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December 31, 2006

Cat detector

How dark are a cat’s stripes?

We have a night-light near our apartment door which is itself light-sensitive, which is to say, it has a little eye on the front which measures ambient light nearby. If it’s daytime, or the lights are on in that room, it stays off. If it’s dark nearby (that is, neither of those conditions are true,) it lights up.

Like most outlets, the light is at approximately cat height. When Iz walks by, the light flickers on.

Posted by pjm at 5:50 PM | Comments (0)

December 30, 2006

75 days of Facebook

Back in October, I signed up for Facebook. This experiment has led to some interesting results, some of which I anticipated, and others which I didn’t.

  • I expected I would wind up networked largely to “my” students, the CS undergraduates either in my classes or in the research group I’m a mentor for. Two of them have “friended” me, but the vast majority of my “friends” here at the University are from… the women’s cross-country team, through A.

  • For someone who spends as much time as I do writing letters (e.g. weblog posts) to people I’ve never met, I shouldn’t be surprised that I have six “friends” I’ve never met in real life.

  • I expected to see other adults-working-with-younger-people on my friends list (there are two coaches and an “academic advisor” there) but the rabbi was a bit of a surprise.

  • This was the second of three “social networking” sites I’ve joined which are explicitly about the networking. (Some others, like Flickr or last.fm, aren’t centered around the network; I don’t really count them.) The first I joined at the explicit request of someone doing research, and essentially let it sit (I log in perhaps once a year.) I turn out to be a bad network node, because I hate sending friend requests. What if this other person has different standards for what counts as a friend? What if they haven’t used the service in months and hate the emails? What if we have a different concept of our relationship? So I wait for my friends to telepathically sense that I’m on the service, and send me a friend request. Because I tend to be friends with people like me, you can imagine that this doesn’t scale very well. (This whole paragraph is a passive-aggressive invitation.)

Related to another project, I also joined LinkedIn, which I like simply because the whole point of the service is “grow your network.” I’ve managed to ping a whole bunch of college connections, one of whom has provided some useful advice already.

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

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Posted by pjm at 8:35 PM | Comments (1)

10:14

Yeah, that’s a nice improvement for two weeks. I’d like to claim I’m in that much better shape, but actually, it’s just more aggressive racing.

Last time I wrote that I “fell asleep” a bit in the second kilometer. I was determined not to let that happen this time. My race strategy was to get out well (i.e. stay in contact with a pack that was moving quickly,) hit the second K hard, and then hang on. I lined up on the outside with Emily Raymond, jumped off the line well, and found relatively few people in front of me when we reached the backstretch. A was at the bottom of the backstretch with her camera and one of her runners, and though I didn’t hear her on this lap I did on most others. The pack strung out very quickly, and I was able to settle in right behind one fast-moving woman A had pointed out earlier, a recent Colby grad. (Aside: two weeks ago, all the women were in the third and slowest heat with me. This week, there was a slower heat behind us, and there was a former Irish Olympian, Marie Davenport, in the second heat.)

It turned out that she was on her way to a 9:47, and the laps she dragged me through were some of the fastest I ran. I don’t remember all the splits—the first one was something ungodly like 37—but I do remember hearing A calling, “Settle in, now,” by the third or fourth lap, and I suspected that was coaching shorthand for, “Let go or you will wind up as a little stub of ash in a pool of cooling tallow.” So I let go. I must have done this before the K split, which I reached in 3:19, a whisker under 10:00 pace.

Fortunately, I was caught almost immediately by a GBTC woman (I heard cheering for “Allison” which I assume was her,) so I latched right on, eyes on her ponytail. (If you look at someone’s heels, you fall back; if you look at their head, you keep up. The mental tricks we play!) Ryan was at the top of the backstretch and I could tell from his calls that Christy was close behind me, and hitting just about the splits I wanted, so I focused on keeping her behind me.

Despite this fast start, I stuck to the plan and pushed hard for the second K, mostly staying with this little pack of women. Tom Derderian was on the corner just past the starting line, and each lap he would encourage Allison and Emily (now back up behind me as well,) and after a few laps he started adding me in to the litany. (I wonder what Allison and Emily thought of that.) I hit the second k split right on pace, 3:25 (6:44 total at that point, so I was actually a bit more than five seconds ahead of schedule. I hit my watch at these splits, but I didn’t look at it, so I didn’t know where I was.)

