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May 31, 2006

Redeemed by irony

My math professor turned up this morning in a “Math is Hard” T-shirt.

I am rendered speechless by the many levels on which this is awesome.

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

Renaissance fan

I am a distance-running fan; those are the events where I know the athletes and their abilities, and can revel in the myriad tactics of the races. But sprinters are seductive in their energy and attitude, and I can appreciate a good short race when I see one.

Five years ago, for example, I missed my five-year college reunion because I was at the NCAA championships in Eugene, Oregon. Two interesting things happened at that meet which I didn’t think much of until later.

  • The Flyin’ Frogs of TCU, a sprint-heavy corps, missed their big chance for a national championship when their star false-started in the 200m. In the NCAA, false starts are an instant disqualification with no warnings, so TCU got zero points—had he run, and finished last, he would at least have scored one; Tennessee ended up winning the meet in the relay. The false-starter: 2003 World Champion at 100m, Kim Collins.

  • Collins’ DQ opened the door for a 100m/200m double by a young Tennessee freshman named Justin Gatlin, who won the same double last year at the Helsinki World Championships. Gatlin tied the World Record for 100m a few weeks ago, and he will be running in New York on Saturday… during my ten-year college reunion.

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

Posted by pjm at 8:46 AM | Comments (0)

May 30, 2006

Early summer scents

All weekend, the air in this residential neighborhood smelled like lighter fluid and charcoal briquets.

Tonight, I dragged out the baby Weber that’s been with me, unused, through the last three moves (two apartments without lawns,) and fired it up for what may have been just the second or third time since I moved back to New England. While I waited for the coals to be ready to cook, I breathed in the scent and reminisced. (I’m getting good at that. I’m practicing to be old, I guess.)

In the house where I lived with W and Z, we grilled a lot. W was stereotypical carnivore, but some time after he moved out, Z fell off the vegetarian wagon in a big way, and we would grill three or four nights a week. We had some basic plastic furniture and a low-end hammock set up on the concrete apron behind the house, and we’d sit around the baby Weber with our supplies, watching the coals in the chimney-starter get pumpkin-red before we dumped them in and started cooking: burgers, pork chops, fish, corn on the cob, whatever came to mind.

I’d sit sideways in the hammock with a beer and dinner, and afterwards we’d skewer marshmallows on bamboo kebab-skewers and toast them over the remaining coals as the neighborhood got dark. We’d discuss our plans to get out of our jobs and that house, our relationships or lacks thereof, and whether the lawn needed mowing. (One blistering summer, it never did; the only moisture it got was when I discovered that our six-pack of Catamount was skunked, and split it between the lawn and my garden plot.)

We hosted one party involving half-liter bottles of Hacker-Pschorr (my, was that ever good beer,) party food from the grill, and marshmallows; I remember the then-editor of Men’s Health idly burning skewers with no marshmallows like cigarettes he couldn’t smoke.

At this remove (by this time five years ago, I had already interviewed for my next job,) there’s a pretty high tinge of nostalgia going there, but there’s nothing wrong with remembering the past fondly as long as you don’t prefer it to the present. Tonight was a good dinner, even though I don’t have any marshmallows in the house.

Now Playing: The Day I Let Glory Steer from This Town Is Wrong by Nerissa & Katryna Nields

Posted by pjm at 8:08 PM | Comments (0)

May 29, 2006

A new star

For a long time, I could always count on one or two lines in my referrer log from people linking to the shot of Iz wrapping a present.

In the last few days, for reasons I really can’t understand, that one has been overtaken by the cat on the roof shot.

The internet works in mysterious ways.

Now Playing: Your Redneck Past from The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner by Ben Folds Five

Posted by pjm at 2:29 PM | Comments (0)

May 28, 2006

It's honestly not worth getting the car out

I decided to take my bike down to a dinner with a bunch of other grad students last night, rather than driving. This might have been a poor choice in at least one direction (I supplied the beer, and might not have had enough pressure in my rear tire to support that much glass and liquid in the carriers,) but I realized it was the right choice on the way back.

I’m a relatively “good” night rider, since I have a nice bright headlight and eye-catching blinky red taillight and am therefore not invisible. In Cambridge, however, cars are simply at a disadvantage. One couple, which lives just on the other side of the University from me, left at the same time I did. I got a minute or two head start, for some reason, but that was sufficient for me to stay ahead of them as far as Harvard; from there, we leapfrogged from stop-light to stop-light as far as Porter Square. Odds are pretty good that I got home as quickly as they did.

Now, there’s no way I’m riding up to Maine for a weekend, or out to the airport, or various other trips which require some level of cargo-carrying, but for the short trips “in town,” it’s pretty clear to me now that I’m actually going to get there faster on the bike than by car—I spend less time waiting at lights, I’m less-often routed out of my way by one-way streets, and I don’t have to find parking at my destination, just something to lock to.

