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July 31, 2006

Scavenge and salvage

While I was back in Maine this past weekend, I rooted around in the corners of my old bedroom which are still left to me, and found what’s left of my previous forays into model rocketry. I hadn’t been able to place how old I was when I did this, but when I opened up the launch controller, it turned out that the batteries had a “best before” date of 1991, so that puts a loose upper bound on things.

I also found five—five—rockets. Somehow I had the idea that I’d only had two, or maybe three. Unfortunately, all of them were in unflyable condition; apparently once they suffered damage, I just put them away and never got around to fixing them. Three I judged fixable; they all had some level of fin damage, with the fins either hanging loose or completely detached. I should be able to fix those with some sandpaper and white glue. They also need a little attention to the recovery systems; they’re all streamer recovery rockets, but in general the “shock cords” holding the streamer and the sections together are brittle and unlikely to survive a launch. I’ll also need to do some research on exactly which models they were, and which engines they should use; more likely I’ll just cram in something that fits, though. The paint jobs are uniformly bad; some of them might be helped by sandpaper, others I’ll just have to ignore. It doesn’t matter what it looks like when it’s five hundred feet up.

Two of them were unrecoverable. One appeared to have cracked up in flight, probably because both the engine and nose cone stayed put when the ejection charge went off (and therefore the body ruptured violently.) I salvaged the nose cone and threw the rest out. A second was in mostly good shape; it had a one-piece plastic fin assembly, so it was the only one with all its fins intact. However, the engine from its last launch was securely wedged in the body, and I couldn’t get it out. After fifteen-plus years, probably the cardboard engine casing was fusing with the cardboard tube of the body anyway. I salvaged as much of the plastic parts as I could and threw the rest out; with a new tube and engine stop ring, I could fly the rest of it again.

There were quite a few engines in the box, but only one igniter. I’m not sure if engines keep or not, but it might be worth giving them a try. Perhaps when I get shock cords, tubes, etc., I’ll look for some igniters as well. I also found a small bottle of spray paint—not the same color as the rockets, so I’m not sure why it was with them—that I might use on new constructions.

A is beginning to sigh and roll her eyes whenever I talk about this recent hobby, so you’ll have to suffer through me talking about it here.

Now Playing: Accidents Will Happen from Best Of by Elvis Costello & The Attractions

Posted by pjm at 12:20 PM | Comments (3)

July 30, 2006


That (the phrase in the title) is an ugly neologism for the subset of the so-called “blogosphere” which uses Movable Type. If I catch anyone using it, I will attempt to collect intellectual property damages sufficient to stop them using it ever again, because I desperately hope it never catches on due to its ugliness.

But if anyone reading this is still using MT, (and it seems like everyone migrated to WordPress or the like since I started using MT,) I’d be interested in hearing about your plugins. I’m compiling a list to be included in a general MT installation, on the theory that installing a slew of plugins from the start will pre-empt user requests for them. So I’d be interested in hearing what you’re using, if any, so I can check them out and add them to the list.

In the course of this project, I’m learning more about the guts of MT than I ever expected to, and I’ve been putting some of what I’ve learned into this site. (For example, I figured out how to fix the search result templates to match the rest of the site design.) Tonight I added a few plugins which will be visible in comment displays: gravatars and a plugin which puts a different background color on comments I make, so they stand out from everyone else’s (so you can see how much more of a knucklehead I am than my commenters.) I could conceivably pick background colors to designate frequent commenters, but since it requires a complete rebuild of 1400-some-odd pages to apply this to previous entries, maybe I’ll hold off on that. You can see both plugins in action in the comments to this entry, and I promise it’s a coincidence that both gravatars are cat pictures.

(Of course, I’m having more fun playing with the software than using it. This was, originally, part of the point of the whole exercise, but I have to make silly self-referential posts like this one in an attempt to share, because let’s face it, televised fishing is more exciting than watching me play with software.)

Now Playing: Junior Mint from Yellow No.5 by Heatmiser

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

July 28, 2006


This story made my morning:

KYOTO, Japan - Genshitsu Sen, the 15th grand master of the Urasenke school of tea ceremony, is known as a goodwill ambassador, having visited 62 countries on 300 occasions to promote peace through tea.

Posted by pjm at 8:02 AM | Comments (2)

July 27, 2006

Teaching what I don't know

Yesterday I met with Professor γ to talk about my TA work for the fall. This class is the course she came to the University to teach, so she’s solidly in the groove about what she wants to do. I’ve never actually taken the course myself, but it overlaps heavily with one of the classes I took at Westfield State.

Which is a long way of saying, I know some of it, but not all of it, and I’ll need to do some reviewing. I need to brush up on my UML, for example, and (re)read Brooks. We’re going to be analyzing (and hopefully adding to) a particular open-source project, so I’ve been looking around for potential features for it. Also, it’s a required course for certain undergraduates (all majors, I think,) and there’s a subtext of making sure they’ve met some of the skills they’ll find helpful later, so we’re requiring use of version control (though which package isn’t yet finalized,) make, and encouraging the use of TeX, which learning curve I’ve never actually managed to climb.

But one of my work areas will be reading/editing/grading essays. You know, written work. Style, grammar, presentation. Maybe my literature major has some use here after all.

Now Playing: Do It Again by Steely Dan

Posted by pjm at 10:08 PM | Comments (1)

I changed the locks

One feature of PGP-style digital signatures is the expiration date. It’s a hassle, on the face of it: past a certain date, the key can’t be used for encrypting or signing. It usually expires at an inconvenient time (when you don’t have five minutes to generate a new key, for example,) and leaves you keyless until you can generate a new one.

On the other hand, leaving a key without an expiration date makes it harder to invalidate if the passphrase is compromised (that is, if someone else cracks your key, it’s harder to prevent them from decrypting messages sent to you with that key, or from signing as you.) With an expiration date, you know the problem will go away at that time. And just as it helps keep codes secure if you change them from time to time (the longer someone has to work on a code, the greater the chance that they’ll eventually break it,) it helps to change your key from time to time.