A few things happened in here, and I don’t really remember the order. One, Allison in front of me started to fade, or I got aggressive, and I moved out to pass her. This worked fairly well, but within a lap, Emily overtook me and led Christy and Allison by as well. I tried to hang on to them, but at some point in here I ran my slowest lap of the race—A reported afterward that I hit 43 in here. I heard her warn me that I was slowing down, or maybe she just said I was slow: same thing. So Emily and Christy pretty much dropped me, and I was out on my own. I’d been on my toes for the whole race, and I was feeling a hot spot on the ball of my right foot.

(“On my toes” doesn’t actually mean on tiptoes, like a dancer; it means I first strike with the ball of my foot, on the spike plate, take my full weight by loading my calf and achilles, then push off without touching with my heel. In flats, in training or a road race, I’ll strike with my heel first, rolling to my toes as I load my calf for push-off. Some lucky and gifted runners forefoot-strike all the time; I am not one of them. This hot spot turned out to be a blister about the size and shape of a quarter and a dime laid next to each other.)

Still, the laps-remaining counter was showing encouragingly low numbers, so I managed to dig back in. Two things kept me focused: the big clock running on the backstretch, which showed me that I had a good shot at meeting or beating 10:15, and a few other runners in front of me. One of them was a woman I was lapping, I think one of very few (two?) I lapped in this race. I caught up to a male in the last lap but couldn’t pull up on his shoulder. I don’t think I had much of a kick; I couldn’t increase my turnover, but A says I picked up well in the last laps. I finished the third K in 3:29.9, my slowest and almost enough to erase that five-second lead I’d had at 2k. My watch says 10:14.6, but I’m guessing the official time will be 10:15 low; another runner training with our group (who ran 9:03 or so in the first heat) said that’s what he saw on the clock when I crossed.

Odds are pretty good I’ll do one more 3,000m race this winter, but I’ll explain that later. After the last race, I knew smarter racing would get me a good time gain, and it did today; now, a slightly slower start might get me a faster closing K and chip a few more seconds off, but I doubt there’s another ten seconds in me fitness-wise right now. The pace would earn me a 17:05 5k, which is good for my current fitness but not stellar, and I’d need to run 67% longer for it. Still, I’m in shouting distance of the sort of times I ran in college (at least in slower years) and that’s a good thing for a guy my age. I won’t be able to do that for too many more years.

Update, 7:48: The results are posted, and it looks like not only did I get a 10:14.98, but if I’d not run with the women like I did, I would’ve been in no-man’s land. The next finisher after me ran 10:45.

Now Playing: Do It All The Time from Be A Girl by The Wannadies

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Posted by pjm at 6:36 PM | Comments (2)

December 29, 2006

Build a better ATM, and the world will withdraw cash at your door

How do you get in to writing ATM software?

Because the user interface on those things, frankly, stinks.

I’m not talking about the hardware. Touch pad, buttons, whatever, that’s for the hardware people. I’m talking about the series of choices you’re presented with, and the inputs you need to provide. For example, it’s cool that they have a FAST CASH $60 option in the transactions menu, but why can’t I set a universal preference for a different sum and make that the Fast Cash amount every time? A few others:

  • Why am I asked where I’m withdrawing money from if I only have one account at this bank? (And, if I only had two, why should I be shown more than two options?)

  • If you can only withdraw money in increments of $20, why does the input require you to put in the full amount, including cents? That’s four key-presses for a hypothetical $60 transaction, and three of them are chances to generate invalid input. How about just two key-presses for 6 and ? Or how about a field showing the Fast Cash amount ($60 by default) with “up” and “down” arrows to increase or decrease the amount in increments of $20?

I’d try to patent these ideas, but I think the time I’d save at the ATM if someone implemented them would be worth more than I’d ever earn. ATM designers, rip off these ideas! Think of them as my gift to the world.

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Posted by pjm at 4:56 PM | Comments (1)

December 28, 2006

Cluck

The Quabbin is spectacular right now. On today’s run I had a few minutes, listening to a small stream rushing down towards the reservoir and looking at the fire road winding through the trees over a background of downed-leaves brown, where I was really happy to be there.

Not much wildlife, though, I was thinking. Then, at the end of the run, I spotted a white chicken crossing the road. (Yes, a chicken crossing the road. No, there is no punch line.)

