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June 22, 2006

Under the circumstances

It may be best to consider this site on hiatus until after July 4.

It’s not that I have nothing to say; it’s that I have too many other, more important things riding on me with tight deadlines.

Posted by pjm at 10:59 AM | Comments (0)

June 19, 2006

Better than a report card

I discovered last week that I got an unexpectedly high grade in a course I’d thought I was struggling in: A- instead of the expected B- or C.

Other grad students have pointed out that, while high school grades can be expected to indicate how you’ll do in college, and college grades can be expected to indicate how you’ll do in grad school, grad school grades don’t really indicate much other than how you are doing. So I’m not taking those too seriously. More pleasant is the letter I got this past weekend:

The Computer Science Department conducts an annual review of all graduate student [sic] to ensure that each student is satisfactorily progressing towards his or her degree.

You are making fine progress toward your degree.

[Glowing praise of my TA work]

We will continue to fund you next year through a graduate assistantship.

What higher praise is there than, “We’ll keep paying you”?

Posted by pjm at 9:21 AM | Comments (0)

June 16, 2006

Finally, the Panic pays off

I just got another task for MPOW. Never mind that I heard about it at 6:30 PM on a Friday; I’m a grad student, I no longer have borders between work time and personal time.

This may be the first task in the ten months I’ve worked here where I’ve needed zero research to figure out what I need to do. They want me to install Movable Type. (Hmm, I’ve done that.)

But I guess they figured I needed some extra challenge, so this time, I get to do it on Windows.

Now Playing: Stripmining from Strip-Mine by James

Posted by pjm at 7:16 PM | Comments (0)

June 14, 2006

Like I have time

More things I haven’t posted about, and may not get to:

  • Timing is everything. Just read.

  • What to do with Iz when we’re at a five-day track meet?

  • We can prove nearly anything by induction, plus a few logic operators and the concept of time.

  • There’s someone else who shares my name. Actually, there are several of us (at least five, I gather,) but this one is six and his mother sent me email, so I wrote to him. It was fun.

Posted by pjm at 10:28 PM | Comments (1)

June 12, 2006

Wakeful strategies

Time shifts have made me sleepy, and a class that runs from 6 PM to 9:30 can look like a sleep trap. (Particularly when the faculty:student ratio is 1:4, this is no time to nod off.) I’ve taken a few different tactics, ranging from timing dinner (for after class rather than before) to simply chewing gum, which keeps me from nodding off.

Tonight I poured the second half of this morning’s teapot into my mug and brought that in. But then I remembered another mug in the car, left from my trip to the airport five days earlier, when I hadn’t had time to finish it before parking. Since it had been in the car, in the sun all day, it was quite warm enough, so I walked in to class with most of two mugs of tea at the ready. I suppose maybe I looked a little desperate.

Now Playing: Torture from All Shook Down by The Replacements

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

June 11, 2006

Most memorable

A few weeks ago I mentioned my almost-old-enough-to-drive 800m PR. It’s also worth noting that it was my first appearance, in print, in a national magazine—complete with a photo of me in the next year’s state 800m final, where I got a better place (4th) with a slower time (2:04).

I wrote the article twice. The first version was the way I would tell the story if I was out on a run, and was it ever long. It was suggested that I come up with a shorter version. Cutting the first one was out of the question, so I rewrote, and kept it as lean and laconic as possible. It actually weighed in just over 300 words, only about twice the length of this introduction.

The full story is in the extended entry, because unless you have an inordinately weighty collection of old Runner’s Worlds, this is its archive.

Continue reading "Most memorable"

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

Linky linky

A few important bullets before we return to regularly scheduled banality and overwrought pseudo-thoughtfulness (and self-deprecation, don’t forget that.) (Damn, I can even be sarcastic about being sarcastic. My generation is messed up.)

  • All the writing I’ve been doing this weekend is on www.eliterunning.com. It’s easiest to just grab the “2006 NCAA Outdoor Champs” tag.

  • I am inordinately obsessed with the story of Jack the tabby. Jack, if you haven’t already heard, is a fifteen-pound orange tabby in New Jersey who treed a black bear. Twice. I wonder what Iz could do if he had that yard to patrol! Of course, Jack has a pound or two on Iz, and we keep him indoors because there’s no cat alive who can face down a car. Still, what a story!

  • Tisiwoota has shifted between my two link lists. There is proof. I’m the scruffy-looking one. That is all.

Posted by pjm at 1:37 AM | Comments (0)

June 10, 2006

Really, it's a comedy

When I was taking the “Introduction to Computer Security” class this spring, the professor warned us that from now on we’d be watching hacker-themed movies (e.g. “Hackers,” though she admitted that “Sneakers” wasn’t too bad,) and laughing at parts we weren’t supposed to laugh at.

After all, thinking of “Hackers,” who ever saw a “virus” with a GUI showing its progress? They made security look like a video game (despite the comments on IMDB.)

