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October 30, 2006

Next comes the plague of frogs

After the knee-deep salt water, I was ready to give this year’s NESCACs the “worst conditions I’ve ever raced in” award. (Close second: 2000 USATF XC in Greensboro.)

Then last night I started itching. Hmm, feels like poison ivy, but I was never in any bushes, was I? Annoying, but I had other things to concentrate on. After my run this afternoon, I cranked the shower up as hot as I could stand it and just pointed the stream at my legs until I realized I would have to get out eventually.

Tonight, before I even had a chance to mention it to A, she said, “Do your legs itch, by any chance?”

Turns out that nearly everyone who ran is itching. They’re calling it “the NESCAC rash,” and attributing it to “the marsh.” There’s even a Facebook group.

I’m treating it with OTC antihistamene tablets. I wonder if Conn College is planning on changing the course before they host New Englands next year?

Now Playing: Cornflake Girl from Under the Pink by Tori Amos

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Posted by pjm at 10:12 PM | Comments (0)

How to slant an article

Two years ago, I dressed down a certain Washington Times sportswriter here for a column I thought was ill-considered and even worse researched. Turns out things aren’t getting any better at the Times.

Yesterday, Steve Nearman had a story in the Times about James Madison University’s decision to cut three women’s sports (archery, gymnastics and fencing) and seven men’s sports: archery, cross country, gymnastics, indoor track, outdoor track, swimming and wrestling.

He talked to nobody from JMU (which is 61 percent female and therefore having a hard time meeting the Title IX proportionality standard.) And he never mentions the word “football.” He makes it sound like Title IX is all about the persecution of men’s sports. Clearly Nearman did not read last month’s New York Times story and its link to an Inside Higher Ed story, which includes these lines:

Yet to some observers outside James Madison … the situation can be seen as part of a recent trend of scapegoating the federal law barring sex discrimination for athletic cuts made as much for financial and other reasons as for equity concerns.

“This was, for the most part, a business decision,” said Lamar Daniel, a Title IX compliance consultant and former U.S. Education Department official whom James Madison first hired in 1999. Daniel attributed the university’s decision to cut the teams to a desire to scale back its sports program—at 28 sports, one of the biggest in Division I—to a more manageable size and scope in the hope of making the teams it is keeping more competitive without spending more.

“This is about funding; this is about money,” he said. “It’s not about Title IX; Title IX is only a consideration in this matter in that you have to consider the impact of Title IX in any athletic decision.”

(Note: In the NYT article, the same consultant backpedaled, saying he’d overstated things, but the point remains that JMU made a financial decision, and Title IX merely shaped the way they made that decision.)

It’s true that men’s running and swimming are almost always the first to go (assuming the university in question no longer has a wrestling team; collegiate wrestling has been pretty much dead for decades and it’s a wonder gymnastics is still around.) But it’s not Title IX that’s killing them; it’s the lack of a women’s sport to balance the number of men carried on the roster of your average collegiate football team. Field hockey helps; so does crew if it’s varsity (rowing is an NCAA sport for women, but not for men.) But they don’t balance football. So university officials axe the four sports (XC, indoor, outdoor, swimming) which are most likely to contribute to the continuing health of their participants in the decades after graduation, and keep the one least likely.

Has anyone checked up on Swarthmore’s Title IX compliance? They cut their football team in the last decade. How about UVM (“Undefeated since 1974”)? How about Connecticut College, which never had one? What happens at James Madison in ten years, when male athletes aren’t going to JMU (why would they?) and the university’s gender ratio swings even more? What happens when they go after the men’s soccer team? The baseball team? The men’s basketball team?

Title IX is not killing men’s sports. Title IX is merely the anvil against which the country’s athletic departments are swinging the hammer of football. Everyone else gets pinched. Slanting articles against the law is easy to do: all you need is to be able to write an entire article about collegiate sports without bringing up football.

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Posted by pjm at 2:07 PM | Comments (0)

October 29, 2006

Further proof that I am asymmetrical

The inside (medial) side of my left calf is abraded. It might resemble a rash, but it has a grain; several dozen parallel scores, not unlike what I might produce with coarse sandpaper.