I scooted back up to the car and grabbed my phone to document this sight. I assumed this was a rooster because of its comb, but my only reference for sexing chickens is Richard Scarry books, so maybe I’m off-base and we’ve got a hen trying to raise a flock of free-range chickens in the reservation. It wouldn’t let me get close enough for a good shot, and while I stalked it, I also listened to a woodpecker working on a nearby dead tree. After a few taps, I picked it out, high on a limb, but there was no point trying to get a photo of it.

Quabbin Rooster photo

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

These aren't the pages you're looking for

In which I repeat a cheap and over-done joke because I still find it funny.

Search terms by which people have found this site (with answers):

  • how to get rid of saddlebagsUnclip them from your bike and put ‘em on Freecycle. Duh.
  • i ran until my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery acid once a runnerExcept that the quote is from Fight Club.
  • pdr swimming pride movie streamI’ve got nothing.
  • panic iconYou’re looking for this.

Posted by pjm at 12:59 PM | Comments (0)

December 27, 2006

Swimming with the champions

Why finish high school? So you, too, can go to the alumni swim meet and cheat like mad.

This was my second time at the meet as an alum, and no mention was made of the team’s status as defending state champions. Alumni were announced by name and class year, the list followed by, “and those guys are the swim team.”

Events are largely whimsical, and they’re all relays. What’s important here is that the alumni—including the coach—are aware of this, and do whatever necessary to stay more or less even or slightly ahead of the current team. Sometimes this isn’t necessary; some of us are still legitimately fast. Others… well, on at least one occasion, as I waited to tag off on a relay, the coach leaned over to me and said, “Go now, and dive under him.”

Posted by pjm at 9:52 PM | Comments (0)

December 26, 2006

What a geek needs

Falling asleep Sunday evening, I was thinking to myself, what I want for Christmas is something that doesn’t really exist. I want a stack.

Not pancakes, nor paper, nor exhaust (though paper comes close.) I want a data structure for my brain that works like pushd and popd (two command line utilities I recently learned about and already love.) pushd . stores the current working directory in a “stack,” which in the world of computers is relatively narrowly defined, generally referring to a last-in-first-out (LIFO) data structure. (As opposed to first-in-first-out (FIFO,) which is called a “queue,” because it functions like a line at a store.) You “push” values on to the top of a stack, then “pop” the top value off. Once something has been pushed to the stack, you can move on to do something else, somewhere else. When you’re ready to go back where you were last working, you just say popd and you’re there. Because the stack is limited only by available memory, you can nest (pushing repeated values on to the stack, then popping them back off in reverse order.

So what I want is to be able to do pushd and popd on the entire working context of my brain. (From an Object Oriented standpoint, I want a stack of BrainContents objects.) So if I am distracted or diverted by something else (which inevitably happens) I could serialize my mind context, push it on a stack, go through the distraction, then pop the context off once the distraction is over and get back to work.

Anyone who can invent this will probably make a fortune.

Posted by pjm at 8:40 PM | Comments (1)

Record setting performances

What fun is a record you didn’t know you held?

My brother did a little research and discovered that not only do I have a share of two club relay records from the other weekend, but in this race in 2005, I set the club’s 100m breaststroke record for the 30-34 AG. In other words, nobody from the club in that age group had ever entered the event before. (Nor has since, apparently.)

“Don’t get too excited,” he added. “Son ages up next year.”

Posted by pjm at 8:17 PM | Comments (0)

December 21, 2006

Bang

(I have other things to post about, but they’re long and complex. This is short and may amuse some people who know the character in question.)

At the swim meet this weekend I was talking, briefly, with one of my former track coaches (also a swim coach) and a College classmate who swam for him. I mentioned another swimmer who had been my first-year roommate. “How did that work for you?” the coach asked. Well, I recalled, I looked at his desk once and saw all the books perfectly squared with the desktop, and realized he held himself to a standard I just couldn’t reach. I also remembered the time I was leading a tour group of prospective students around campus, and shortly after I had explained how we were one of the few undergraduate colleges with a Neuroscience major, and that at fifteen courses or so it was probably the toughest course on campus, I spotted him coming by and waved. “I just declared my major!” he shouted. “What?” I asked, and he replied, gleefully, “Neuro!” Whereupon the entire tour group laughed.

“Well, he had to let loose in other ways,” reflected the coach.

One year, I was sitting in my office on the day before the Williams meet, shuffling events and pulling my hair out trying to figure out our best scoring strategy. [My roommate] came in to this little office by the side door, and before greeting me, picked up the starter’s pistol from my desk, and pulled the trigger.

