, a place where we could list the various theories on weight loss or marathon training, for instance, and then tie them back to revelant real-world data. Answer questions like “What works for treating ITB syndrome?”, etc.

I know a little bit about ITBS, and some might say I’m “tech-savvy.” (There has been some dispute on this point in recent months, believe it or not.) But I only have a few minutes on my hand. And I have thought about this sort of thing before.

Here’s the problem: it’s not the tech-savvy that’s stopping anyone from doing this. It’s trivially simple (at least from my point of view) to download MediaWiki or some similar piece of open-source wiki-ware and make a site for this. The 500 people Bill cites for the “RBF” are certainly a broad base of users, which is a plus. Since they’re all already blog-writers, that probably means they’re self-selected from the end of the running population which at least practices descriptive writing on a regular basis.

Because one of the biggest hurdles for a site like that is editorial quality. To put it plainly, if I get a running injury, and Don Kardong gets a running injury, a reader is going to learn about ten times more from Don’s writing about it—and even that might be giving me more credit than I deserve.

Another dinger: on some topics (ITBS,) it’s easy to know what to do. But during the past three years, I saw six or seven different medical professionals about my plantar fasciitis, and not one of them agreed with any of the others. I’ll be damned if I know, to this day, what truly caused the problem; all I know is that I got new orthotics last August, and I haven’t had significant trouble since then. And I think even if you put together the 200 of your 500 running bloggers who’ve suffered with PF, you’re not going to be any closer to knowing what’s going on than if you just talked to me. It’s true that sometimes more data gets you closer to the truth, but not always; if there’s no pattern in the data, it doesn’t matter how much pattern-less data you have, it’s still just noise.

It may be that what I’m really saying is that I’m burned out on running websites, and I have been for quite a while. I’ve been there, done that, and I’ve seen them done well and done poorly. (Beyond that, I’ve seen good sites fail, and lousy ones flourish, so I’m unfortunately cynical about the available rewards for hard work.) I think that the state of the running-site art is still stuck around where it was in 2000, and that there’s a tremendous amount of space for someone to apply new tools and techniques to make something good—the only really new thing I’ve seen is the Google maps pedometer, but that’s really just one tool.

The software is out there. The startup and maintenance costs are pretty low. What it needs is for someone with a clear vision to invest the time, and I have neither.

Now Playing: King Electric from Still Burning by Mike Scott

Posted by pjm at 4:47 PM | Comments (2)

March 15, 2006


Clearing out some of the email that had stacked up in my inbox during the last push, I came to one from an Amherst area geocacher who was also prominently featured in the Hampshire Life story a few months ago. Since last summer, he and I had been discussing potential maintenance on my two caches out there. I’d been hanging on to them out of some kind of sentimentality, but after the last few weeks I faced up to the fact that it would be weeks, at best, before I could attend to any problems with either hide. They needed to “belong” to someone who could take care of them.

So today I “put them up for adoption.” The geocaching.com site has a facility for offering ownership of a cache to another user, and I spent two minutes putting Bub’s cache and the Misty Bottom cache up for adoption. They’re not mine anymore, probably for their own good, but it’s still a bit tough to give them up.

It is gratifying to see the number of people who’ve visited both hides, and their comments. Misty Bottom, in particular, is one of my favorite places in all of Amherst, and it’s a lift to read the comments from all the people who went down there to find a box, and found a hidden little natural place as well.

Now Playing: Basement Home by Jesse Malin

Posted by pjm at 9:13 PM | Comments (0)

March 14, 2006

Common wealth

I know I expected to be doing a little reading about the Commonwealth Games.

I can’t say I expected to be reading the blog of an opening ceremonies headliner. I wonder what they’re playing.

Now Playing: Myrrh from Heyday by The Church

Posted by pjm at 2:05 PM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2006

Not a paper person

It’s galling to me to print out a program listing. It somehow feels like regression—like I’m just a step away from punch cards. But the following circumstances have driven me to this desperate end. (Yes, I’m deliberately making this sound dramatic, because the simple fact is that it only matters to me.)

  • The programming project which I struggled with throughout Saturday was extended to Tuesday night. (When I say struggled, I mean, “It segfaulted at 5 PM, and despite my best efforts, it still segfaulted at midnight.”)

  • It is the professor’s opinion that my problem is in addressing memory. This is not really a surprise, since a segfault (as I’ve mentioned before) is when the program tries to read corrupt or out-of-range memory.

  • My level of proficiency in C lags behind my own confidence in my abilities, and this is my weak spot.