My right calf, however, has only two or three cuts—longer and deeper, to be certain, but only a very few.

Now Playing: Lakini’s Juice from Secret Samadhi by Live

Posted by pjm at 5:53 PM | Comments (0)


I’ve long been annoyed by websites which insist on opening links outside the site in new windows. If I want to keep your page up, I fume to myself, I’ll open the link in a new tab.

But in the new Firefox (or at least the build I have) if a site attempts to open a link in a new window using the “target=’new’” strategy, the browser automatically opens it in a new tab instead. (New windows opened with Javascript are unaffected.) How ever-so-useful.

Now Playing: Blood Roses from Boys For Pele by Tori Amos

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Posted by pjm at 3:49 PM | Comments (0)

October 28, 2006


While I was injured, I bought myself a pair of new spikes (aka “shoes with teeth”) promising myself that I’d race in them “someday.”

Someday came today, and it may also have been the last time those spikes ever see use. It was the NESCAC championships, and I ran the “open” division.

The “open” race is an addition since my day. Three of my four years, NESCACs were a straight championship race: seven runners per team started, and everyone else watched (if they came at all.) My senior year, they expanded the “varsity” races to include nine runners, though they still scored it as though teams of seven were running. This was a nod to how tough competition was in the conference; in essence, it allowed a team with one runner having a bad day to “sub” someone else in, simply because you all ran and the people who ran best, counted. I was having a hard time senior year, and I came to NESCACS as #8 and used it to race my way onto the top 7 for the regional meet two weeks later. (Where I ran poorly, but never mind.)

Then they added the “open” race, which amounted to combined mens and women’s junior varsity races, as well as an alumni race. (I suppose they had the alumni race my senior year as well, but I barely remember it.) This sounds like a wishy-washy “we’re about participation” move on the part of the conference, and maybe it is, but it’s also a nod to the fact that the NESCAC is one of the deepest and toughest conferences in Division III. A lot of people who would be running full varsity seasons elsewhere in Division III can’t get on the varsity in the NESCAC. And teams are bigger now. We had trouble getting five women on the line; Tufts traveled with thirty-one women. Thirty-one!

Who then raced in soggy, slick mud and horizontal rain. I screwed in half-inch spikes (“You could climb trees with these!”), reminded myself that I am a stupendous badass, and went out to race.

The less said about my own race, the better. I’m listed as a blank line in the results, because while I had a number, they had nothing sufficiently waterproof to record my name and affiliation. There were a lot more people behind me than the results suggest, and it’s unclear exactly how far any of us ran—not everyone ran the same distance, and I suspect there were more distances than just 6k or 8k (if anyone ran the correct course.) At some point, I don’t remember where, it stopped being about beating the other guys on the course and more about beating the course itself.

OK, maybe I do know where: it was the lower “marsh” section of the course, where the tide had come in and we were running through nearly-knee-deep salt water. It was cold, but I came out much cleaner than I went in. Several minutes later, I grunted something encouraging to a Williams runner (normally, I wouldn’t do that, but I was passing him,) and he said, “If this was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

I didn’t check, but I suspect I was the oldest person to race today. Accusations of living in the past and/or similar crimes may be sent care of this site. Tomorrow, I’m back in the pool.

Meanwhile, those new spikes? There was enough mud inside the shoes, post-race, to grow grass. Inside.

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Posted by pjm at 6:34 PM | Comments (1)

Stupendous badass

Every once in a while, when I want to psyche myself up for something nasty, I remind myself that I am a stupendous badass. Why? A section of Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon:

Let’s set the existence-of-god issue aside for a later volume, and just stipulate that in some way, self-replicating organisms came into existence on this planet and immediately began trying to get rid of each other, either by spamming their environments with rough copies of themselves, or by more direct means which hardly need to be belabored. Most of them failed, and their genetic legacy was erased from the universe forever, but a few found some way to survive and to propagate. After about three billion years of this sometimes zany, frequently tedious fugue of carnality and carnage, Godfrey Waterhouse IV was born, in Murdo, South Dakota, to Blanche, the wife of a Congregational preacher named Bunyan Waterhouse. Like every other creature on the face of the earth, Godfrey was, by birthright, a stupendous badass, albeit in the somewhat narrow technical sense that he could trace his ancestry back up a long line of slightly less highly evolved stupendous badasses to that first self-replicating gizmo—which, given the number and variety of its descendants, might justifiably be described as the most stupendous badass of all time. Everyone and everything that wasn’t a stupendous badass was dead.