(Can you tell I should really be doing homework?)

Now Playing: Around This Corner from You Were Here by Sarah Harmer

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

Posts I have mostly-written, or simply considered, but decided, for one reason or another, not to post, in the last few months

  • A run-down of my recent attempts at car repair.
  • Inordinately adorable photos of my nieces in their new Asian outfits
  • The apartment “cat detector”
  • Why buying a new pair of running shoes is best accomplished as part of a run
  • I’ve learned a lot about writing and compiling C
  • Complaining about the car alarms of people who don’t even live in this neighborhood
  • The utter lack of music stores in this end of Medford/Somerville/Cambridge
  • The things that spur Comp 11 students to take an interest in their grades
  • My differences of opinion with the IRS
  • Flying into Logan at night (vs. other “home” airports)
  • How a large fraction of this site’s traffic comes from searches finding stuff I’ve already written (and why, therefore, I needn’t write anything new)

Now Playing: No Thugs In Our House from English Settlement by XTC

Posted by pjm at 12:52 PM | Comments (0)

May 26, 2006

If you write it, they will come

And to top it off, I’ve been approached by the Albany Times Union for some research work on their preview for Freihofer’s. They said they got my name from here, so I wonder if they’ve seen my reaction to last year’s race? (It would seem they intuitively guessed my opinion on pitching freelance work.)

Update: Turns out I was second string for the Times Union job, and the first string came through right after they asked me. Ah, well—that may improve my Comp 170 grade.

Now Playing: Within Your Reach from Hootenanny by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 6:56 PM | Comments (0)

Once more, with complications

I moved running-blogs.com again this week. For various reasons to do with server software versions, the new web host wasn’t working, and A’s blogs needed to return to their original host, albeit with the new domain name.

One of the catches here was that in the previous move, we were going from one established (by which I mean, DNS pointing to the appropriate host) domain to another. This time, I was moving from an established domain to one which was not established. This isn’t difficult by itself; there are plenty of ways to move files, and I did spend a good chunk of time synchronizing files between the two hosts.

More problematic was shifting the database. To begin with, I could only access the database at the target host after I’d shifted the DNS. (I had to create a new database, rather than refreshing the old one, due to the domain name change.) This introduced a lag into the transition, which was troublesome but not a crisis; since the sending host was already effectively unusable, having the target host unusable as well wasn’t the end of the world.

The bigger issue was the upper limit on the size of import files to the new database. This host sets a 10MB limit on the size of files which can be imported into its databases; the export file from the running-blogs.com database is on the order of twice that. I tried breaking it into smaller files, with little success; I got the table structure, but large numbers of entries and comments weren’t imported.

Finally, I tried running the export table by table, with one file for each table, and running the import in the same way. The mt_entries table, which holds the actual text of each blog entry, was still prohibitively large (12MB,) so I broke it into two pieces. It still took some time to import; I also spent a chunk of time combing through the files with grep to find links to the old domain and update them. (I didn’t change all of them, since the domain is still in use, but I changed quite a few.)

Once I was satisfied with the database import, I went through and “rebuilt” each blog, which is simple but tedious. I also discovered one thing I should’ve corrected in the database file: the absolute path of the weblog root and the archives is stowed in the database, and when you shift from one host to another, that changes. I’m manually changing it, blog by blog, before the rebuild.

During the course of this, my laptop again began to get significantly hot. This time, I went to the freezer and got out a bag of dried something (corn? peas?) used for icing balky joints, and put the laptop on it. So far, this has helped significantly.

Now Playing: Window from Inarticulate Nature Boy by Josh Clayton-Felt

Posted by pjm at 6:09 PM | Comments (3)

May 24, 2006


Today was the start of the summer session. I’m in a math course being taught by a professor with a CS degree, and a CS course being taught by a professor with a math degree. I think this means trouble.

Posted by pjm at 10:00 PM | Comments (0)

May 23, 2006

Backup technology

Car audio has done some evolving in my lifetime.

For the longest time, I simply counted on having a tape player in the car, and I littered the car with cassettes. When I shifted my music purchasing to CDs, I taped the CDs for the car. In my first car, the cassette deck was bolted below the dashboard, and though it supposedly managed auto-reverse, in one direction it would only play the left-side stereo channel, so I turned the tapes over anyway. I cultivated the ability to pop out the tape, flip it one-handed (I think I slapped it against my knee to change my grip,) and re-insert it.

At some point after college, I obtained a portable CD player and a cassette adapter, which finally rendered cassettes obsolete. Still later came the iPod, of course, which conveniently plugs into the same cassette adapters. The cassette player is now simply a plug for input from whatever portable audio I bring along, and a while ago I finally purged the car of all but eight or ten holdout cassettes.