So I’m sitting down with a printout (and K&R) and trying to figure out just where I’ve mucked this up.

Now Playing: Red Army Blues from A Pagan Place by The Waterboys

Posted by pjm at 8:47 PM | Comments (3)

March 12, 2006


If you asked about my size, I would tell you I’m “average,” but if you tried shopping for clothes that fit me, you’d decide that I’m scrawny. It seems that men’s pants come in two sizes: too big for me (around the waist) or too short for me. Clothes makers are of the opinion that anyone with legs as long as mine (which is to say, average) must be bigger around the waist than I am. I tend to wind up with pants that fit, but are short.

The solution: Steve, the captain of the Woburn High School track team, who works at Eddie Bauer and has the same problem, but worse, because he’s a hurdler and has a few inches on me in the legs. Steve saw me scowling at the racks and started pulling out pants that might fit me—going by leg length first, then getting the smallest waist in that length. This method actually produced enough trial pairs that I was able to pick ones that I liked rather than ones which merely fit.

Then he asked about my NYCM jacket and we talked track for a little while. Turns out that he was at the Hartford Invitational I watched a few years ago, though I think he ran hurdles and not the two-mile.

Runners: we take care of each other, we do.

Now Playing: Blackout from Dead Air by Heatmiser

Posted by pjm at 10:23 PM | Comments (1)

Useful crack

I’ve made comments before about my belief that Powerpoint slides are like crack for presenters; it seems like everyone who even comments on the ubiquity of .ppt files is complaining about some presenter who just reads from their slides, or the impossibility of reducing everything to bullet points. I have professors who exhibit degrees of reading-from-the-slides-ness, some who build their own presentations following their own outline (which is also printed and handed out to us—I use them to take my notes on,) and others who blithely page through the chapter presentations supplied by the book publisher.

We had a guest lecture in one of my Thursday classes from Mudge, a net.personality who briefly (and understatedly) introduced himself as, “I’m the guy who testified to Congress that I could take down the entire internet in half an hour. Things have improved; it would probably take an hour and a half, now.” I’m paging through the printout of his presentation now. It’s pretty obscure; if you weren’t there for the talk, it’s not easy to see what these diagrams are all about. On the other hand, when you were in the talk, the slides actually did illustrate what he was talking about.

Why am I not surprised that someone who figured out how easy it is to crack Windows passwords would have figured out an effective way to use Powerpoint?

Now Playing: 2053 by Vallejo

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

March 10, 2006

Doing the responsible thing

I called my parents and told them I wasn’t coming home this weekend. I’d hoped I could check off the stuff on my list and pay them a visit this weekend, but as the programming assignment due dates got later (and the programs didn’t get written) it started looking sketchy. For a while I fantasized that I’d log in and finish up from there on Saturday; it wasn’t until I admitted to myself that that was a fantasy that I realized how much I really don’t want to spend the weekend here, working.

I was doing this last weekend, too; I’d hoped to swim a meet Sunday morning at BU, but I realized I needed to get work done more than I needed to swim, so I skipped it. Now I’m hoping that once the press is over—both programs are due Saturday at midnight—that I can spend some Sunday getting ahead on next week. And maybe I can spend a little time on myself—I need to dig up a good pair of sunglasses, and I need some paperbacks to travel with in the next month.

Now Playing: Dream Thrum from Laid by James

Posted by pjm at 7:10 PM | Comments (1)

Read me three times

I’ve reread one of the programming assignments due soon, and realized that I’ve been making it harder than it needs to be.

I’m not sure if I should be relieved, or annoyed with myself for not figuring this out sooner.

Now Playing: Wings from Live at The Paradise Rock Club (Boston, 12-11-04) by Josh Ritter

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

March 9, 2006

Russian for reporters

It’s just a few hours until the IAAF World Indoor Championships starts in Moscow. Remembering how much Spanish I didn’t learn during the ‘99 WCA in Seville, which was largely spent shuttling between the stadium and the media hotel, I thought it might be useful to dredge up the Russian I still remember.

This is all phonetic, because I don’t want to mess with trying to make Cyrillic work, and besides, it’s probably poor grammar to begin with.