As nightmarishly lethal, memetically programmed death-machines went, these were the nicest you could ever hope to meet.

Posted by pjm at 6:18 PM | Comments (0)

Did I hear someone say, "Not a team sport?"

Colorado runner (and former fellow Bell Lap columnist) Erik Heinonen apparently had his nose broken by an Oklahoma State runner during the Big 12 championships yesterday. The details of the dustup aren’t important; Colorado still won the meet. What’s interesting to me is the protests. Colorado lodged a protest, of course, but so did… Texas.

Because with the other guy disqualified and removed from scoring, Texas moved from a tie for second (with Kansas) to second outright.

What with concussed marathoners and broken noses, you’d think running was hockey.

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

October 27, 2006


If anyone knows anything about Digital Signal Processing, could you lend me a clue for a few weeks? Thanks…

Now Playing: Seize The Day from The Greatest Gift by Liberty 37

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October 26, 2006

Nobody likes a smartass

Plenty of people have pointed out that it may be difficult to predict DNFs purely from split data, given how many unmeasured variables affect the decision to drop out. I nodded to this in my project proposal, saying,

This [potential outcome] is what I think of as a “Tolstoy result”: successful runs are all alike, but unsuccessful races all fail in their own way.

Professor β asked for a citation on that, so it looks like I either drop the joke, or put Anna Karenina in my references.

Somehow the second course sounds like more fun to me.

Now Playing: Ghost of a Girl by Bluerunners

Posted by pjm at 9:27 PM | Comments (0)

The new Mac Firefox builds

For those who still find me when looking for opinions about Firefox on Mac OS X, I finally got around to updating the processor-specific build I’ve been using to the new 2.0 release. It’s no longer called Deer Park; now it’s Bon Echo.

Now Playing: Wild Flower from Electric by The Cult

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Posted by pjm at 8:20 PM | Comments (1)

October 25, 2006

Intersection of interests

I got an invitation today to a private function before the New York City Marathon, the weekend after next. I won’t be in town that early, unfortunately. Unfortunately because it includes a “special performance” by Josh Ritter. I did a little snooping, and it looks like he will indeed be in town to run the marathon. According to his blog on MySpace, he’s had to do most of his training on treadmills due to his touring schedule.

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Posted by pjm at 2:06 PM | Comments (0)


One thing I did while in PA was make a new cat-face jack-o-lantern. I was remembering the 2004 edition, but I didn’t have the picture to work from, so it’s similar but not quite the same. We lit it on the evening of the parade, and then I brought it home with me. We haven’t yet put it out in Medford.

Tiger 2

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October 23, 2006

Majors differentiation

Finally, the World Marathon Majors have some differentiation in the leader board. Until last weekend, both men and women were bound up in three-way ties for first, fourth, seventh, tenth, and thirteenth, as fifteen men and fifteen women scored in Boston, London or Berlin. Chicago saw the first multi-major scorers, as one man (Robert Cheruiyot, now with a commanding lead in the men’s Majors after winning both Boston and Chicago,) and two women (Berhane Adere, with a narrow five-point lead from her fourth in London and Chicago victory, plus Galina Bogomolova, whose fifth in London and second in Chicago boosts her to fifth in the series) accumulated points from a second race.

The worst-case scenario I pointed out in January—eleven different champions for an eleven-way 25-point tie—won’t be happening. As I said,

…the minimum winning score is at least 26, more than could be scored at any one marathon. The odds that none of [the champions] would have, say, a second or even a fifth somewhere else are vanishingly small; an athlete would need at least two scoring races to have even a freak chance of winning it all. The maximum score is a clean sweep: four wins, 100 points.