My key expired last week, and I just got around to generating a new one. My key program asks what size key I want, starting with 700-some-odd bits and going through 1024, 2048, and 4096. I chose 4096. Now it’s taking some serious time to generate enough entropy to make the key—it’s been going well over half an hour now.

From Cryptonomicon:

Even a 768-bit key requires vast resources to break. Add one bit, to make it 769 bits long, and it becomes twice as difficult. A 770-bit key is twice as difficult yet, and so on. By using 768-bit keys, Randy and Avi could keep their communications secret from nearly every entity in the world for at least the next several years. A 1024-bit key would be vastly, astronomically more difficult to break.

Some people go so far as to use keys 2048 or even 3072 bits in length. These will stop the very best codebreakers on the face of the earth for astronomical periods of time, barring the invention of otherworldly technologies such as quantum computers.

The longer the key you are trying to generate, the longer this takes. Randy is trying to generate one that is ridiculously long. He has pointed out to Avi, in an encrypted e-mail message, that if every particle of matter in the universe could be used to construct one single cosmic supercomputer, and this computer was put to work trying to break a 4096-bit encryption key, it would take longer than the lifespan of the universe.

Is this overkill? Heck, yeah. But it’s fun.

Update: Cool, yeah. Practical, no. After well over an hour of generating, still no key. I generated a shorter key and posted it; maybe I’ll try again with a longer key later.

Now Playing: You’re Aging Well from The Honesty Room by Dar Williams

Posted by pjm at 12:15 PM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2006

Restricting blog-administrator privileges in Movable Type

This morning’s project for MPOW drops a heavy hint about what we’re trying to do: could I find a way to give a user in Movable Type blog-administrator privileges (that is, the ability to change settings like the blog name, description, archive method, etc., as well as add/edit/delete entries, change templates, and so on) without letting them change the server path (the directories in which the blog is actually located on the server)?

Changing server paths is a dangerous step on a multi-blog installation. Since all the files are owned, in the filesystem, by whatever user MT.cgi itself runs as, if you change the path for Blog α to match the path of an existing Blog β, then rebuild Blog α, MT will cheerfully overwrite any Blog β files with matching names, including all the feeds, indexes, etc. Then, if Blog β is rebuilt, it will clobber Blog α, and so on. Bad scene.

So we decided to keep that power for the system administrator, not blog administrators. It’s actually pretty simple, if you want to do it on your own multi-blog installation; it just requires some tinkering with the admin interface templates, which are, as near as I can tell, largely undocumented.

  • Find the admin templates. On a default MT install, they’re at $MT_CGI_PATH/tmpl/cms/.
  • Edit cfg_simple.tmpl. Lines 174 through 200 are the ones which show the path information; add <TMPL_IF NAME=IS_ADMINISTRATOR> at the beginning and </TMPL_IF> at the end. You may want to use HTML comments (<!-- comment here -->) to indicate your changes later.
  • Save cfg_simple.tmpl.
  • Edit cfg_archives.tmpl and make the same changes around lines 152 through 210. Save that file.
  • Make a note somewhere about your changes, so if you accidentally blow your changes away in an MT upgrade, you can re-create this!

Now, only a system administrator (not just a blog administrator) can change server paths for blogs on your system.

Now Playing: It’s A Fast Driving Rave Up With The Dandy Warhols Sixteen Minutes from Dandys Rule OK by The Dandy Warhols

Posted by pjm at 11:24 AM | Comments (2)

July 25, 2006

Finally allowed

I had a gift certificate to Adiago, and today I got an email from them reminding me that it was about to expire. So I went to their site and tried to redeem it. I’m getting close to the bottom of my clearance campaign (yeah, it took me a few months,) and it’s about time I actually bought some tea. I’ve gotten used to my two-cups pot and loose tea, so no more supermarket bags for now.

First, Adiago’s cart said my order was free—so I tried adding some items to use the GC, and instead my original item became un-free. And I couldn’t get the cart to admit that I had a valid credit card; I kept trying to move to different stages in the order process, and it either wouldn’t give me a tally of how it figured my total, or wouldn’t let me enter payment information. So, I abandoned it. I couldn’t really decide which of their flavors I wanted; I was underwhelmed by the sampler I bought several months ago.

Instead, I went looking for (and found!) Fortnum and Mason in the US. I’m working on the end of a tin of their 185 blend now, it’s absolutely heavenly, but it’s also a limited edition and probably not even available at 185 Picadilly (where I originally bought it, seven years ago.) They do have more of the Millennium tea I polished off before the 185 blend, and that may be what I get, but there’s also Russian Caravan, pretty powerful stuff. Maybe both? After all, the semester will be starting in five or six weeks.

Now Playing: King of the World from Countdown to Ecstasy by Steely Dan

Posted by pjm at 10:20 PM | Comments (0)

Lunch Launch

So the CS grad students finally delivered on our promise (threat?) of a group rocket launch. Five of us headed across the street to the athletic fields to launch three rockets from two pads.

Wizard on the padOne of the rockets was mine, an EstesWizard” which I had opted, in cheerful disregard of the packaging, to paint in fluorescent orange. Because the orange paint was semi-transparent, I spent a few half-hours over three evenings last week applying first a base coat of white, then two layers of orange. The result was even brighter than the signal-tape recovery streamer which was supposed to provide visibility. I had the first launch, with an A8-3 engine, and it was a good one, with the rocket eventually landing in mid-center field in the softball field. We decided to move a ways upwind before launching again.