So I wasn’t terribly disappointed when “Firewall” was the in-flight movie on the way out here. After all, what’s more amusing than Harrison Ford sitting down at a terminal and tapping in a quick access-control rule to stop a distributed brute-force SSH attack? (Answer: the response of the guy who had been monitoring the attack, who makes a wondering comment like, “And it’s resistant to false positives, too!”) If only everyone was so impressed by the ability to write firewall rules, right?

Fax-scanner on computer screen? Ah hah hah. OCR which could then automatically recognize (correctly!) all the account numbers in the resulting (massive graphics) file without making one mistake? It’s improved lately, but not that much. I do have to give them credit for the iPod-as-portable-storage plot tool; security experts have been warning about the iPod’s ability to violate corporate security for a few years now. And how does that guy’s phone camera get such high-resolution shots of a monitor?

I guess the less you know about these things, the easier it is to suspend disbelief and just enjoy the action.

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

June 8, 2006

Neat trick

There are two nifty gizmos out on the field here at the Sacramento track. Between the two shot put sectors, where the throwers are currently in their qualifying round, are two long snakes of black PVC drain pipe. The end away from the throwing circle is elevated about three feet on a stand. About two feet from the other end is a chunk of two-by-four which elevates the throwing-circle end slightly; then there’s a horseshoe-shaped barrier next to the ring.

As the officials mark the fall of the shot, they hand the implement over to a volunteer, who feeds it into the outboard end of this pipe. The shot rolls down to ground level, then takes that momentum to roll the rest of the way back to the throwing ring. The two-by-four at the receiving end slows it down with a short uphill before it pops out next to the throwers again and is stopped by the horseshoe barrier.

Now that I think of it, it looks a lot like a home-made bowling-ball return system, except that shot are only about the size of candlepin balls even though they’re heavier than most duckpin balls.

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

Useful software

When I was preparing to hand in (by email) my Theory problem set on Tuesday night, I was faced with a problem. I had diagrammed several finite automata (don’t worry about what they are, just remember that while they can be defined mathematically, it’s usually faster to draw them,) in OmniGraffle, but since OmniGraffle is lousy for text answers, I’d done those in Word. I had two documents to turn in. Here’s how I worked it:

  • Make PDFs of both documents. On the Mac, that’s as simple as printing them.
  • Use PDFLab to interleave the appropriate pages of the two PDFs in the appropriate order. Output: one hand-in-able PDF.
  • Email the result.

This is great, useful software; if you use a Mac, take a look (and check the other applications on the same site.)

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

No, you really aren't too slow

I’m going to quote verbatim from another blog now, because he’s articulated something that I’ve noticed a lot while trying to bring other CS grad students out on our weekly runs. (There are two of us who run regularly, and three others who sometimes join us. And plenty more who sort of wish they could join us, but… read on.)

i have the same problem with people going on runs, and it always bother me. it usually goes like this: people mention that they are going for a run sometime in the near future, or that they want to start running soon. so, i mention that i would like to run with them if they would like company. then - almost invariably - whomever i’m talking to says that they’d be too slow for me (remembering that i’m a track and cross country runner). this is where i get frustrated. it’s exactly because i’m an experienced runner that i know exactly how slow and how fast people are, so i know exactly what i’m getting into when i suggest that i join them for a run (that is, if they want to). i know that they’re probably not going to run as fast or as long as i can, and they may not even want to. in fact, if i was intending on a very hard, long, serious run, i probably wouldn’t have offered to run with whomever i’m in a conversation with. but, that’s not what i’m offering; i’m offering to join them on their run. it’s nice to have company. that’s all i’m offering, and there’s no illusion in my mind that i’m intending they run at whatever capacity they think i run at. i’m asking to run with them, and i know exactly what that means.

Of course, he’s using this as an illustration of another concept; this is not limited to running. (My own other example: “I’m not good at math.”)

Posted by pjm at 12:49 PM | Comments (7)

June 7, 2006

Tying one on

Anyone who has had a media credential at more than one NCAA event knows they can be counted on to hang the things on the flimsiest loop of slightly elastic string they can find: no custom lanyards here. This is not, on the face of it, a bad thing; after a while, the accumulation of credential lanyards begins to get out of hand, and this does not add to it.

However, while at the event, the silly string is a nuisance. It allows the credential to twist around until the string is trying to strangle the wearer, or blow up into one’s face. At an event like the outdoor championships, where a meet schedule is also hung on the string along with the credential itself, the string is barely capable of holding the mass.

So we improvise. Many people knot the string around a belt loop rather than hanging it from their neck. Others, like myself, anticipate the problem and bring another lanyard.

It needs to be a two-hook lanyard, since these are two-hole credentials. This is one of those situations where we size each other up, much like comparing the quality of race t-shirt on another runner. You bring the highest-powered event lanyard you own. (Or, as A wisely does, bring a plain solid-color one and dodge the comparison.) A major marathon lanyard is good, or an Olympic Trials. I recycle my IAAF lanyard from World Cross; it not only reflects my “sponsor” (though I’m not working for them here,) but also indicates that just because I’m not working for a print newspaper doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m watching.