But there’s a new worst-case scenario. At the announcement press conference, there was a hypothetical 2004-2005 Majors scored out:

The hypothetical ‘04-‘05 season had Evans Rutto (wins in London and Chicago ‘04, plus a 4th in Chicago ‘05) winning by five points over Jaoud Gharib (3rd in London ‘04, 2nd in London ‘05, 1st in Helsinki World Championships.)

Fifty points out of a possible hundred puts Cheruiyot in a very strong position to win it all; he has as many points as anyone save Rutto has scored in the last few years, and needs only a fourth-place finish somewhere in 2007 to match Rutto’s “winning” tally. There’s a very real possibility that nobody else could approach his score in the remaining seven races for this cycle. Let’s throw out a what-if: what if nobody does? What if no other athlete wins two Majors in this cycle? No big deal… except that Cheruiyot slipped on something at the finish line in Chicago and executed a stunning back-flop in the very moment of winning the race. He hit head-first and was taken to the hospital, where they’re apparently treating him for brain hemorrhages; at the very least, he’s pretty concussed. (And we thought that only happened in contact sports!)

Imagine if he’s too hurt to run next year. He needs to run—and finish—at least one of the six 2007 races to be eligible. What if he doesn’t, and the eligible “winner” winds up with fewer points than he’s already scored? That’s the worst-case scenario, and it’s ugly; imagine the possible recriminations over that lost million. What if he runs but can’t score, and gets nipped by a point or two somewhere? Then there’s the question of what he might have scored had he not fallen.

Ordinarily, an unfortunate accident (even one like Cheruiyot’s, which appears to be no one’s fault) would have everyone at the race hoping for his full recovery. But now there are probably representatives of five entire marathons pulling for Cheruiyot to return to top form in 2007, if only so their jackpot can be won on their courses, not lost in a freak accident at one finish line.

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

October 22, 2006

Halloween Parade

I had forgotten, until I got there, that Emmaus has a Halloween Parade.

I have not heard of such things (Halloween Parades, that is,) outside of eastern Pennsylvania, though they must exist elsewhere. Emmaus (apparently) has the biggest one in the Lehigh Valley, and I almost always missed it, either because I didn’t know there was such a thing, or because I was in Chicago for the marathon. For the later three years I was there, I shared a house less than a block from the route; we walked down to the end of our alley and watched it cross Ninth Street on its way to the “return leg” of the trip on Chestnut Street. It was a bit odd, if only several factors (two left turns in quick succession, a downhill, and a relatively sparse spectator density) meant that most of the bands were just counting time and floats were hanging on rather than showing off.

This year, my second time at the parade, I walked a few blocks with one of my old roommates, his wife, and their two-month-old daughter, to our (former) coach’s house, where we watched with co-workers and training partners. (Ex on my part, not on his, obviously.) We were maybe four or five blocks from the start of the parade route, so everyone was still pumped up and excited to be out marching after an hour plus milling around in the staging area. The street was lined, shoulder to shoulder, chair to chair, both sides. (When we took the dog for a morning walk around 11, people already had chairs and blankets out to stake out prime spots, eight hours pre-parade.)

The distinctive part of the Emmaus parade is timing. Most parades are daytime affairs; Emmaus’s parade is at night, lining up at seven and moving at 7:30. It might have taken them fifteen minutes to get to our spot; it easily took a full hour for the entire parade to pass. I lost count of the marching bands at five, including at least three high schools and two junior highs, plus two or more “hobo bands” and the Kutztown University band. I suppose it’s easier to get a band when school is in session (particularly during football season) than it is in early July. KU got my votes for “Most Fun” and “Most Likely to Sustain Instrument Damage,” since they weren’t marching—they were weaving, milling around and circling in an apparently-but-maybe-not-really-random manner, like an ambulatory party providing its own music.

Halloween Parade

Brandywine Valley HS, as far as I could tell, was a good way from home, but obviously a regional-class band (if not better.) They take their marching bands more seriously in Pennsylvania than we ever did in Maine.