The problem with this arrangement is if my trip isn’t enough to justify hauling out a player, plugging it in, and listening. When I commuted to work, I listened to NPR, but I’m not on such a schedule nowadays, and radio around here, while sometimes interesting, is often not.

So sometimes I dig into the armrest where the fossilized cassettes live, mostly mix tapes from the previous decade. This weekend I found that one of them was a motley collection of Steely Dan tracks taped from my mother’s collection. (Oh, definitely cool.)

And, midway through one side, I heard the unmistakable sound of a needle being placed on vinyl. (Aja, I believe.) Now that’s something I hadn’t heard in a long time. Particularly not in the car. A cassette tape recording of a vinyl LP.

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

Posted by pjm at 12:41 PM | Comments (2)

May 22, 2006

Phone spam

Unidentified caller: Is Mr. [A’s family name] there?
Me: There’s a [AFN] here, but no Mr. [AFN].
U.C.: How about Mrs. [AFN]?
Me: No, none of those, either.
U.C.: Well, look, I’m from R&J Painters. Do you need any outdoor painting done?
Me: We don’t own the house.
U.C.: Well, why not? Buy, dammit, buy!

Then he hung up. I think this is the first time a telemarketer has ever hung up on me instead of vice versa.

[Ed. Note: I could be mis-remembering the company name.]

Posted by pjm at 6:49 PM | Comments (2)

Accurate estimates

Yesterday involved a birthday-present-opening session for my younger niece, and I gave her and her older sister some presents I bought for them in Japan.

I knew the girls like dressing up, so I wanted to find something pretty and dressy for them. I wound up at an import shop near the hotel with some Chinese embroidered-silk outfits. The problem was, how would I find something that fit?

Like many people in Japan, the shopkeeper had a few words of English, so I was able to explain the issue: brother’s daughters. Ages. Then I estimated heights with my hands. She thought the one in my hands would do for the older one; then she found a smaller outfit for the younger one. I crossed my fingers and put down my credit card: there would be no returns if I blew the sizing.

Yesterday, they wanted to put them on at once, and sure enough, it all fits, and a bit large, fortunately. (Better to be too large than too small.) I’m not sure they necessarily have the respect for nice clothes they’ll need to take good care of these, (I visualize grass and food stains,) but maybe their parents will keep an eye on them. I’m just pleased that I guessed their sizes more-or-less correctly.

Posted by pjm at 12:38 PM | Comments (0)

May 20, 2006

At least it didn't explode

My brother and I, with some unfocused help from his daughters, set out to build the water rocket this afternoon. Unfortunately, it didn’t fly, but I take comfort in the fact that the diagnosed problem was one even the pros have suffered from: an O-ring issue. Because we had trouble sealing the neck of the bottle on the launcher, we couldn’t pressurize the launch vehicle before all the fuel leaked out.

Had this been the Simpsons, the rocket would have burst into flames at this point, but fortunately we avoided that outcome.

However, we did also find a handful of grass in the launcher tube. Upon questioning, the older daughter admitted that she thought it would be a good idea. Why, of course, she couldn’t explain.

Posted by pjm at 9:39 PM | Comments (0)

May 19, 2006

Being watched

A (and others) think I attribute overly-sophisticated or human thoughts and motives to Iz sometimes. It’s quite possible that I do; his behavior is simple enough to fit a wide variety of interpretations, and his manner sufficiently inscrutable (perhaps it’s because he doesn’t speak English) that he implies some unspoken motives.

All the same, we’re his entire social group. He has times when he wants to be by himself, of course, particularly when he’s patrolling the upstairs windows against the neighborhood pigeons. (You can’t trust those pigeons.) But there are other times when he stays close by—if we’re in different rooms, he’ll stake out a spot in between us.

Nobody believes me when I say this, but when A is away, he demands more attention from me. Last night, he was prowling around my office maiowing—he didn’t want me to scratch behind his ears, he didn’t want dinner, he just wanted to be the center of attention.

Or so I figure.

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

May 18, 2006

Note to Powerbook owners

I’m probably not the only Powerbook owner in the world who’s lost one of the four rubber “feet” on the bottom of the machine. It’s a little thing, but hugely annoying at times. Because I lost the one attached to the battery, under the right front corner, when I try to work on any kind of flat surface, because the machine rocks back and forth depending on whether I have my right hand resting on the Powerbook or not.

I took it to our local Apple store back in the fall, but they didn’t have any spare “feet” to offer. I learned that I could work tolerably well by sticking a coin under the corner: nickels, T tokens, and one-yen coins are all exactly the right thickness (though the yen are the least expensive to forget when I stand up, if you ignore the import costs.)