Without checking to see if it was loaded.

I jumped right across my desk and just about wrung his neck. When my hearing came back, he was yelling, “I quit!”

I think he quit the team at least three times that day.

Posted by pjm at 9:51 AM | Comments (0)

December 19, 2006

Scoring summary

The results from the swimming leg of this weekend’s competitions are posted. I actually managed to score more points for the team as an individual (18) than on relay teams (56/4=14) but a 32-point total is higher than I usually manage, and that’s all from the relays. The high point list shows that the four of us from the relays were 8th, 9th, 73rd and 132nd in point scoring; with 250 men on that list, I’m slightly behind halfway on the list. Together, we scored 340 points (plus a few more from the other three in a third relay) out of 1410 scored by our team. That only got us fourth; we beat Connecticut, but couldn’t take down two New York teams.

The 50m splits from my 400m swim are illuminating; if you ignore the first one (which includes a block start and is therefore artificially fast) there’s a little bell curve in there. I was telling Joe on Sunday evening that a 400m swim is not unlike a mile run, and my 100m (two-lap) splits show it; when I run a mile, the first lap is pretty quick, the second and third progressively slower, and I pick up for the fourth. The 200m looks pretty much the same, but on four laps instead of eight; I pretty much blew my chances of hitting my seed time in the third of four laps. Clearly, I need some endurance before I try to do multiple races in one day again.

Our club records for the 100-119 age group are 400m free relay, 4:35.65, and 200m free relay, 2:00.70. Unimpressive as those times may be, they’re probably not going anywhere until Zach can recruit some more fast young guys; we totaled 116 this year, so next year we’ll be too old.

Posted by pjm at 11:28 AM | Comments (1)

December 17, 2006

Another day, another record

Three races in the B.U. pool today. My brother loaned me his older “fastskin” suit, one of those full-body suits like the Olympians wear, and this was the first time I’d ever raced in something quite like that. After squeezing myself into it (since my brother is generally larger than me, I’m not sure how it got so tight,) I looked at the mirror and thought, I have really skinny legs.

(More after the jump.)

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Continue reading "Another day, another record"

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December 16, 2006

1:14

The funny thing about relays at Masters meets is that nobody wants to do them. The really good swimmers sign up for a full slate of individual events without considering the relays, and those more my speed figure we won’t be asked. So when it comes to meet day, nobody is ready to race, unless something was organized in advance. What’s more, with the relays usually coming at the end of the meet, a lot of swimmers just want to get dry and go home.

For me, the 400m free relay was all I was swimming today. I orbited the warmup pool while all three of my teammates did the 400m IM. They were plenty happy to have me, for two reasons: one, everyone on the “other” relay our team entered had opted out, so we were the only team entered. Two, the average age for the four of us put us in an age group where there is no club record for the event. As long as we got around without a DQ, we’d set the record, and next year this particular team will be too old to break it anyway.

They figured on going slowest to fastest. This also meant that IM swimmers got the most rest, since it meant I started. (My payoff was that I got a “legit” 100m time, since my split would be the only one from a legal start.) I got a fair start (i.e. my goggles stayed on) and pretty much just sprinted. I don’t remember feeling like the (meters) pool was any longer than the (yards) pool here at the University. Turns weren’t pretty, but I really did feel like I was moving quickly.

When I tapped the wall, I had to look up and figure out if leg two had actually left. He had. The others were telling me “1:14” before I could even get out of the pool. Leg two was swimming with a broken ankle; a 1:10 for him, I think, then 1:09 for leg 3 and 1:02 for the anchor, my brother. So we went about 4:35 (the results aren’t posted yet.)

I swam 1:14 last year, too, with (I think) better training. The calculator on the Great Bay Masters site suggests that’s worth a 1:06 in yards, which is about two seconds off my best.

They tell me they’re putting me on two relays tomorrow. There are 200m and 800m free relays and a 400m MR, so I assume they mean the 400m MR and the 200m free, but I’m swimming the open 400m and 200m so I may be a little wobbly when the second relay rolls around.

Posted by pjm at 9:23 PM | Comments (0)

10:25

Thinking back, before I started this morning’s race, I thought maybe I’d only run a flat 3,000m once, in 1994, on Williams’ grungy little nine-laps-per-mile track. I’m pretty sure I’ve never raced on a banked track, and it’s been at least ten years since I’ve raced indoors at all.