Now Playing: Wake Up from by Follow The Train

Posted by pjm at 8:20 PM | Comments (1)

October 20, 2006

The road to Emmaus

Going down to visit some old stomping grounds this weekend, in the territory where you don’t need a permit to park on the street. I’m not sure what ‘net access, if any, I’ll have.

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

October 19, 2006

Silver lining dept.

If you have a head cold, you can chop onions without tearing up.

Posted by pjm at 8:47 PM | Comments (1)


I read this on a job seeker’s website a few weeks ago:

This is the point of divergence. All of these potential futures become distinct universes in the coming weeks.

Distinct universes, as in choosing one excludes the others. Not something I’m looking forward to, myself.

Right now I’m (supposed to be) writing a proposal for a term project for machine learning. I’m going forward with the marathon split analysis, having been given the thumbs up by all involved, including two people who’ve done a little research in a similar area and are now interested in seeing my results. I turned down a few interesting projects to do so, including one which felt a little less… frivolous?

I also now have two “if I get this grant, I’ll be looking for grad student RAs, so be thinking about it,” offers. The one from Professor β, of course, is contingent on my doing well in this class (I’m interested, more so than I am by my other class, but the papers we’re reading are distressingly bewildering.) The good news—I think—is that the chair pointed out, in a discussion of the Ph.D. qualifying exams (not for me this time,) that everyone should come into quals with at least two faculty members who are willing to do research with them. So even if I’m otherwise completely unprepared, I could check that one off. But what if I like both projects? Choosing one excludes the others.

And, of course, there’s that big “so what are you doing next year?” question. I’m still chewing on that one. It increasingly comes down to the question of whether I like research, or at least whether I’m good at it. I’m beginning to get a feel for how it might be fun, but then, being a musician was fun, too. I just wasn’t good enough to do it for a living.

Now Playing: Seen Your Video from Let It Be by The Replacements

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

October 18, 2006

The best demonstrations are accidental

The scene: a group of undergraduates, maybe around thirty of them, selected from “under-represented” populations in given fields. (So, majority female, more racial minorities than usual at this university.) We’re in a large first-floor lounge near the lobby of a dormitory.

The discussion is about social class, that subtle discrimination that we pretend doesn’t exist in this country. We’re discussing ways we’ve noticed class differences on campus, and one of the students points out in the lobby at a big stack of brightly colored cloth bags. “There’s one right there.”

“I was wondering about those,” says the facilitator. “What are they?”

Almost in unison, the students chorus, “Laundry bags.”

“Do you mean some students have their laundry done for them? Don’t all the dorms have laundry machines?”

In unison again, “Yes.”

The facilitator makes a face. I think they would have laughed, then, if it hadn’t been so sad.

Posted by pjm at 8:42 PM | Comments (1)

October 16, 2006

The real problem

The edition of Brooks that we’re using includes “No Silver Bullet,” a 1984(?) essay explaining why the problems facing software engineers were unlikely to go away quickly or soon. (The older the essay gets, the more right he looks.) Brooks’ argument centers on the idea that the dramatic improvements early in the computer era were achievable because they countered “accidental” difficulties, not “essential” ones. Essential difficulties are problems which are inherent to the process of communicating ideas in code; accidental difficulties are inefficiencies embedded in the available tools and the costs of hardware in the early days. Brooks’ contention is that the accidental difficulties were “low-hanging fruit” and were comparatively easy to solve; the remaining essential problems will be harder to solve, and the solutions will offer smaller incremental benefits.

The concept of accidental vs. essential problems is not simple for anyone, and I’m not surprised many of these literal-minded engineers trip over it. But I wonder how many of our people for whom English is not their first language easily understand the concept of a silver bullet?

Also, someone has tagged the book with my first name in Amazon. I don’t know who did it, but it has to stop.

Now Playing: T.B.D. from Throwing Copper by Live

Posted by pjm at 9:27 PM | Comments (0)

October 15, 2006

Secret message to anyone tempted to include an automatically-playing audio clip in your web page

Don’t. Just don’t.