I also did some web research, and discovered there’s a cheap fix for this. Tonight I remembered to grab a package of the things at Staples, and sure enough, I now have a non-rocking Powerbook. So even though his machine is (apparently) a TiBook, the process still works with 12” Aluminum models.

(Yeah, I saw the new MacBooks. Yeah, they look interesting, but I’m quite fond of this 12” size. I should buy a new machine while I can still get a student discount, so that gives me not-quite a year to get used to the idea of a larger, heavier (but faster!) computer. And that awful name.)

Now Playing: One Cigarette by Jim Bryson

Posted by pjm at 10:51 PM | Comments (0)

May 17, 2006

One guy and a hot laptop

There’s a moving company in Amherst that goes by the name, “Four Guys & A Big Truck.” They have more than one truck now, and I suspect more than four guys (though there’s always some daydreaming about a complicated scheduling scheme, like the Greek theater three-actors-on-stage rule, which prevents more than four guys working at once.) The point is, they specialize in household moving.

Tonight, I picked up A’s blogs and moved them from one domain and one web host to another domain on another host. It took a bit more than three hours, all around. Here’s how it played out:

  • We had the new domain already running on the new host. I installed Movable Type there this afternoon.

  • I did a “dump” of the MySQL database from the old host. The “dump file” is a lengthy string of SQL commands needed to recreate the database on another server; it weighed in at 38MB, but downloaded surprisingly quickly.

  • I then imported that dump file at the new host. If I was doing this on machines I’d set up myself, I’d be using the command line mysqldump and then using the dumpfile as stdin for a mysql run, but in this case I used the provided phpMySQL, which may have slowed things down a bit. At any rate, this process is slow: something on the order of half an hour.

  • Meanwhile, I slowed it down even more by going through the old directory tree via FTP and downloading all the files which wouldn’t be part of the database download: graphics files, generally, but occasional static HTML files as well. I created empty directories for each blog on the new server and started uploading these extra files into those directories.

About midway through this process, I realized it would be faster if I jacked an ethernet cable directly into the network rather than using the wireless, and sure enough, things picked up at that point. With two FTP processes running, plus the MySQL import, my machine was getting downright hot, not because it was doing a lot of computing, but because it was squeezing a lot of data through the network stack. Isn’t it Boyle’s law which explains how compressed data is warmer than uncompressed data?

  • Once the database and all the files were uploaded, we were able to log in to MT (with all user logins and passwords intact!) and simply issue a “rebuild site” command for each blog to regenerate the main pages, archives, etc. Some of these took longer than others, but once they were done, we had working weblogs on the new server.

  • At this point, I dropped an .htaccess file on the old server with a block of mod_rewrite directives which send any traffic headed for the old site to the correct new address. Result: no broken links.

  • Then I spent some time checking to make sure everything more-or-less worked, comments were going through, and I’d found most of the non-database pages.

I think that’s the fastest address change I’ve ever been involved in.

Update 5/18: Bonus: because the mod_rewrite block causes the old server to return a “301 Moved Permanently” error along with the new URL, NetNewsWire has automagically changed my subscriptions. I’m betting Bloglines does the same.

Posted by pjm at 10:42 PM | Comments (1)

May 16, 2006

That gooey stuff in the middle

It’s common in the computer field to get two levels of answer to a question about how something works. One level is the extreme close-up, where the explainer starts talking about ones and zeroes, logic gates, instruction pointers and memory registers. The other level is the ultimately abstracted, either the pure pseudo-code of algorithms and theory or the follow-these-steps-and-don’t-ask-questions how-to guide. I find both of these answers ultimately unsatisfying, because I still want to know what’s in the middle. I can boil pseudo-code down into C if I need to (now), but even C is still abstracted to a pretty high degree. As an undergraduate I took a hardware-architecture course which explained the low-level stuff, and I believe I wrote assembly code to print out a perpetual calendar, but that’s not much of an answer, either; it’s like waving your hands around in a Home Depot and saying, “Yep, everything you need to build a house, it’s all in here.” You still don’t know how to build a house; you just know where all the tools are.

The Parallel Computing course I took this past semester was a bit like that. The textbook spends some time early in the course explaining some of the architecture issues, essentially pointing out that splitting up a program among multiple processes usually also requires the processes to communicate with each other, and that there are a lot of different approaches to this problem. Then there was this quick hand-wavy transition where it was announced that the MPI library would allow us to write programs which handle all this interprocess communication, and then poof, no more discussion, just MPI functions.

I suppose this is fine, if you’re a programmer, but two of my current projects for MPOW involve installing various permutations of the MPI libraries (it turns out that you can pick your MPI—we’re working mostly with LAM-MPI but that’s becoming OpenMPI, which is also what Xgrid plays most nicely with.)