I didn’t leap to the front of my heat, but I didn’t exactly fall to the back, either. We spread out pretty quickly, and for the first two laps I pretty much just sat on the rail and tried to avoid being spiked while everyone determined to be in the front pack found their way around me. I heard “39” and “41” for the first two splits, but didn’t feel like I was working quite that hard.

Finally I was at the back of a definite pack, and I tried to make an effort to stay there. Around four laps in, that pack started to break up, and found myself trading the rail with someone coming up from behind. We passed the first K in 3:26, a shade faster than I’d expected but nothing I was going to turn down.

I think I fell asleep a bit in the second K. Not literally; I just wasn’t working on picking out targets and pushing myself. The laps were going by tolerably fast, nobody was passing me, and I felt like I could handle things, but in fact I was slowing down. 3:33 for the second K, with enough second fractions that the actual 2K time was 7:00. Time to get on the horse. It also helped that I was now catching and lapping runners who weren’t all that slow; after ten laps, you only need to be four or five seconds per lap slower for me to lap you.

I opened up my stride and started concentrating on form, pushing with my arms and getting a good kick off each stride. I could hear that I was pulling away from the people who had been right behind me for most of the second K, and I could also see that I was really blowing by people I was lapping. I finally got up and sprinted the last lap, covering the last K in 3:24 for a final time of 10:25 (splits don’t add up due to rounding.) It didn’t feel too bad; I think I’d do it again, particularly if I could get myself concentrating in the second K. I think I could probably slice at least ten seconds off that.

Just now I dragged out my old log books to see if I was right about how long it has been. Turns out I ran 3,000m four times, starting with that 9:53 at Williams (which followed a 4:29 1500m; I should have read the signs and figured out that the longer the race got, the better I’d do,) and the only time I was over 10:00 was when I’d run a mile (4:57) and 800m (2:20) first. My PR, only ten years old but 11 in February, was a 9:44 at Brown. I guess some things are better left to memory.

I’m due back at BU, this time at the pool, in a few hours. They didn’t need me for the medley relay, which was mid-meet, but they do want me for the 400m free relay this evening. It turns out the team doesn’t have a mark in the record books for that event for a team with average ages under 30; with my brother and two 25-year-olds, we’re going to set one up. It may be my only chance to set a swimming record…

Update, 12/17: Results are posted. Turns out I only ran 10:26?

Posted by pjm at 2:31 PM | Comments (1)

December 15, 2006

Executive summary

My brain is toast. I have about five posts I want to write, but they’re all too long.

  • Finals: It’s all over but the gradin’. I’ve been neck-deep since Sunday night; I’m short on sleep and haven’t been to the grocery store for so long that scurvy is starting to be a legitimate concern. Today I shaved and got a haircut so I’d look a bit less like a shipwreck survivor.

  • Academics: I am, based on what my professors, an average student at best, and my math background is deficient. (This is not news.) However, I am in great demand as a TA; Professor γ was counting on having me another semester, but apparently while Professor β doesn’t want me in her research group, she does want me as a TA… and the department chair thinks I’ll be most useful with neither of them. (It looks like I will be both TAing and doing a Masters’ project in the spring with yet another professor, who I’ve mentioned before but I will now officially dub Professor Σ for brevity.)

  • Apparently the University has had some small national notoriety in the past few days due to some so-called satire published in the campus conservative rag which some think crossed the racism line. I haven’t read the inflammatory text in question, and I think while there’s nothing wrong with holding the responsible authors and editors up to the ridicule of the University community—or, at the very least, explaining why their biases are wrong rather than simply chastising them for holding them—I also think that multiple public responses from the President’s office both overstates the importance of the publication in question, and lowers the President’s office. The editors in question are in a hole; let ‘em figure out for themselves when to stop digging.

  • Racing: I will be at BU all weekend. Saturday morning I’m running a 3,000m on the track (I need to get out my old college logs and see if I even have a PR at that distance) and apparently that afternoon I’ll be in a relay or two over at the pool. (My team is looking for a good finish at the SCM meet.) Sunday I’m swimming 400m and 200m free, and more relays if I can still stand on the blocks without shaking at that point. Word is there’s wireless in the pool, too!

Now Playing: Boat from Let’s Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later On Tonight by Marah

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December 14, 2006

Late policy

This semester was the first time I ever needed to think about stating a late policy, and I didn’t think of it until too late.