(In what contexts do you expect your audience to be viewing your page? In what contexts do you think your music, often blasting from their speakers at un-calibrated volume, will be appropriate? Odds are you’re going to tick them off more than entertain them.)

Posted by pjm at 8:00 PM | Comments (0)

October 13, 2006

Izzy 5: Rodents 4

Iz caught another mouse tonight. Fortunately—or unfortunately—he likes playing with them more than he likes killing them, so we managed to round it up in a wastebasket and release it outdoors, as we have with his three bats.

I don’t know where he found it; he was just watching something intently in the hall shadows, so I asked, “What do you have, Iz?” And then one of the shadows broke left, and he rounded it up with a paw. No claws out, I noticed, though the mouse squeaked whenever he brushed it. For a few minutes there was a standoff under a bureau, with the mouse cornered against the wall but the furniture keeping Iz from getting a paw on it. Eventually the mouse went up on the baseboards and managed an end run, but eventually he ended up in my wastebasket.

Unlike the last one, Iz never pinned this one down long enough to get a bite, which may have something to do with its survival for outdoor release. It’s supposed to get pretty cold tonight, though, so I wonder if I really did the little guy any favors. And Iz, of course, is once again disappointed that I swiped another great toy without even getting a trophy photo.

Posted by pjm at 8:33 PM | Comments (1)

October 12, 2006

Media I/O

If Mark Will-Weber is to be believed, some time in the 70s Duncan MacDonald, a contemporary of Don Kardong at Stanford, was congratulated after a race by a fan who then asked, “I see you on television and I read about you in the papers. How do you do it?”

MacDonald answered, “I don’t watch television and I don’t read the papers.” Whether he meant it in modesty or irritation isn’t clear.

I feel a bit like that about graduate school, except a stellar grad school performance isn’t likely to get me on any television broadcasts. My weakness tends to be the newspapers, although I need to broaden that category to include “any non-academic reading in any format whatever.”

Posted by pjm at 9:35 AM | Comments (0)

October 10, 2006

The Facebook question

Do I or don’t I?

I’ve been eligible to create a Facebook account even before the recent opening-to-everyone. (I suppose I could’ve used my wsc.ma.edu address even before I came here.) I haven’t done it, mainly because I didn’t have much interest. I’ve avoided 90% of the so-called “social networking” sites (the other 10% being in response to a specific request for help; I’m now having difficulty remembering which site it was.)

I still have only limited interest, but the more I work with undergrads, the more it becomes useful to have some kind of visibility in their social space. I discussed it briefly last year with an undergraduate TA, and dismissed the idea with, “I’m too old for Facebook.” It does seem a bit sketchy—as though I’d be one of those adults who’s trying too hard to be “cool.” And I’ve heard about (and seen) too many cases of poor public-image management on the part of students to really want to be involved. (Begging the question: Is this site a case of poor public-image management on the part of this student?)

But I am seeing a point in putting up a face, so to speak. At least one other person I know through track is on, focusing on his work in his University’s athletic department. He’s making himself visible and accessible to the students he works without trying to compete with them in presentation—using the medium to present the image he wants to present.

So I wondered: as a TA, and as a “mentor”, should I have a presence on Facebook?

(This isn’t actually as important to me as this post makes it sound; I just thought I’d share the thought experiment.)

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Posted by pjm at 6:36 PM | Comments (5)

October 9, 2006

The big story

I’ve mentioned before that I’m one of two authors for a blog about my College. (Not about my University; nearly anyone else could do a better job on that.) Neither of us live anywhere near the College anymore, so until we manage to recruit more writers we’re limited to what news we find online, which is mostly reports on the doings of our alumni.

In general, we divide the work simply by doing it; it’s not often that we’ve posted twice on the same topic.

Today, though, one of them won the Nobel Prize in Economics. Neither of us has taken it on yet. I can’t speak for my co-conspirator, but I am silently hoping he’s writing something, and I suspect he’s hoping I am. What do we say? Try to link all the news stories? Post whatever release the College comes up with and let it go? I feel like the story is too big for us.