(An aside for non-programmers: “Libraries” of code are files of generic functions which programmers can call in order to avoid reprogramming a certain operation. If you “include” a library in your program, you gain access to all those functions. For example, I could rewrite a function to calculate the square root of a number, but it’s about a thousand times easier to include the C math library and use the sqrt() function it provides.

The MPI libraries, then, are “simply” a large quantity of pre-written code which handles all the interprocess communications issues of parallel computing. There are multiple versions of the MPI libraries because MPI itself (which stands for “Message Passing Interface,” by the way,) is only a standard, and there are many differing ways to write code which meets the standard.)

More so than most other libraries, MPI has to wrangle with a lot of system-specific issues. How on earth, for example, does the same MPI library deal with both our research cluster and an Xgrid cluster? It seems like the development team is actually grappling with those questions, judging from the mailing-list archives I find on my Xgrid research searches.

I feel like there’s a lot of cool stuff going on in that gap between the close-up view and the big abstraction, and it makes me curious.

Posted by pjm at 2:33 PM | Comments (0)

May 15, 2006

Clearing decks

Much as I agree with this list, once you cross all those things off the list, there’s not much left to write about.

I have been using some of my post-semester time to catch up on things I put off, like cleaning (I had boxes left over from the move in my office) and organizing (I’m still finding people I need to send change-of-address letters to, even though current betting has me doing it all over again a bit more than a year from now.)

Last October, the state set some records for rainfall, and apparently we’re threatening them again. We’ve had, off and on, a lake in the park across the street, and the requisite seagulls to go with it. Still, the massive lights for the late softball games come on every night, apparently on a timer. In the rain and fog, they look somehow surreal. I was trying to figure out what it reminded me of, and all I could come up with was a track meet after the last event, when the spectators have gone but the officials, press, and some of the athletes are still finishing up their work. It has that atmosphere, but unlike the track meets, there’s absolutely nobody out there.

Now Playing: Munich by Editors

Posted by pjm at 10:45 PM | Comments (0)

May 14, 2006

Summer plan

I am so making one of these this summer.

Posted by pjm at 5:12 PM | Comments (0)

May 13, 2006


The CS department is sufficiently removed from the main campus that we get more than a little detached from the ebb and flow of the university. Some of my GA work, though, requires me to visit campus and use what I dubbed the “top-secret lab” in the basement of one of the dorms. I went by today, and even the incessant rain hasn’t reduced the traffic. Yesterday was one of the last days of exams; all the undergraduates except seniors and a subset of athletes are now headed home. Since many seniors live off-campus, this means the dorms are emptying out, and there’s a gridlock of SUVs, small vans, and other cargo-haulers in the residential sections.

I barely know any of them, only the ones who were in my labs, but I know what it’s like to close the door on an apartment for the last time. I think you have to be young to do that every year for four years; I don’t think I could bear it, now. Even without the rain, I think it would have a tinge of sadness to it.

Then again, I didn’t spend the last eight months in one of those cramped concrete caves. Perhaps if I had, I’d be seeing a taste of relief in all the activity as well.

Now Playing: Crashin’ In from The Charlatans by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 2:37 PM | Comments (0)

May 12, 2006

Deer Park vs. Safari

Back in January, I switched my default browser again. I’ve gone back and forth between Camino and Safari in the past, and sometimes flirted with Firefox. I’ve been intrigued by the architecture-specific builds of Firefox, the so-called “G4-optimized” versions, so I finally tracked down and installed Deer Park. Then the semester started, and I never went to the trouble of wrapping up the experiment and switching back; I’ve been using Deer Park for months now.

Deer Park is so called because it’s not an official QA’d build distributed by the Mozilla Foundation; it’s an exercise of open-source rights, the product of a few determined people downloading the Firefox source code and building it. (Why? Because MoFo, preaching the message of simplicity and evangelism, has to produce a single Firefox binary which works on all Macs. But there are G3s, G4s, and G5s out there, as well as a growing number of Intel Core Duos, and it’s potentially possible to make a lighter and faster browser by compiling binaries specifically for each architecture.) There’s some identity issues as a result; for example, the browser identifies itself as “Firefox” in my menu bar, but as Deer Park in the dock.

Last time I played with Firefox, I was left with three problems which kept me from making it my full-time browser:

  • No go-away button on the tabs. I like that in Safari and Camino.
  • No keyboard shortcut for “go to home page.”
  • Windows-like form widgets, not Mac OS Aqua widgets.