I’ve seen a few variations on the late work policy. Prof β this semester simply refused late work, because of the nature of the class. Last spring, her policy was 10% off for the first day an assignment was late, 50% for the second (and after that, why bother.) Another professor this fall gave us three “late days” to be used as we found necessary through the semester.

I’ve been liberal in my own grading. Labs tend to be graded on a ten point scale, but there are really only three places on that scale: 10 for excellent, 9 for good but not great, and 6 for incomplete (and, of course, 0 for nothing.) I accepted late labs for full credit until the last day of classes, yet there are still a lot of 0s in the grade book. The written assignments, graded on a 100-point scale, are trickier. Most students didn’t bother submitting them late, but when the first seriously late one came in, I made up a policy on the spot: five points off for each day late.

This turns out to be a bad decision. See, you can be a week late and still score (potentially) 65 points. (Nobody does, of course, because if you’re a week late you’re not turning in a perfect paper, either.) That’s a lot better than 0, so it doesn’t discourage the perpetually tardy terribly much.

What I need is a function over days late which starts small, increases by healthily large chunks per day and exceeds 100 somewhere around 5 days. 20 points per late day might be sufficient, but it’s too linear; I’d like some curve in there.

What would really be perfect would be if I could express the late policy as a function which requires greek-letter variables.

Now Playing: Starman by Dar Williams

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Posted by pjm at 6:34 PM | Comments (2)

December 11, 2006

The effort shows

Since I’ve been a full-time TA this year, I’ve spent more time in my “office” at the department. (Last year, I did a lot of work at home, or in a particular basement lab.) Last week, one of my office-neighbors observed, “You’re working much harder this year.”

Now Playing: Be My Prayer from Seven by James

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Posted by pjm at 6:27 PM | Comments (0)

What growing up really means

As far as I can tell from this editorial in today’s University newspaper, “growing up” means, “There’s no such thing as ‘a little harmless fun’ anymore.”

(When did college students start having to be reminded to “play nice”?)

Now Playing: Raining in Baltimore from August & Everything After by Counting Crows

Posted by pjm at 10:11 AM | Comments (0)

December 10, 2006

Software wreck

A little voice in the back of my head is saying, “You’ve only played with data mining if you haven’t crashed WEKA by running out of memory.”

Wait, out of memory? Didn’t I put a new stick in this laptop… oh, yeah, a year and a half ago. I really needed to move this to the servers, didn’t I. Last week I was wondering if the cluster had Java, because I bet Friday night’s three-hour experimental run would’ve gone much faster if I’d distributed it between thirty nodes.

Now Playing: Heaven Sent from Welcome To Wherever You Are by INXS

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December 9, 2006

Cold weather launch

My nieces are visiting. My brother took them in to the city to see The Nutcracker this afternoon, and now they’re out at the neighborhood playground, but somewhere along the way it occurred to me that I could launch a rocket. So I prepped the big old one with a B4-4 engine quickly, and when they left for the playground I went out with them. There was nobody on the fields, so I could go right out in the middle to launch.

The best part of launching so late in the day was that when it went up, you could really see the light of the engine exhaust. By luck and not design, the launcher sent it slightly upwind (over my head,) but I kept it in sight most of the way up and watched it make a clean nose-cone separation, at which point I relaxed and started winding up the wires while it drifted downwind. The girls and my brother made the retrieval and brought it back before heading for the playground; it’s solid and ready to go again, given some wadding and another engine. I think the girls were impressed; they wanted to know how high it had gone. Plane height? No, not really…

I wish I knew the model name of that rocket, because it’s been the most solid one I’ve ever launched, pretty much. Aside from the one winter launch (decades ago) where it lost two tail-fins landing on the icy lake behind our house in Maine, it keeps coming back for more. In hindsight, the nose cone didn’t pop until the rocket was already starting down; a B4-3 might make for a softer landing. I wonder if the same three-second coast would hold for a C engine?

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December 8, 2006

You have 38 days to finish and mail your application

As a result a series of emails that started mid-November and got somewhat confusing right around Thanksgiving, I returned to the College career center today to speak to any students potentially interested in CS graduate school, to pitch the University specifically and to answer other questions generally. Following my hour at the College, I had a tight connection over to Smif in the hopes that I’d get higher turnout from that institution if I didn’t ask them to take a 40-minute bus ride to the College.