Now Playing: We’re Coming Out from Let It Be by The Replacements

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October 8, 2006

The simplest possible way

Professor γ, like most other CS professors, takes a tiny bit of pride in being able to manage her own course website. She hasn’t gone to the extreme of creating her own proto-CMS, as some professors do, but nor has she admitted that maybe there are some tools out there which would make this task easier.

Notably, while the course website changes with some regularity, there’s no way for students to be aware of the changes, short of visiting the pages on a regular basis. They’ve mentioned this to me—in fact, someone specifically requested a feed.

Fortunately, Professor γ is also a fan of RCS, the grandfather of all revision control systems and the foundation of the widely used CVS. RCS includes a tool called rlog which produces a revision history of a page, including revision notes if they were included at check-in time. It only took me two evenings to come up with a Perl script which would pipe rlog output into an Atom feed. Minimum work-flow friction.

In the event that this sort of thing is useful to anyone else, I’ve posted it for general use. Any Perl hackers interested in improving my code are welcomed.

Now Playing: Crime Scene from This Stays Between Us by Black Tie Dynasty

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

October 7, 2006

My distance

With as little base as I have nowadays, I find that whatever feelings of strength I have at the start of a race tend to fade away sometime in the fourth mile. The solution to this problem, obviously, is to focus on races with no fourth mile, and to that end I ran a 5k this morning.

This particular race started and finished in Davis Square, so I ran down from home with my completed entry blank in my hand. Davis is barely a respectable warm-up from home, so registered and with my number pinned on my race shirt, I had to add on another loop to even get a twenty-minute warm-up.

I knew the course pretty well, and I knew there would be one hill in the middle of the second mile. Consequently, my plan was to try to run conservatively for the first mile, maintain up the hill, then push hard from there. It almost worked; I passed the first mile in just a few ticks under what would wind up being my average pace, and despite my general lack of hill training since leaving the western hills, I passed a lot of people while climbing.

Coming back down, though, I stretched out my legs a bit, looking for some of the energy I’d been saving. It was there, but there wasn’t much of it, and I blew through it pretty quickly. Still half a mile from home, there was nothing left in the tank. I’d just passed one of my lab students from Comp 11 last spring, and now I suspected he was coming back at me.

He was; he blasted past me as we went back through Davis Square at a pace that would’ve been pretty improbable for me even if I’d been able to kick. He wound up two places ahead of me. My three-mile split hinted that a sub-19:00 run would’ve been possible, but the finish line clock was already showing 19:00 when I could first bring it into focus. I wound up at 19:06, a 6:10 average pace. Given that my last race pace was 6:21, and the one before that was 6:40, I could argue that I’m improving quite well, but I should also admit that those races were four and five miles, respectively, so comparing per-mile paces is pretty sketchy.

Now Playing: The River Runs Low from The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby and the Range

Posted by pjm at 6:46 PM | Comments (0)


To vote in state elections in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, you must be registered to vote at least 20 days before the election. This year, I figure that means at least October 17, a week from Monday. I have my form filled here on the table, almost ready to send. You’ve been warned.

Now Playing: Shadows Tumble from Ghost Repeater Euro Bonus CD by Jeffrey Foucault

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October 5, 2006


I know you all, like my lab students, are comfortable with my infallibility, so you’ll be shocked to hear that I’ve mistakenly misled you all. Last spring, I contemplated the number of possible configurations of an Othello board and decided that the game was just too complex for the current state of computing. Yesterday, our colloquium speaker pointed out researchers from his group at the University of Alberta had written Othello-playing systems which were beating human champions nearly ten years ago.

As usual, there’s always more for me to learn. And I almost contemplated going back to Edmonton.

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Last night, I presented a paper in poster format to my Machine Learning class. Actually, about eight of us did; the class milled around the room, nodding distractedly as the poster presenters tried to distill eight- and ten-page blobs of theory into five minutes of talking with illustrations.

We didn’t have the facilities to print proper posters (one sheet, about three feet by four feet: think half a sheet of plywood.) Most people went by the alternate route of creating a bunch of slides (nine to twelve) in Powerpoint, printing the slides, and taping them up. I wanted a bit more consistency across my pages, plus I have a stated aversion to Powerpoint, so I made my “poster” in OmniGraffle.