The Deer Park build I installed offered a choice of builds with Firefox widgets or Aqua widgets! I cheerfully grabbed the Aqua-widgets version and checked that item off the list. I’m not sure if it’s actually faster than the MoFo build (or, for that matter, Camino,) but it solves this problem, so it’s worth the custom build. Then, I found and installed the TabX extension and checked the “go-away button” problem off my list.

Keyboard commands remain an issue, and there’s a bug in Bugzilla for them. The problem, as I see it, is that on the Mac, splat-shift-H means “Home.” That’s the case in the Finder, Safari, Camino, and nearly any other application with the concept of a “home” state. In Firefox—and, importantly, on Firefox on Windows—that key combination opens the history. It turns out that many Firefox developers think it’s more important to be consistent between Mac and Windows within Firefox than to have Firefox be consistent with other Macintosh apps; I’m not sure I agree with the reasoning, but there it is. Another key combination that’s missing is one to allow users to cycle left or right through their tabs; in Safari, splat-[ and splat-] do this. This is still an annoyance to me, to have to go to the mouse or trackpad when I’m used to doing nearly everything with the keyboard. I’m slowly getting used to alt-Home as the “go to home page” key combination, but it’s even harder when I’m using the Powerbook keyboard (where “Home” is mapped to the left-arrow key) because I need to do fn-alt-left instead; I can’t train my fingers to both combinations.

I wound up discovering a few more annoyances along the way. For one thing, Safari allows you to designate a helper app for RSS URLs, and I liked being able to click the “RSS” or “ATOM” buttons and have them plopped right into NetNewsWire. Firefox, and consequently Deer Park, want to handle the feeds themselves. I haven’t figured out a way around that yet, so I’m back to click-copy-paste. I had a similar issue with del.icio.us integration; Cocoalicious would grab URLs directly from Safari, but not Deer Park. I worked around that in a way I hadn’t expected: I installed an extension which added that function to the contextual menu, so I can just right-click (ctrl-click) on a page and post; I don’t even need Cocoalicious anymore.

Which leads me to the last point, the one which may override all the other annoyances: Firefox extensions work just fine. Aside from the two I’ve already mentioned, I also put in the BugMeNot extension and ForecastFox, most notably. I skimmed Julie’s list for recommendations, and while they don’t always make up for the remaining annoyances, they’ll be hard to give up if I do go back to Safari.

Now Playing: The Time Being from Somewhere Else by The Church

Posted by pjm at 6:50 PM | Comments (2)

May 11, 2006

It's over

Unlike last semester, I have more of a sinking feeling about this one. The last exam, just a few hours ago, felt like a disaster; of the four questions, there were two I was able to answer thoroughly and relatively easily, one I had to fluff a bit, and… one total train wreck. It was all some level of math I don’t know, differential equations and linear something-or-other.

Anyway, it’s done now. Time to get back to all the stuff I’ve been neglecting since I got back from Japan.

Posted by pjm at 5:47 PM | Comments (0)

May 10, 2006

Tunnels, lights, etc.

As of this evening, I have finished two of my three classes, and I’ve completed my TA duties. I have one more exam, tomorrow afternoon, and then I’m done with the first year.

I have plenty of work to do, of course; for one thing, I’m behind on my GA work, and it lasts through the summer.

I think I’ve saved at least one of the two courses I was concerned about. The other one is still an open question. We had four programming assignments, including seven distinct executables. Before this weekend, I had one good assignment and two executables working to spec; on Monday, I had three good assignments and six executables. The seventh one works, in the sense that it compiles and sometimes runs without crashing, but at some point I figured out that my problem wasn’t the programming. It was that I didn’t understand the problem.

I don’t know how much grade I’ve saved; in fact, I’m not really sure how much I might have been behind. Talking with other students today, it’s beginning to look like we’re not really clear on what material is even going to be on the exam; the professor said, “The second half of the course,” but most of the concepts came in the first half; the second half was application.

As I always tell myself, by this time tomorrow, it will be over, no matter how it happens.

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

May 9, 2006

Status check

I have reached the stage of Finals in which I become paranoid. Is that exam actually when I think it is? I am convinced I will show up at an empty room, the exam having been held two days previous.

Now Playing: Helicopter from Drums And Wires by XTC

Posted by pjm at 11:05 PM | Comments (0)

May 7, 2006


Here are all the things happening in the weekend after Memorial Day, which I might have some interest in attending:

  • The Reebok Grand Prix, in New York City, which I’ve been invited to cover again for iaaf.org.

  • My 10th reunion at the College.

  • The Freihofer’s Run for Women, in Albany.

  • The road race my parents have directed, in Maine, which I have (so far) never attended. My nieces are campaigning to run the Kids K, and the call has gone out for patient escorts willing to make sure they make it around.

If only they were more spread out.