The audience at the College was… small. One senior and one of the career center deans. The senior was a CS major who had already sent five or six applications but was still uncertain about what, exactly, he wanted to concentrate on. I managed to convince him to cut-and-paste from his existing applications into the University app (due January 15 for those planning to start in September ‘07!) so I suppose my yield on that meeting was 100%, which isn’t too bad, but if he’s accepted (and I suspect he will be,) he’s most likely to go to one of the other places that accepts him. The advisor had a lot of good questions, I was able to give her a good picture of why she might suggest the University to other students, and I left a folder full of University information there for anyone else.

And then I got caught in traffic on my way to Northampton, arriving at the designated auditorium ten or twelve minutes late to find it empty (and unsigned.) So I suppose I did get higher turnout by making that trip: many multiples of zero are still zero. I dropped off a few more folders at the department office, checked email at a public terminal in the campus center (which had another college’s webmail in its browser history) and headed home.

I’d planned to get in a run on one of my old Northampton routes, then maybe dinner in town, but after the disappointment of the non-meeting, I couldn’t get motivated to find a place to change and put in the energy, so I more or less went directly home. On the way back I thought, this is why I couldn’t work in sales. It’s not that I can’t sell; if I believe in what I’m selling, and I can be honestly positive about it, I do pretty well. It’s that I’m so keyed up for it that something like that empty auditorium makes me almost disoriented.

I find that have to remind myself of the small victory and not be overwhelmed by the subsequent failure. The most useful result to the University is probably the contacts I made. I can now write a short manual for contacting these institutions and arranging information sessions; the College (in the person of the dean) expressed interest in having a sort of panel of people from several departments at the University, though organizing things like that is way over my pay grade. I did put the University on some radar screens, and spread some seeds which may sprout much later. I suspect I added sentences to some future recommendation letters coming from my University by making this happen at all.

But all of this building karma for the future stuff is pretty tedious when you don’t know when—or even if—it’s going to pay off.

Now Playing: Exhuming McCarthy from Document by R.E.M.

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December 7, 2006

Sunset day

Sunset Day is early this year. Today marks the earliest sunset of the year, so even though the days keep getting shorter for another two weeks, there will be more light every evening until summertime. (From that we can deduce that sunrises are getting later at a faster clip than sunsets.) Sunrise Day was of great importance to me during the year before I was injured, when I was getting up to run at 6 AM every morning and frequently finished my run before the sun was up. I’m not an early morning runner nowadays, and seeing late-afternoon light coming through classroom windows during a class that ends at 2:45 has been a bit bleak lately.

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Posted by pjm at 9:26 PM | Comments (1)

December 6, 2006

Strategic use of leftovers

A few years ago—perhaps when I was a sysadmin and therefore a sort of de facto part of the support staff—I realized that it pays dividends to be on the good side of whatever support staff keeps the basics happening in the department I’m in. Applying to grad school really drove that home; it didn’t help me get accepted, but it did help me round up recommendations from absent-minded professors.

Today was the last meeting of the semester for the undergraduate group I mentor for, and I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies from my mother’s recipe. (Actually, it’s Marge Standish, but it might as well be my mother’s. There are several things my mother does which I will never, as long as I live, be able to match, and two of them are chocolate chip cookies and apple pies.) Best batch of cookies I’ve made in years—maybe decades.

Cookie photo

After our lunch meeting, I left about a dozen and a half extras in the department office. Subject line of the email I got from the Staff Assistant an hour or so later:

You get an A++!

Now Playing: Living It Up In The Garden from ‘Mousse by The Nields

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Posted by pjm at 5:26 PM | Comments (1)

December 5, 2006

Stupid web tricks

Guess what? If you search either Google or Yahoo for “boloco medford hours”, this site is the top two links.

Obviously, the best place to find this information should be the actual Boloco site. Two big problems, though: one, it’s entirely in Flash, so Bog help any search engine trying to figure out what’s really on the site. The only plain text there is the title and the URL, which say nothing about hours.

And even if they did… the Medford location says only, “Opening in late November!”

Have I mentioned how much I love it when companies really get the web?!?

Update: They’re aware of the problem—see the comments.

Now Playing: The Whole of the Moon from This Is the Sea by The Waterboys

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Posted by pjm at 8:53 AM | Comments (3)

December 4, 2006

Reinforcing cycles

It is an unavoidable coincidence of timing that the time in which a student is most busy—namely, the week or two leading to the end of the semester—is also the time in which a TA is consequently most busy.