OmniGraffle is a wonderful tool made mainly for building graphs; it comes with a bunch of “stencil” shapes for standard graphs like UML diagrams or network maps. In that way, it’s a lot more like Visio than Powerpoint, but in this case that’s its strength. It also allows the “canvas” for a single chart to spill over several pages, and that’s exactly what I did for this poster. It happens that I made the poster fit a series of discrete pages for ease of printing, but when I was working on it, I had all the pages sprawled out on my screen so I could see how they fit together.

A detail from my poster

Also, whenever I came in with a draft, the T.A. looked over the pages and said, “Can you use less text here? And here? Can you illustrate this?” I went back around two or three times adding color, trimming text, and generally cartoon-ifying the whole thing, until I felt like I was cutting important concepts.

I think I wound up with a very good-looking poster, and I thought it stood out among all the Powerpoint slides (though maybe I’ve spent more time looking at layouts than most CS grad students.) OmniGraffle wants to deal with layout elements, not text. It doesn’t lend itself to bulleted lists or large paragraphs. It’s possible that it took me too far in that direction, but I think it helped me.

(It has also been extraordinarily helpful in drawing DFAs and NFAs, first for my theory course and then for Compilers this fall.)

Now Playing: Rosebud from Cold Roses [Disc 2] by Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

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October 2, 2006

You can fix things by whining about them online

This morning, amid several software-upgrade reboots, the rogue CD spontaneously ejected.

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October 1, 2006

Platform damage

I’m worried about my Powerbook. Specifically, I’m worried about the CD drive.

I got a CD about a week ago with photos from the relay. It was in a padded envelope, but otherwise unprotected. When I put it in, it didn’t mount, nor did it eject.

It’s still in there. Every time I wake the computer from sleep, it tries to spin up the disc and fails, noisily. I suspect the disc itself is probably toast by now, judging from the noise. It’s a slot-loading drive, so I’ve had no end of trouble trying to eject the disk. I zapped the PRAM and reset the power manager (both per Apple’s suggestions,) and though the PRAM reset seemed to be poking the drive in the spot that hurt, it didn’t get the disk ejected. None of the available software tools will even admit that the laptop has an optical drive, which is a bad sign. (I’ve let this go on so long only because I’ve had more pressing deadlines to deal with.)

This drive is actually the second I’ve had in this laptop; it replaced the original one about a year and a half ago. Considering the troubles the tray-loading drive had (and still has) in the iBook which preceded this, it looks like optical drives are the weak spot of the Apple laptops I’ve had. I’ve considered trying to open it up and physically remove the disc, or at the very least disconnecting power from the drive. This may mean I’ll have to take a trip to Cambridgeside in the not-too-distant future, because, as the tech who put the drive in said,

this may be worst notebook to disassemble in the world

Note to self: back up HDD.

Now Playing: Monster from ‘Mousse by The Nields

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Posted by pjm at 7:59 PM | Comments (0)


Yesterday evening, as I emerged from the CS building, I noticed that the headlight of my bike was pointed straight up. Odd, I thought, and adjusted it.

Just then, a campus police officer called over from his cruiser. “Is that your bike?” When I asserted that yes, it was, he asked, “Is anything wrong with it?”

Well, this headlight. And, apparently someone fiddled with the pump—it was no longer in its bracket, but rather held in place with the velcro strap, handle fully extended. I started looking for more problems. Brakes OK, wheels OK, lock intact. I said as much, and that was the end of my conversation with campus police.

As I pulled it out of the rack, I realized that the seat adjustment clamp was loose, and the seat was all the way down, so I adjusted that again.

Where did all that come from? The seat, pump, and lights aren’t locked; if you wanted to steal them, you could. (I should probably spend a few minutes removing things, like the pump and the bottle cages, which I never use from the bike. The only way to lock the seat is to simply remove it and carry it inside with me.) As a crime, it’s pretty lame. As a practical joke… it’s still pretty lame.

On the other hand, there may have been a few intoxicated people on campus on a Saturday, so maybe someone had a low standard for amusement.

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