One of the other two rockets was a tiny little thing, I think a Quark, basically way of putting fins on an engine, and it didn’t even have a recovery method (Estes calls this “tumble recovery.”) It “tumbled” into the baseball field, and we didn’t retrieve it immediately. Instead, we turned to launching a Patriot (complete with decals, so it must’ve been a kit-build like my Alpha.) With an A engine, it got off the pad, but didn’t make it a hundred feet up before stalling; it barely got its chute out in time to land softly. I donated one of my C engines (that’s four times as much net thrust, for those keeping track at home,) for the second flight, and put a B in my Wizard. Then we tried a “drag race:” with both rockets on the pad, we counted down and pushed buttons at the same time.

Bs must light quicker than Cs, because I was off the pad before the Patriot was even blowing smoke. Zip! Beautiful flight, right into the sun; I heard the pop and saw the tracking smoke from the end of the engine. Then I lost track of it, bright orange and all; none of us saw it fall.

Estes QuarkProbably we were distracted by the Patriot, which went even higher. It popped its chute beautifully, and then proceeded to drift right out of the fields and into the neighborhood, much like my Alpha did last week. (We must learn not to launch on breezy days.) We tracked it down but couldn’t spot its final landing spot. Two of us wandered around the neighborhood for a few minutes, checking yards and rooftops, but didn’t find it.

My guess on the Wizard is that the ejection charge didn’t pop the nose cone out at all; instead, it ejected the engine itself, which I did find shortly after we retrieved the Quark from the baseball field. That means the rocket probably came down nose-first, and pretty fast. I rolled around the fields on my bike but didn’t see any trace of it. I’ll keep my eyes open, but I’m not too worried. Now I’m thinking about what to build (and launch) next. I might get one of those Quarks, but I think I’m really interested in boosting a big engine.

Now Playing: Amber, Ember, Glow by Saxon Shore

Posted by pjm at 9:40 PM | Comments (0)

July 24, 2006

Swept away

A few hours after we left for the wedding, our area was hit by a fairly intense thunderstorm. Judging from what I’ve seen on this morning’s run and a short errands walk this afternoon, nearly every tree shed something, from small twigs to entire limbs.

We ducked a bit of a disaster ourselves. Our driveway was home to one of those pipe-framed tentlike pseudo-garages, which is actually visible in the satellite photos if you know our street address (and know that Google slightly misplaces our street number.) In the windstorm it apparently caught a rogue gust and went airborne. According to the landlord’s narration this morning, it clipped a corner of the house, chipping a single shingle. It then hurdled my car cleanly (not a scratch) but took out a section of picket fence immediately behind the car. It then vaulted a significantly higher chain-link fence at the back of our yard, missing a large collection of potted plants in the neighbor’s back yard but eventually smashing a second-floor window and coming to rest standing on end beside his house.

The neighbor and our landlord disassembled it with a Sawzall, and it’s now awaiting the week’s garbage collection next to our house.

This episode strikes me as particularly fortunate considering this neighborhood’s proven history of car disasters for absent drivers. On the other hand, had A’s car been parked where it usually is, perhaps airflow might have been sufficiently different that the canopy would not have taken flight?

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

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


I raced again Saturday, this time something of an “invitation only” event. Checking the course, which was a single loop of a cute little lake in Vermont, I saw that there would be a single-track bottleneck early in the race, and resolved not to get caught behind anyone and held up there. So I bolted out when the starter called “go,” weaving around a few slower front-line starters and chasing a blue-shirted kid who looked like he was probably way out of my league. I could hear A exclaiming behind me—this has not been my recent race strategy—and I knew she was right, but I figured this was a good race to be aggressive.

This was a team-scored race: Mark’s guests versus Mary’s guests. Blue shirts scored for Mark, yellow for Mary; everyone scored one point, but division places (five-year age groups, plus the “dogs” category and the “on the way” age group for passengers of two expectant mothers,) scored 5-3-2 for first through third. I figured I was going to have to scrap for division points, since both Brad and Mark were in my division, as well as others I didn’t know. So maybe it was team pride that made me chase out; as we came out of the single-track, I was the third yellow shirt. Six guys, including Mark, Brad, Ricardo, and three others I didn’t know, were clearly out of my league today, and they were gone, though I could see them for most of the first two miles.

There were footsteps behind me, and another yellow shirt beside me by the time I reached the mile marker (6:16, my watch says.) I was audibly working harder than he was, though; we ran together for most of the second mile, but he started to move away and I wasn’t in a position to match him. Mile 2, 6:19. Both of these miles were nearly a minute faster than I’d averaged in two five-milers so far in July.

A nice left turn at about two and a quarter gave me a chance to peek over my shoulder and set the scene: two runners behind me, maybe 100m back, one in yellow (one of Mary’s brothers, as it happened,) and one in blue. So, no rest for the foolish; I had to hang on to my pace as long as possible and keep the blue shirt behind me. And the third mile had all the hills.

I remember thinking, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” and consciously holding my head straight and thinking my stride smooth, even as it shortened up the hills. I beeped the watch at 6:35 for the third mile marker (ouch!) and saw 20:00 at the 5k (not normally good news, but in this shape I’ll take it.) I felt a stitch starting but didn’t dare lift my arms to stretch it out. I knew which hill was the last one and threw myself into a controlled fall down to the finish line; if he didn’t get me going up, he wasn’t going to catch me on my way down.

The official results—printed in the wedding program that afternoon, with my last name misspelled—showed me in 23:52, ten seconds ahead of Mark’s best man. I was third in the division (Brad and Mark were first and second,) and he was fourth, so I saved us a point; I’m proud of that, even though we lost in the end. I was nearly 30s ahead of Alison, and we figured that most of that came in the first mile; I was also nearly four minutes behind Brad, who won. I wouldn’t have placed much better had I been in better shape; even in my 2002 condition I would’ve had a hard time with Mark’s clocking.

But mostly I’m glad I committed myself, early on, to a hard effort, and didn’t back down once I was committed. I have a lot of work to do before I can support that kind of commitment over longer races, but it’s nice to see that at least my legs remember how it’s supposed to work.