  • Vui govoritsyeh po-anglisky? Do I really need to try speaking Russian?
  • Gu-dye nahoditsyeh stadion? Where is the stadium?
  • Poftoritsyeh, pozhalst’? Say that again?
  • Pravilno? You’re kidding me.
  • Molodyets/Molodtsa! Well done! (Male/Female)
  • Kak vui gotovitsyeh? What’s your training been like?
  • Bozhemoi! Two hundred kilometers a week?
  • K’ chortu! That is most impressive.
  • Ya ni ponimayu potomu-schto Russki muzhi ni begaet kak bistro chem Russki zhensheni. What do you think of the idea that intensely nationalistic countries often see domination of women’s athletics as a way to assert their superiority, sometimes even implementing a systematic institutionalized doping program to make sure nobody misses the point?
  • Pivo, pozhalst’. Beer, please.

Now Playing: Avalanche from Whiplash by James

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

March 8, 2006

Checking off the boxes

I finally talked to runner #9 this morning. It turns out that (a) she seldom checks her email, and (b) the phone number I was given was incorrect; there were two numbers transposed. So I left voice mail at the right number last night, she called back this morning, and I re-submitted the article with actual quotes from her. Even though it’s nearly a week late, I got complimented by the editor for my persistence. Will nobody just call me on the fact that I should’ve either started sooner, or just called for help sooner when things weren’t working? I’m not sure what to do about compliments for work I think I could’ve done better.

I have flight information for Fukuoka; there will be a missing day where I spend something like thirty-six clock hours on a plane (combining travel time and time-zone shift,) then a sort of “miracle” flight back where I’ll arrive shortly after departure, thanks to the International Date Line. I have three assignments from U.S. outlets, two magazines and one niche wire service, and I’ll probably be writing for iaaf.org as well, so I expect to dominate U.S. coverage of the event. (Heh.) I wonder if I should be ambitious and contact some local newspapers of U.S. runners—the Daily Camera leaps to mind, but the Gallup Independent might be worth a ping if I decide to go that route. (As long as I’m dreaming, maybe I should contact the NYT, USA Today et al?)

Meanwhile, I’m trying to make sense of this press-credential application form. What’s expected on the line labeled “Media”? (There’s a checkbox later for Print/Photo/Team and yet another for kind of media, Daily/Weekly/Monthly/Agency/Photo/Web, so this line perplexes me. Maybe that’s for my employment? Should I list the University, just to boggle ‘em?) Should I have a press card? Does my TAFWA membership count?

Now Playing: Cinematic from Grand by Erin McKeown

Posted by pjm at 2:17 PM | Comments (0)

March 6, 2006

Easiest interview ever

Mark Plaatjes:

“I have plenty of time,” says Plaatjes. “I have a good partner at the running store, and good employees. My work is fun, it’s not stressful to me. It’s easy when you enjoy what you do. I ask people who come for physical therapy about what they do, and you can tell from the first word if they like what they do. Some people aren’t happy, but they’re scared to move. I love talking to people who enjoy their work.”

I may still clear up some loose ends with my unreachable runner, but Mark was the last of my articles for the marathon program. I talked to eight runners for four articles, and I think I can honestly say I enjoyed talking with all eight of them. I should remind myself of that now and then, because I’m horrible about calling people and I was mentally resisting each call up until I dialed the last digit and heard the ring on the other end.

I’ll probably post the full text of the articles here next month, as we’re closer to the marathon. It will be the rough copy I sent in, not the tight, glossy articles my editor will undoubtedly make from them, but if I’ve done anything like a decent job, they’ll still hold a little spark of the enthusiasm they all had for the race.

Now Playing: True from Concrete Blonde by Concrete Blonde

Posted by pjm at 10:16 PM | Comments (0)

Releasing steam

It’s not quite “official” yet, but it’s more or less agreed. I’ll be covering the 2006 World Cross Country Championships in Fukuoka, Japan on April 1 and 2 for as many of my usual outlets as are interested.

One of my “usual outlets” is actually responsible for the trip; I got email early Saturday from my editor at iaaf.org explaining that they would pay for my flight and hotel if I would make the trip, and also for a few articles. Their explanation makes it sound like a sort of scholarship program: they want to be sure that their events are well-covered, and to that end they’re making sure the media (which is largely freelance, in this sport) can afford to be there. My end of the deal is to essentially sell as many stories about the event as I can reasonably write and file, and I’ve sent out a small fleet of queries (and picked up one assignment already.)

A says that many of the photographers she knows won’t be there, and when I priced out flights I can see why; these will easily be the most expensive (and, at ~22 hours including layovers, longest) flights I take any time soon. It’s distinctly possible that the IAAF is essentially subsidizing coverage of the event, because few outlets are willing to spend the money to send reporters, but even if that’s the case, I’m not going to complain at being the beneficiary; whatever the motivation, it’s a pleasant thought that they picked me out of the pool to do this.