Update, 5/14/06: And,

Now Playing: Hard Way To Fall from Jacksonville City Nights by Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

Posted by pjm at 10:47 PM | Comments (0)

May 6, 2006

Now accepting conspiracy theories

I’m in Amherst for the weekend, despite aforementioned quantities of C to be written. I had hoped to have spent five or six hours, by now, holed up in the College library hacking away. I’ve actually managed about two hours of work, and not at the library.

It turns out that, while the library allows guest registration to its wireless network, it’s pretty tight about what kind of traffic is allowed in and out. HTTP and HTTPS traffic, no problem. Retrieving POP and IMAP mail, no problem. Sending mail with SMTP, with or without SSL, no dice. And, the deal-breaker from my point of view, no SSH connections to my University accounts.

I can understand filtering outbound SMTP aggressively; that’s a legitimate anti-spam, anti-malware-contagion step for an open network. But SSH? Almost by definition, an SSH user is making an encrypted connection to a remote system; most likely they’re a registered user there, but either way, they’re not causing trouble for your network. What’s the sense in blocking them?

I went to the local public library and found the same network situation. Ironically, the only place (other than the private network I’m now on) where I was able to get connected was the bakery/coffeeshop where I had lunch.

Any ideas about why you’d filter SSH on a public network? Are those brute-force SSHd attacks still around?

Now Playing: You Dirty Rat from Sister by Letters To Cleo

Posted by pjm at 4:35 PM | Comments (1)

May 5, 2006

Math is hard

I’m signing up for a second summer course. But not really.

I have an extraordinarily weak math background for a CS student. If I’d been an undergrad major, I would’ve been required to take Calculus I and II, Discrete Math, and something else “numbered XX or greater.” I’m not sure what that would’ve been; I didn’t get far enough to figure it out, stopped cold at Calc I. (Old math joke: Look both ways, lean in close, and whisper, “I’m taking Discreet Math.”)

I’ve cleared up my calculus issues (four years ago, so it’s hardly fresh,) but I haven’t had the chance to take anything more. What I’m missing appears to depend on who I talk to. Everyone agrees I need Discrete; after that, there’s Probability and Statistics (distinct courses taught in consecutive semesters, here,) and maybe Linear Algebra and/or Differential Equations, depending on what I’m concentrating on.

I can’t get graduate credit for Discrete; it’s numbered too low. So I’m registering to audit it this summer. This might be a mistake; I might be signing away any hope of free time this summer. But it might put me on my way to understanding more of the theory sections of my classes, and let’s face it, the only reason I don’t like theory is that I don’t understand it. I’m not bad at math—I just haven’t learned enough of it.

Now stop whispering, “Old dog: new tricks,” will you?

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

Posted by pjm at 10:01 AM | Comments (2)

May 4, 2006

Temporary stay

The next four or five days will be spent living in C.

I have a final programming project (for Prof. β) due on Monday; that’s in C, and I’ve started roughing it out today. That’s the top priority.

Close second, though, is that the professor for my parallel computing class has re-opened grading on all previous programming assignments—three assignments and six programs, if I’m counting. Of those six programs, precisely one of my previous efforts works to spec. Most of the others are in the state where they work fine on one processor, but blow up when they’re run on multiple processors. (I think at least two of them don’t work particularly well on one processor because I spent so much time trying to make the first part of the assignment work on several.)

Undergraduates worry about failing courses, or about their GPA. Graduate students don’t worry about failing; we worry about getting credit. If I get a sufficiently low grade, I don’t get credit for taking the course. That’s annoying enough considering the time I’ve put into it, but more frustrating is that I’ve carried a full load all this year (and into the summer) largely in order to earn myself some breathing room for next year. Blowing a class would be an unpleasant setback, and this re-submission opportunity could be my chance to save this course.

So I’m returning to some of this semester’s disasters. Let’s see if I’ve learned anything.

Now Playing: A Pagan Place from The Essential Waterboys by The Waterboys

Posted by pjm at 4:05 PM | Comments (0)

May 2, 2006


When I was a high school runner, with no sense of tactics or proper training, I managed to squeak in to the state championship 800m race. I was the 12th and last seed with some silly time like 2:07. (That kind of time wouldn’t make it to States nowadays, but this was in the pre-Webb era.) On a sunny spring Saturday in Bangor, about this time of year, I ran a race I shouldn’t have been capable of and stole 6th, the last scoring place, in 2:02.4, which is still my PR for the distance even though I ran 55 for 400m twice the following year[0]. Mine turned out to be the only point my team scored that year.

When I got home, I had to call my coach (no cell phones, of course, so I couldn’t call from the track,) and tell him how the race had gone. He was the head cross country coach but only an assistant for track, because the head coach didn’t really “get” distance runners. He missed both my regionals race and the state meet because his wife was expecting their first baby “any day now.”