Impressive footnote: at 97 finishers, this was a pretty big race for a small town—and represented about two thirds of the wedding guests.

Now Playing: Everyday Should Be A Holiday from Come Down by The Dandy Warhols

Posted by pjm at 2:00 PM | Comments (1)

July 21, 2006

Ironing out

We’re off to a wedding this weekend, so I had to drag out my jacket and tie—clothes I pretty much only wear to weddings and funerals. We would have four weddings this summer, but by a curious clumsiness of scheduling, they’re on only two weekends, so we had to pass on two of them.

This prompted another somewhat-less-than-once-a-year exercise: ironing. I used to be good at ironing shirts; I think this was maybe in high school. Now, since I practice so rarely, I’m not very good. I figured as long as I was doing the relevant wedding clothes, I might as well do my other problem shirts, so after doing one relatively thoroughly, I did quick runs over four or five others. It wasn’t quite as hasty as sweeping wrinkles under the rug, but I knew I wasn’t likely to be wearing ties with these, at least not outside the other wedding.

I would probably be better at this if I had a “real” (full-sized) ironing board; I feel like I spent more time adjusting the shirts for the next swipe than I did actually ironing. But why get a full-sized board when I use it so rarely?

Now Playing: Don’t Deny by Michelle Anthony

Posted by pjm at 10:52 AM | Comments (2)

July 20, 2006


Sometime this evening, some fungus somewhere sent out a wave of spam with spoofed (and random) return addresses to this domain.

I’m foolish; when I registered the domain, I kept a “catch-all” address so that any username at this domain would wind up in my mailbox. I think I’ve deleted several thousand messages in the last fifteen minutes; if you sent me email (other than to my academic address, or gmail,) this evening, count on my not having received it.

The catch-all is being turned off. I’m only accepting specific addresses now. If you don’t know one of them, take a guess; you’ll probably hit.

And I’ll reiterate something you should already know: when considering anti-spam software, ask yourself, “Does this software consider the possibility that a return address can be spoofed?” If it doesn’t, it’s bad software.

Now Playing: I Think I’m Paranoid from Version 2.0 by Garbage

Posted by pjm at 10:03 PM | Comments (0)

July 19, 2006

It's like an annual resignation

I just sent email to my supervisor at MPOW telling her that I’m not coming back in the fall, since I will be TAing instead.

It’s a tricky message; even though the TA work promises to be interesting, and I’ve had my times of frustration with the current GA situation, I feel somehow disloyal. Even though I didn’t really have a whole lot of choice in the matter: the department head presented me with a series of reasons why I should be working for Professor γ full-time, and I couldn’t very well argue. (I feel like I’ve already disagreed with this department head too many times, before I even started here. She was on sabbatical last year, so I’ve yet to actually speak with her, and it’s tempting to attempt to continue this streak.)

Still, it’s like every August all my work becomes Somebody Else’s Problem.

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

Posted by pjm at 7:08 PM | Comments (0)

Don't make me leave my work and rush downstairs for that

“This announcement is for the parents of children aged four to nineteen. Neighborhood Bible time is coming—”


Now Playing: Hallelujah from Demolition by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 5:29 PM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2006

Cooler water

Today we took another step in using less electricity (and therefore both saving money and producing less carbon dioxide.) I had the landlord show me which of the water heaters in the basement was ours, and turned down the heat.

I’m actually not sure if it’s an electric heater or a gas heater, but it doesn’t make too much difference; either way, the water as it stood was too hot, and not heating it as much (and not keeping it that hot) will save energy. I’ll keep edging it cooler until we find it too cold; it will probably require a bump up come winter, anyway.

I’m thinking about wrapping the heater, as well, but that turns out to be more complicated than it used to be; on some newer heaters, which are already well-insulated that voids the warrantee, and you also need to know details about the heater (gas, electric, size, etc.) to get the right wrapper. It might be worth wrapping some of the pipes coming out of the heater, though.

Now Playing: Nothing Too Serious from Man Of Colours by Icehouse

Posted by pjm at 1:04 PM | Comments (0)

Base knowledge

I get unnecessarily intimidated by the thickness of certain tech books. Unnecessary because a lot of books are obligated to spend a chunk of pages introducing concepts I’m already familiar with.

Take, for instance, this JSP book I’ve been picking up. I’ve spent maybe two hours, total, on the book, but I’m well past halfway through. Why? Because I skipped the chapter introducing me to HTML, the half-chapter on database normalization, SQL, and installing MySQL, and skimmed all the reviews of coding in Java.

Now Playing: One Down from Ben Folds Live by Ben Folds

Posted by pjm at 10:52 AM | Comments (0)

July 16, 2006

I figure it out eventually

Many people know I’m a tea drinker. I’m relatively particular about my tea, but in unusual ways—for example, though I like a lot of tea from the snooty British marks, in a pinch I’m happy to drink Red Rose or whatever’s handy. And I can get along with green tea sometimes, but I’m probably already supplied for life.

One thing I definitely don’t like is fruity tea; I avoid “herbals” and I can’t really even get along with black tea with fruit flavors. I have two containers of tea fitting that description, unfortunately, both given to me with the best of intentions by people who are probably reading this. I’ve tried it, and I can’t get past the smell. Can’t figure out what to do with the tea.

But yesterday it hit me: hot tea is one thing, but iced tea is quite another. Jackpot.

Now Playing: Leo Jokela by Nieminen & Litmanen

Posted by pjm at 1:49 PM | Comments (2)

Cleared for liftoff


There are a lot of portrait-framed images in the Flickr Rockets pool. And some really cool stuff, if you like the idea of building stuff and then launching it hundreds of feet in the air. (Multi-engine clusters?)