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

June 6, 2006

Some things never change

During the reunion weekend, we took a walk by our old street. The street sign was missing. Of course, the one that used to go missing was at the bottom of the street, and this time they’d swiped the one at the top.

Now Playing: Chaos from Priest = Aura by The Church

Posted by pjm at 9:16 AM | Comments (0)

June 5, 2006

Not bad for a rush job

I forgot to point out my Reebok Grand Prix article. I think this one sets a new record for quality per hour; I hammered it out while the stadium staff waited impatiently to unplug my power and internet access. I whiffed on the shot (the editor added the closing paragraph for me,) because the winner went directly from the ring to the medical tent to get treated for (we’re told) muscle spasms in his back. Otherwise not bad, but nothing on Brian Cazeneuve’s article, of course. But he’s a pro; I’m a fan with a notebook.

A few things that didn’t make the article: As Brian points out, this was the first record in the track distances set in the USA since Henry Rono’s 1978 steeplechase clocking. (Rono set more than one WR that year; the steeple was merely the last one. Others have mentioned Bill Rodgers’ 1979 clockings for 15,000m, 20,000m, 25,000m, etc., to which I will only reply, when was the last time you saw a 25,000m race on a track?)

One thing which hasn’t been widely reported is that we probably saw the first-ever Chinese sub-4 mile on Saturday. Gu Ming, who is listed as their indoor record holder in 4:02, ran 3:59.75 for 10th. I mentioned it in my report, but on my suggestion my editor cut it, because neither of us had time to hunt down the Chinese NR. Further research today has left me none the wiser. Neither Gu nor the other Chinese runner in the race spoke any English, but I applied the time-honored language of gestures and speaking very slowly to get the idea that they had both previously had 4:0x PRs. Fifty-two years ago, Bannister said, “Apres moi, le déluge.” I wonder if the Chinese even care? They didn’t seem too excited in the mixed zone.

Also in unreported athletics news from Saturday, my nieces ran their first race, a Kids K at the local YMCA. Worries about their ability to cover the distance have been put to rest; what they need now is a finish line photographer with a faster camera.

Now Playing: Runaways from English Settlement by XTC

Posted by pjm at 5:42 PM | Comments (1)

June 4, 2006


As of this morning, I am the Web Editor for my college class. I saw the position was vacant when the call went around for nominations for class officer, but I figured that (a) I’m not the only geek in the class, and (b) I’ve got plenty to do. So I didn’t say anything. When the ballots were out, there were choices for most options, but that one just had a blank: no nominations. I left it blank.

I figure one person wrote my name in, and everyone else left it blank like I did.

I have a few guesses about who may have been the guilty party, and they can expect to be nominated for something in five years. What will depend on how tough this job turns out to be.

Now Playing: Southern Belle from Elliott Smith by Elliott Smith

Posted by pjm at 9:59 PM | Comments (4)

The late nighters

When we got back to Amherst at 1 AM, we could still hear the music coming from the College. Actually, past 2. I assume that was the class of ‘01, and from today’s reports, that was the case.

As someone in my class pointed out, at the five year reunion, you still feel like you have something to prove. At ten years, she pointed out, “Not many of the women are wearing makeup.”

Posted by pjm at 4:11 PM | Comments (1)

June 3, 2006


I was in a press conference with Justin Gatlin, and I didn’t see any of this: Defar 14:24.53. But I still have to write about it.

Posted by pjm at 8:59 PM | Comments (0)

Secret message to race PR coordinators

It is not necessary to send 1.2 MB of photos via email to your entire mailing list.

Simply including the sentence, “High resolution images available on request” should be sufficient.

Posted by pjm at 3:47 PM | Comments (0)

World's biggest blow-dryer

Tremendously early for the Reebok Grand Prix, we find the grounds crew trying to at least minimize the standing water on the track after (relatively) heavy rain all day. There’s one vehicle which looks like a floor-buffer sweeping the runways for the pole vault, but a few minutes ago a golf-cart sized gator pulled out a trailer with what looked like a small jet engine on it. A 90° nozzle on the back directed the output at the ground. They parked this machine over the shot ring, and blasted it dry in under a minute. I wondered why they weren’t doing the whole track with it—at this point, there are still puddles on the backstretch—but on further thought, I suppose the heat could hypothetically damage the track surface.

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

June 2, 2006


  • I spent today at my 10-year college reunion. I had more fun than I expected. I also think I talked too much and didn’t listen enough. But I remembered a bunch of great people I went to college with, and that made me happy.
  • My editor at iaaf.org saved me the trouble of revising my New York preview by tagging on a “STOP PRESSES” line about the addition of Marion Jones and Lauryn Williams to the women’s 100m. I think Williams is more interesting than Jones at this point, but Marion does have a slew of Olympic medals which can’t be ignored.
  • One of my classmates married one of my teammates from a few classes older, so I got to hear about all of them. That was pretty cool.
  • After four years of being on campus and not expecting to recognize anyone, it was a little strange to see people I knew there.

Posted by pjm at 9:58 PM | Comments (0)