Today, my mother pointed out that his daughter is now a high school freshman. Next year, my 800m PR will be old enough to drive.

Now I feel old and slow.

[0] 55 might have been a competitive time for our in-conference quad meets, but it wasn’t going to get me anywhere state-wide. I went back to the 800 and got a better place (4th) with a slightly slower time; one of the underclassmen who finished in front of me went on to be a 1500m finalist at the ‘96 Olympic Trials. It seems odd that a 55 wouldn’t be competitive, but so few 800m runners were in the sub-2 range; I’m forced to conclude that the 800m was a “soft” event. Most likely the 400m runners didn’t want to run that far, and the field was made up of the few milers willing to hurt that much.

Posted by pjm at 8:41 AM | Comments (3)

May 1, 2006


I’m pretty sure I was recruited today.

That is, a specific professor—the one who taught the only class I feel like I’ve done well in, out of three this semester—flagged me down in the hall and specifically asked me to take her 200-level class in the fall, specifically for the purpose of figuring out if I could be useful to her research. (She didn’t put it quite that baldly, but she also hasn’t completely cracked my shell of cynicism yet.)

(Now would probably be a good time to tag on a pseudonym: let’s call her Prof. β, which is logical for more reasons than I’ll go into here.)

Unfortunately, I’m well past the satisfaction of the final exam grade from her class, and wallowing in the pure frustration of two other classes where I haven’t been able to do anything right since before spring break. When I talked with Prof. β, I was far from my sharpest, and I suspect she walked away from the conversation wondering why, exactly, she’d thought I might be worth recruiting. I was confused, stammering, and not really contributing much to the conversation—I suppose I wasn’t really feeling worth recruiting, either.

I’m not sure this is necessarily a good match. The area she’s steering me towards is not one I’ve seriously considered before; it’s likely to tax my (sorely deficient) math skills and grasp of theory. On the other hand, if I can wrap my head around it, it could be wicked cool.

I should probably write an email apologizing for my inarticulateness and at least register for the class.

Either way, this does provide some evidence that I may not be paranoid.

Now Playing: Better Things from End Of The Summer by Dar Williams

Posted by pjm at 9:43 PM | Comments (1)

Virtual community

I’ve half-written posts on this topic before. Can’t really express it well, but thinking about it more doesn’t seem to get me anywhere, either, so maybe you can see if this explains what I’m getting at?

Joan paid me a nice compliment a few days ago, including me in a very short list of daily reads. I’m more interested in the context, though, because it hits pretty close to a sort of personality split I’ve had over this site ever since I started it.

Like most bloggers, I have favorite sites I visit every day (…list…) which creates a feeling of community (in my mind only, perhaps… uh, that’s a little scary if you think about it—not unlike hearing “voices”).

I think this is the common theme: that we’re posting a few words on a regular basis in the hope of contributing to some kind of community. The weirdest part is that we probably don’t know to what degree we’re successful. I had no idea Joan checks in here, though it’s not surprising; I can probably name four or five people I’m pretty sure are reading a given post, but there are probably three times as many I don’t know—won’t ever know, in fact.

Now, we tie in two more ideas: Ralph’s comparison of weblogs (which he calls “Blogistan,”) with the old watering holes of Usenet. (If you don’t remember Usenet, don’t worry.) Grossly oversimplified, Ralph’s point is that weblogs are a lousy tool for building communities.

More recently, Sherry’s “Please check in” post. Stay of Execution is a contender, among my regular reads, for best community; Sherry has somehow attracted and retained a (relatively) large, positive audience, and also has a curious talent for speaking to us/them in a way that both allows us to feel like we’re part of this larger community, but also has a tone as though every post is written just for each individual. Late last week she asked, for reasons unknown, for us to stand up, raise a hand and introduce ourselves; last I looked, there were nearly 130 comments on that post. 130! That’s a bit larger than the little dinner party I was imagining in my head.

The reason I find this fascinating is that I’m perpetually curious about what kind of ripples are coming from this site—in Joan’s term, whose minds I’m speaking in. Yet I consciously avoid trying to measure it overtly. I don’t write like Sherry does, in a way that encourages response and interplay between readers; you can see that just by looking at the comment counts on my posts. This site is not a community in itself, and I think if it was I’d be so self-conscious I’d be perpetually blocked. Instead, as Joan describes, I’m more of a voice in a community you’re each putting together yourselves.

And the tradeoff is that I have no idea who [most of] you are, when you’re reading, how closely, why, etc., and I feel like there’s a sort of observer effect at work: if I ask, it will change things.

So you could say that this entire site—much like the one Joan cites in the body of her post—is a venture in getting comfortable with things I can’t know.

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

Posted by pjm at 10:32 AM | Comments (0)