I had a successful launch this morning, my first in decades, with a smaller-sized engine (an A8-3.) Engines are graded according to total thrust (the letter,) average thrust in newtons (the first number), and the delay between the end of the burn and ejection of the recovery system, also in seconds (the second number). Each letter step indicates a doubling in total thrust, so the B6-4 I’m planning on launching this afternoon will provide twice as much lifting force on the same rocket—plus the slightly longer delay before ejecting the chute should let it “coast” a bit longer, which is useful with such a small rocket. However, there are softball games going on in the park, and I think I should wait for a window in their play before I go out and launch higher. Recovery of this one almost ended in a tree as it was, because I went to an unoccupied corner of the park. (See the video.)

I discovered, in surfing around to links found via the Flickr pool, that anything flying with an E engine or lower is rated a “low power” rocket. I never flew anything bigger than a B myself, but there’s a lot of interesting stuff out there!

Update: Great launch this afternoon with the B6-4. Unfortunately, in the recovery phase (i.e. coming down with the ‘chute open) it drifted out of the park and onto the roof of a house that abuts the park. I can see a bit of the rocket in the gutter, and the ‘chute hanging out. So that’s a loss, and my fault for not selecting my range well.

Now Playing: Not The Same from Rockin’ The Suburbs by Ben Folds

Posted by pjm at 12:54 PM | Comments (0)

July 15, 2006

Unintentional synchronization

In today’s email: an offer of a full TA for the fall, rather than the half-and-half gig I did last fall and spring. The class is Software Engineering (a course I’d take if there weren’t others I’m more interested in.) The professor is the one I TAed Comp 11 for, part time, last year. This may be another recruiting move; it will probably also mean I’ll be spending some time on Comp 11 as well as Software Engineering.

(It is high time we gave her a pseudonym as well. Having already assigned Professor β, let’s tag the one I interviewed with back in 2004 as Professor α, since I practically called him that then, and this one Professor γ.)

In today’s paper mail: my statement from the bursar. I owe somewhat over a kilobuck for medical insurance, but my tuition is nicely balanced off by the scholarship credit, just in case I’d forgotten to be pleased with my lot in life.

Now Playing: Shooting Star from From A Basement On The Hill by Elliott Smith

Posted by pjm at 5:42 PM | Comments (0)


I broke a streak today, but it was one of those “get it over with” streak-breaks.

In 2002, my last good racing season, I ran the Fresh Pond race twice, and won it both times. The Fresh Pond race is something like the Northampton Tuesday Night cross-country races: it’s low-key and happens weekly over the same course. The Fresh Pond race is different in that (a) it’s free, and (b) it happens all year, every Saturday morning. Also, the Fresh Pond course allows for two races in one: 2.5 miles (one lap of the pond) or 5 miles (two laps.) The winning times vary greatly according to who shows up (as they do at many races,) and sometimes you’ll see some impressive names there for a workout.

In January ‘02, I showed up because A was taking photos at the Terrier Classic, and Fresh Pond was nearly the only race in Massachusetts that weekend that wasn’t a 5k. I wanted to run a steady effort, but I got excited and ran too hard in the first mile, found myself in the lead, and found myself in a duel that actually lasted into the last mile of the race. I ran in the low 28s, faster than I’d been for many years; the runner-up and I agreed that neither of us had planned on running so hard. Marie Davenport, who’s now a 31-minute 10k runner but was struggling then, was third. A week later I won the Greenfield Winter Carnival 4-miler in a PR for the distance (something of a story itself); two weeks after that I crashed and burned at the USATF XC winter nationals.

In December of ‘02, I was in town for a Friday night dinner with friends. I spent the night with Joe and Julia, then Joe and I ran Fresh Pond. It was a much easier race—I think Joe was second or third—but I had struggled in my PR marathon in October and hadn’t really bounced back. I was feeling the first twinges of the ITBS that would hamper my training early in 2003. But I ran, and won, and bookended the year with wins at Fresh Pond.

Today A and I ran down, about a 23-minute run from our house in Medford, and signed up about five minutes before the race. (Entry is free, but you still have to sign the waiver. “If I’d known it was free,” said A, “I would’ve done it sooner!”) I thought I was being unnecessarily restrained in the first mile, but by the end of the second I knew I was going to have a hard time holding on to the pace. I told myself it was a tempo run, and steady pace from beginning to end was the key. I think it was steady—I even ran the second lap a touch faster than the first—but it was tough. I clocked 35:33, notably faster than the 4th of July on a flatter course. I’d love to credit the shadow of a hill workout I did on Thursday, but I don’t think I’d see the benefits that fast. I took the #7 popsicle stick; A had #6. She was the first woman, so by tradition she’ll be in the Boston Globe tomorrow. (The top three in each race are invariably in the Globe’s agate on Sunday, through a deal the race’s founder wrangled with a long-departed sports editor.)

I should still be able to handle a minute (or more) per mile faster, but I’ll take this for now. A hill workout, even an abbreviated one, and a hard pace run in a week. If I keep this up for a few more weeks, I might get into good enough shape to actually train.

Now Playing: Girl In The War from The Animal Years by Josh Ritter

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July 14, 2006

Early adopter

I’ve upgraded this site to Movable Type 3.31. This is an unusually early upgrade for me, but there’s a good reason for it: it’s research for work.

Let me know if you see anything weird out of the ordinary.

Now Playing: Seasons Changed from My Friends and I by Patiokings

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

July 13, 2006

An impossible dream

Iz’s birthday, we figure, is just a few weeks away. Right now, he’s telling me in his most beseeching tones that what he really wants is one of those pigeons hanging out on the roof of the next house over.

Posted by pjm at 10:33 AM | Comments (0)

July 12, 2006

The Xpert

I’m back to work. Not that I haven’t been working, but it’s getting absorbing again. Yesterday’s meeting bred another one later in the day; I’m learning CVS and facing JSP again. (Honestly, what is it about Java? Is it that people learned it sometime in the 90s because of the buzz, then felt like, well, now I know it, I need to use it?)