I could probably write a few hundred more words about this, but I have a lot to do—both now, and in the course of the next month—so I’ll fill in some of the blanks later. For now, I just wanted to bubble a little bit.

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

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

March 5, 2006

Panic in translation

It appears I’m going to Japan. This will not come under the “boredom” heading—before, during, or after.

Posted by pjm at 10:07 PM | Comments (0)

Blaming the victims

This article about MBTA refund fraud may explain our remarkably delayed refunds . But something still smells fishy.

If you’re experiencing “a huge jump in the refunds” for delayed service, isn’t it possible—in fact, a simpler hypothesis—that your customers have experienced a huge jump in delayed service? I’m not saying there isn’t fraud, but this does sound an awful lot like “the customer is always wrong and not to be trusted” to me.

The thing that really galls me is that when we were living in the western end of the state, we had the PVTA, and the PVTA was clean, comfortable, and largely on-time. And, if you were on one of the subsidized five-college routes, nearly free. But the PVTA kept cutting routes, because all the state public transit money was going to the MBTA.

Of course, the PVTA is under investigation now. I’m not sure why, but the degree to which this state is capable of bungling public transit boggles my mind. Mass transit doesn’t fail because people don’t use it; it fails because its administrators muck it up.

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

March 3, 2006


The concept of a debugger isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. (“Wow, a program that removes bugs?” thinks the neophyte, “Cool!”) Actually, a debugger is a sort of wrapper program that lets a programmer load their program from within it, then designate arbitrary points within the program (“break points”) where the debugger pauses execution of the program and lets the programmer check out its state. A debugger also tends to make it easy to see where a program failed, even though it won’t always tell you why. These two qualities make debuggers exceptionally useful for figuring out where the problems in your program are, even if it won’t tell you exactly what they are.

As a relative neophyte in C, I’ve become a great fan of gdb, the GNU Debugger, which is pretty useful for nearly anything compiled with gcc (the GNU Compiler Collection.) Debuggers are particularly useful for finding segfaults in C, which is my favorite way of making a program crash. A segmentation fault, put baldly, is a program trying to read data from out of bounds; trying to access the eleventh element of a ten-element array would be a good example. However, gdb can’t help with my current problems.

  • A project for MPOW, written in Perl, and not just Perl but ActiveState Perl, a Windows variant. I’ve always been bewildered by the standard Perl debugger; ActiveState’s debugger itself I’ve never touched.

  • Parallel programming, this MPI stuff I keep yakking about, is beyond the reach of gdb. How do you debug a program running on two different systems? How about one running on twelve? How about forty? Did they all crash? If not, which ones? Did they crash for the same reason? Which memory, exactly, were they accessing? LAM/MPI ships a debugger called “TotalView,” but it breaks in so many different environments (for example, if shared libraries are not enabled, which is often,) that I’ve yet to actually find it installed and working anywhere.

All of this, of course, is in the grad school spirit of opening doors to new and wonderful worlds which I have absolutely no time to explore. I wonder how many hackers out there are devoting their coding hours to building better debuggers?

Now Playing: Luther’s Got The Blues from I’m a Mountain by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 7:50 PM | Comments (0)

Dead lined

Now is about the time I figured that the Week from Hell would be over. Except it’s not, depriving me of any sense of satisfaction I might have gained from having survived.

  • I managed to complete and hand in three of four assignments due in this week’s classes. The fourth was handed in… but the second of the two programs segfaults on execution, which means I might as well not have bothered. (More on this later.)

  • I’ve been desperately contacting nine runners all week for four articles I was assigned for the Boston Marathon race program. I have made contact with seven. #8 has not responded to three e-mail messages; the phone number I have for her has been busy every time I call. I’m not sure what my next step is; it seems like I’m perilously close to the line between tenacity and harassment. #9 hasn’t responded to email; tonight I start cold-calling. Those two are blocking two different articles; all four were expected by today. One of the two remaining ones is 90% written and waiting for actual quotes from #8; if I can’t reach her tonight, I’m sending it in without. Then, of course, she’ll see it in the program and wonder why she wasn’t contacted, not remembering all those emails she ignored back in February/March.

  • I’ve spent all of this afternoon clearing up my grading backlog. However, I’m now left with one remaining day of the week and a lot of hours yet to work for MPOW. I would be alarmed by this, but this is the third consecutive week where this has been the case, so instead I’m simply dejected that it has become status quo.

Now Playing: Alfred Hitchcock from Abigail by The Nields

Posted by pjm at 5:34 PM | Comments (2)