Thus making me doubly busy.

There’s a payoff for this somewhere, right?

Now Playing: We’ll Inherit The Earth from Don’t Tell A Soul by The Replacements

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Posted by pjm at 9:56 PM | Comments (0)

December 3, 2006

Can you rent a sewing machine?

That’s what I need: a rental sewing machine.

I’ve discovered that sometimes I want to sew something. Sweatshirts, for example, tend to have cuffs smaller than I like them; I want to cut the cuffs off and then hem the ends of the sleeves. I’m OK with a needle and thread; I can do a pretty regular running stitch and a few others, and I can replace a button (assuming I put it on the right side of the shirt; I once accidently re-attached a button on the inside of a shirt.) I’m better with a sewing machine, but my need is so seldom it’s far from worth it to me to own one; I’d use it maybe once a year, maybe less. (Not unlike an iron, but more expensive.)

So can I rent one, like I could with power tools? In the first apartment Iz lived in, the “baseboards” were strips of carpet stapled to the walls, and he liked to lie on his side and pull himself along the wall using the carpet strips. Naturally, they pulled away from the walls, so before we moved out, I went to the local rental place and spent ten bucks to rent a power stapler and buy a stick of staples. I tacked that carpet back on the wall more securely than it had been fixed when we moved in, I think. (And I think the first thing the landlord did when we moved out was rip out everything to renovate the unit and sell it as a condo.)

Is it possible to rent a sewing machine that way?

Will they thread the bobbin for me?

Now Playing: Chaos from Priest = Aura by The Church

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Posted by pjm at 10:39 AM | Comments (2)

December 2, 2006

Reading for others

“Nazar” asked in the comments to “Someone else’s reading” how to get involved, since I didn’t post a link to the sign-up and reading list page. I explained there that there are a few reasons why I don’t feel comfortable posting that link, one being the so-far limited community which is easily handling the reading list, and another being potential copyright issues.

But if you’re interested in contributing the audiobook community in a way that reaches a significantly wider audience than this little project, I recently heard about LibriVox.

I would say, “started using and love,” but I’m not in a phase of my life where I’m a big audiobook consumer right now. (There was a time when I was driving a lot, to home and on weekends, radio along the way stank and I didn’t have an iPod. At that time, checking out the unabridged audiobook of I, Claudius (13 CDs! I can’t remember how many cassettes it was, but it was a lot,) from the Emmaus Public Library was a triumph.)

LibriVox is a community which collects, copy-listens and distributes public-domain (or otherwise legally distributable) audiobooks for free. There’s a lot of good (albeit mostly old) literature in the public domain, so there’s a lot that can be read for them. Audiobooks like this are available to everyone, of course, but most appreciated by people with vision problems. If you’re interested in contributing your time to a project by reading, consider them.

Now Playing: Amber, Ember, Glow by Saxon Shore

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Posted by pjm at 10:34 AM | Comments (0)

December 1, 2006

Someone else's reading

Through an online connection, I heard about an alumna of my (undergraduate) college who is a grad student at Harvard. She’s recently been dealing with a medical condition which makes it difficult to read. This can be a problem for a grad student. For a while, other grad students in her program were reading to her, and she was also having her Mac read text to her.

This is where things get interesting.

Within a day of her mentioning this, two different people suggested that it should be pretty simple to organize distributed recording of the readings. One took charge and set up an infrastructure which automated the process. Readings get posted to a list, where interested readers can browse the list and sign up to read chapters or papers. Once they’ve made a recording and saved an MP3 (instructions provided, of course,) they can upload to the site, where everything is organized as a podcast. A local friend subscribed the student’s iTunes to the podcast, and voila, her readings are automatically downloaded and available for “reading” shortly after posting.

Now, that’s cool by itself, in a sort of techie way, but it’s still not the best part of the story.

It’s positively competitive to sign up for readings. There are enough people who think this is a great idea and are willing to spend an hour or so reading that when a new list of articles goes up, it’s “claimed” within a few hours. If you don’t jump, you don’t get to read.

I’ve done one, so far. I was alarmed, listening back, to discover that I was using the same tone of voice I use when reading to my nieces. (Then I stopped, because I don’t like listening to my own recorded voice.)

Now Playing: The Innocent from Fly Me Courageous by Drivin ‘N’ Cryin

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Posted by pjm at 10:32 AM | Comments (3)