I spent today on very basic stages of taking apart Movable Type—looking closely at the templates and how they’re managed over the life of a multi-blog installation, for example, and then reading up on the Perl code and the API with an eye to short-circuiting parts of the administrative interface.

The part I find most amusing is that I appear to have become the XSLT person on the team, not because I profess to know XSLT particularly well, but because my exposure to it is more recent than anyone else’s. XSL, for those who are mystified by all these TLAs, is a way of “styling” raw XML, but it’s beyond CSS; it lets you select content based on its context within the XML document. This is where the “T” comes in; with an engine to apply XSL Transformations to an XML document, you can make any well-formed XML document into pretty nearly any other format of well-formed XML document. And since we’re going to be handing a lot of stuff around this application in XML—several flavors and channels of web feeds, for example—being able to XSLT them into whatever we need is helpful.

So all that XSLT stuff I downloaded last semester is going to come in handy for development work. But right now? Not really XSLT; rather, generating a servlet interface for Saxon and getting it running in Tomcat. Because what’s the use if we can’t talk to it from Java, right?

For those keeping track, I’ve added NetBeans (because I need another IDE, of course) and SmartCVS to the list of tools on my Powerbook.

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

July 11, 2006



I promised more on my electricity shift.

There are a few different things involved here. I’ve been an environmentalist for a long time; I remember going with my mother to the hardware store to pick up some laundry baskets and trash cans to make a recycling center for our garage before I was old enough to drive. I’ve never been a vocal, political, sign-waving environmentalist; just a person who picks up trash, buys compact-fluorescent light bulbs and recycles religiously. I was principally concerned with local issues; I like the places I live, and I don’t like how easy it is for careless people to “foul the nest” in fairly literal ways. I’ve stuck to that; I’ve noticed that A and I generate about half as much trash as the average apartment on our street, and that’s largely because we also recycle about twice as much.

Continue reading "Exhaust"

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July 10, 2006

Just a shade greener

No, I’m not ill.

I just read up on Mass Electric/National Grid’s list of alternate energy suppliers in their GreenUp program, and picked one. It was an interesting experience. The page which tells you “how to select your alternate supplier” focuses on exactly one criteria: price. “Here’s how to figure out how much more/less your alternate supplier will cost.”

But there are actually three things to work with, only one of them being price. You’ve got the alternate suppliers website(s), and the required “disclosure label” which explains the different generation methods this supplier uses, and what proportion you’re buying. Most of them offer a “half ours, half theirs” option (that is, you only buy half your power from them,) and a full option, and all of them offer a different mix of power.

So, assuming you leave price out—and, considering that all the GreenUp providers cost more than National Grid’s default service, we have to assume anyone doing this is leaving price out—the question is, what’s your favorite brand of renewable energy?

We’re going with Sterling Planet, which offered a pretty wide mix which is heavy on small hydro, landfill methane, and wind, in that order; there’s also a fraction from solar, which was what sealed the deal. I ruled out one of the four suppliers, Clear Sky Power because I couldn’t find their disclosure label or price information; I scotched Community Energy because they did nothing but wind and small hydro, and while that’s cool, wind is meeting a lot of resistance in New England and there are only so many small hydro plants. I teetered on Mass Energy Consumers Alliance, which had a similar range to Sterling Planet, but they were heavier in small hydro and lighter on solar, and I think solar has a lot more room for expansion. (And as the price of photovoltaics comes down, recovering the cost on rooftop solar panels will get faster, which means more homeowners, and hopefully landlords, will start generating part of their electricity right where it’s used. I want solar panels on my roof.)

Price was a factor, certainly, but an extremely small one. I looked at our power use history; I figure this shift will cost us about eight bucks on top of our biggest bill in the winter. That’s less than a 10% increase, and the payoff is that nobody is burning coal or natural gas (or, for that matter, splitting atoms, though I’m ambivalent about nuclear power,) in order to run our fridge, air conditioner, and computers. Our household CO2 output goes plop.

Considering what I’m willing to pay to be connected to the internet for a month—heck, considering what I’m willing to pay to keep this silly site running for a month—I think I’d look pretty silly if I wasn’t willing to pay this much for renewable energy.

If you live in Massachusetts and are a Mass Electric customer, you can do this too. (I happen to think you should, but I’m not in the business of making decisions for others.) I’d bet that even if you aren’t in Massachusetts, your supplier has a similar program.

More to come on this topic.

Now Playing: Let It Happen from A Rock In The Weary Land by The Waterboys

Posted by pjm at 7:43 PM | Comments (1)

I hate to be a whiner, but...

Remember the MBTA refund we requested, from the bus that never showed back in December?

It’s July. No word from the MBTA.

At least they could send us a note telling us they wouldn’t be giving us a refund?

Now Playing: Full Of Steam from Night Opens by Rich Price

Posted by pjm at 1:58 PM | Comments (0)


Last week, I discovered an intelligence operation possibly more impressive than the NSA: Paul Williams at the National Runner’s Health Study. I think I’ve changed address twice since I last sent data to Williams, as a twenty-something Pennsylvanian, but still he tracked me down in Medford for a follow-up survey.

I had to drag out a small stack of running logs to answer the questions, because I have not been terribly scientific about my own data collection over the last four years. The span of this follow-up survey is from 2002 (when I logged nearly 60 mpw for the whole year and ran nearly all my best times since college,) to now, and my long-term injury problems in ‘03-‘05 really put a dip in those numbers. It’s odd to look at the “best 10k and best marathon” marks next to the questions about my current training regime, about a third that which produced those 2002 times.

I was impressed with how much I did manage to run in 2003, when I looked at that log, and to see that I actually ran a few races even in 2004. It’s more and more obvious, looking back at the whole episode, how much a nagging problem in my foot even warped my mind. There’s more to be fixed than just the foot.

Most amusing part of the survey: it asks for a few data points I don’t usually track, specifically chest/waist/hips measurements. (OK, I had a pretty close guess on waist size because I’ve purchased pants recently.) I don’t have a paper or cloth tape to work with, so I used a small (six-foot) metal tape, and tried to pull it fairly tight. I expect I’ve therefore over-estimated all three numbers.

Now Playing: Play Dead from Whiplash by James

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July 9, 2006

Two or three of forty-eight

The Worst Weather in America

I actually managed to break the first rule not once, but twice: first, I didn’t have the GPS on when we stashed my car in the Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center lot on Friday night, and second, I forgot to waypoint the trailhead of the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail until we had already been walking half an hour. Fortunately, we didn’t need either, not getting off the trail by any appreciable amount; also, some wise souls had placed geocaches at or near some of our major stops (the Lakes in the Clouds Hut, the Mt. Washington summit,) so I had those waypoints near where our trips were taking us. (Fortunately, I say, since part of our “training” for this trip was reading Not Without Peril.)

I also discovered, in the breach, rule two: always have your camera battery fully charged. With the chance of it dying always in the back of my head, I didn’t take as many photos as I might have. I did manage to find 40 to put on Flickr, if you’re curious.

And I hit three geocaches. Would’ve been five, if I’d done my reading and arranged for someone to help us do the webcam cache at the summit.

My brother has unilaterally decided that we’re trying for all the peaks over 5,000 feet in New England. Since we toured the Lafayette Ridge before we were old enough to drive and did Katahdin last summer, we’ve actually hit a significant fraction by now, since we made a side trip to Mt. Monroe on our way up. I don’t know the list—honestly, I don’t want to become an obsessive peak-bagger and I know how easily I could become one if I let myself spend too much time looking at the official list of the 48 peaks over 4,000 feet in New Hampshire—but I think Boott Spur might count as well. (Apparently not…)

Still, most of the rest are there in the Presidential range. On our way back around to pick up his car at the first trailhead, he pointed to a sign for a trailhead with 2.5 miles to Mt. Jefferson and said, “Remember that. We might need it.”

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

July 7, 2006

First rule of hiking with a GPS

Always waypoint the car.

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

Posted by pjm at 2:27 PM | Comments (0)

I've found my people

I guess I knew when I started this whole adventure that I was leaving behind my self-image as a humanities major and embracing my inner geek. But I’ve never had it confirmed so sharply as an hour ago, when I stopped by the CS building to pick up a bottle I’ll need for tomorrow’s Mt. Washington expedition.

I ran into two guys I run with regularly, and they said, “Hey, we’re thinking we should have a model rocket regatta.”

I said, “You mean, like the Estes rockets with the chemical engines?”

And within five minutes, we had not only decided that we had to do this, and set a date, but were planning to buy a department launcher (or build our own; it’s just a pair of alligator clips and closing the circuit on a 9V battery.) And we were planning to invite the EE and MechE grad students, too, because who knows what we could build and launch if we had access to a machine shop.

Let’s hope I remember to take pictures.

Now Playing: Nothing to You by Two Gallants

Posted by pjm at 1:45 PM | Comments (0)

The Lobster Coast

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been reading Colin Woodard’s The Lobster Coast, another birthday present from the aunt who has been directing my non-technical reading for several years now.

Woodard starts out looking like he’s writing an ethnography of lobstermen, but he’s not; the territory has been covered before, and well, he says, citing examples. Instead, he provides a survey history of the development of the Maine coast, including the political machinations behind its sporadic waves of settlement in the 17th and 18th centuries and the struggles with the “Great Proprietors” in the years after the American Revolution, and how these factors combined to develop a state-wide distrust of anything and anyone “from away.” (Yes, we really do use that term.) As an example: one of the motivations behind Maine’s eventual secession from Massachusetts to become its own state was the behavior of the Boston merchant class in the War of 1812: while British troops occupied eastern Maine as far as the Penobscot River, calls to the Governor of Massachusetts for aid went unheard; in fact, the Governor was sending emissaries to the British garrison in Halifax asking if the British would offer military assistance to Massachusetts if they seceded from the Union! In the years after the war, this sort of behavior was the fuel for calls of separation which were eventually agreed to by Massachusetts (which thought it might have an easier time electing a government it liked if the “ornery” Maine voters had their own state.)

Woodard also presents an economic history of the coast, noting the poor farming conditions which led coast settlers to fishing for survival in the spectacular fisheries of the Gulf of Maine. He describes a cycle of exploitation where technology opened up new means of harvesting particular species which were then fished to near collapse, prompting the fishermen to move on to other species. He also provides some explanation for the lobster fishery, the one stock which has yet to collapse and, thanks to some awareness of the disasters which have met other species, may yet survive.

I was particularly interested in Woodard’s explanation of the Maine native’s mistrust of people “from away.” I inherited this mistrust myself (which can lead to interesting self-image situations considering that with my Massachusetts license plates, I myself am now “from away,”) but it’s always been something of a knee-jerk reaction. (My family has been in Maine for more generations than I can easily count, but we’ve largely been ship-builders, mill-owners, and traders, rather than fishermen and farmers; I can’t claim much kinship with the fishing community, though I went to school with them.)

Woodard isolates the issues, including income disparity (Maine, historically, has been among the poorest states in the country, seldom suffering much in economic depressions because their economy doesn’t have much room to go down,) and outsiders’ disregard of the existing community and its traditions. Waterfront property on the coast is vanishing, bought up by part-time residents who, in turn, have driven the price of the land up beyond what families who may have been on that land for generations can afford. Clammers and other “diggers” find themselves fenced off of water access they need to maintain their income by “No Trespassing” signs; Boothbay lobsterboats are operated by lobstermen who commute to the expensive harbor from as far up-state as Augusta, where they can afford housing. People are coming to Maine, in other words, looking for some kind of community and escape from the rush of the cities they left behind, but in the process they’re unconsciously destroying the very things they thought they were pursuing.

And it’s not even that simple; often the development that comes along is welcomed by the longtime residents, and it’s the recent transplants who are resisting it. Different people in my family have mentioned, at different times, how some transplants want to move to Maine, then freeze it the way it was when they first came and keep anyone else from coming in once they have their piece.

It’s a fairly depressing viewpoint, but one I’m hard put to argue with. Woodard has an article in the July issue of Down East Magazine detailing two such developments in my own home town, one of which bought out nearly all of one of the fishing villages that dot our peninsula and replacing it with polished new houses, most of which, one remaining resident notes, are “dark all winter.” What are the landowners supposed to do, though? Turn down good offers for land they may no longer be able to afford keeping?

My state is going somewhere, and like James Stevens, the Boothbay landowner quoted extensively in The Lobster Coast, I doubt that when I die, the state will be anything like the place where I grew up. I hope there’s a way to make it a place that’s still good to live.

Now Playing: Everytime from You Were Here by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 10:47 AM | Comments (1)

July 6, 2006


My hometown (or at least the population center closest to my actual hometown) has a 5-mile road race every Fourth of July. It used to be run by my high school cross-country coach, and in those days it was the big race for the Midcoast region that day; the course was arranged to hit the biggest hills in town, and characters like Eric Nedeau and Sam Wilbur turned up to win it.

At some point, L.L. Bean sponsored a 10k twenty minutes away in Freeport with actual prize money, and our race tapered off a bit. The course changed to a sort-of-out-and-back along the river which was prettier and required less police and volunteer support. The turnout has been flat for the past decade: between forty and eighty, depending on the year. Organization is almost by rote: some years, the miles aren’t even marked, so splits are only available through “local knowledge,” and there’s no marked starting line; we just line up by consensus. Since I won it in 1995, my own attendance has been mixed: some years I missed it due to logistics, other times injury; sometimes I ran decently well (3rd in 2002, I think,) sometimes not. The class of the next year’s high school team still shows up for some bragging rights (they can’t win cash in Freeport anyway,) but the state’s road racing names seldom do.

Last year, I was proud of myself for getting around just under 40 minutes with one of my high school teammates who was similarly undertrained. Within a week, my foot was delivering stabbing pains once again (it was like having a rock in your shoe 24/7,) and I was back in the pool; that was my last run until after the move to Medford.

Tuesday, the same teammate picked my brother and me up within a quarter mile. I asked what kind of shape he was in. “Worse than last year,” he said, but when my brother started to lag after the first mile (7:10, potentially immoderate, but who knows,) he stuck to me.

We ran together through four miles (about 29:00,) picking off a lot of those who were over-bold in the first miles, including several high school kids. (“I love being older and wiser,” I said. “Of course, I placed better when I was young and foolish, didn’t I.”) Finally, with a half mile to go and one more runner in front of us, he said, “Go get ‘im,” and I made the pass on a steep downhill (then got re-passed on the uphill finish—sometimes you have to take these risks when you have no kick.) I figure we finished somewhere in the 36:xx range, but I’ve yet to see any results other than places, so I don’t know my official time.

Why is this better than last year? Aside from the obvious time improvement (I’m now within 10 minutes of my 8k/5M best, 26:59 at UMass Dartmouth in 1993,) I went out for a run this morning and felt good. So not only can I run 7:15 pace for five miles, but I can apparently do it without hurting myself.

Next step: actually training, instead of just running what I feel like each day.

Now Playing: The Ways Of Men from The Essential Waterboys by The Waterboys

Posted by pjm at 10:26 AM | Comments (2)

July 5, 2006

Explorer's House

I think when my aunt gave me a copy of Explorer’s House: National Geographic and the World It Made, she had in mind some level of history of exploration, or travel writing, but that’s not what the book is. At its core, it’s a history of an idea, and on another layer, it’s a story about magazine publishing.

Oddly enough, I can find something like that pretty fascinating, and it didn’t hurt that of my colleagues in my magazine days, one came to RW from National Geographic, and another went to NG some time after I left RW. So I found some explanation for the bizarre stories I’d heard, like an entirely separate department for “legends”—that is, a completely different editorial crew handling photo captions, and only photo captions. Considering the page space NG spends on photography (and it turns out they spent decades living on the photographic and photo-printing cutting edge,) it makes a lot of sense.

And then… imagine four generations of the same family running the same magazine? Wouldn’t happen nowadays, not by a long stretch.

Now Playing: Words Fail You from Five Stories by Kris Delmhorst

Posted by pjm at 4:49 PM | Comments (0)


Friday evening, I finished up the final for my summer session class. Assuming I didn’t crash dismally, that’s seven classes down and three to go (plus some kind of project/thesis) for the MS. I’ve also covered all the required courses (except the undergrad courses I can’t get credit for.)

I’m hoping now that I can spend all my time either on catching up on hours for MPOW (where I’ve now heard people I don’t actually work for saying they hope I’ll be back next (academic) year,) or a particular writing project I’ve been doing some research for. It’s funny how quickly the summer got booked to the gills; here it’s just been one weekend in July, and I already feel like there’s a limited quantity of weekends to be hoarded, like donuts in a bag.

I have a bunch of posts in mind, most of which consist of bullets on a list somewhere here in ecto. Some of them I might actually write. But in the last few weeks I’ve been (unconsciously) changing the way I’ve been using my online time. I don’t know if the shifts will be visible here, but it’s possible. While I’ve been busy, I kept starting posts in my head, but I couldn’t mentally bring them to a high enough priority to actually key them in.

This is a pretty involved question, to me, but for you it may be simple. For you, what’s the utility of me writing here? And, do you think that should matter to me?

Now Playing: Hotel Womb from Starfish by The Church

Posted by pjm at 2:24 PM | Comments (3)