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March 31, 2007

Peaceful Warrior

A and I went to see Peaceful Warrior tonight. I knew very little about the film going in, just a quick synopsis; I picked it because it looked like it might be both entertaining and interesting, and because it was showing at the right time.

If you had to pin this to one of those “X meets Y” formulas, this would be, “The Karate Kid meets Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” This is not entirely a bad thing—I like both titles, though the Karate Kid is getting kitschier as it gets older—but the movie also inherits a certain amount of the tail-chasing “just trust me, this works—and if it doesn’t work, it’s because you didn’t trust me” logic of Seagull.

Quick synopsis is that national-caliber Berkeley gymnast Dan Millman is trying to improve; he wants to make the Olympic Team. He meets an old man who does some impressive, almost supernatural things which Millman can’t understand; he wants to learn this.

For large sections of the movie, Millman almost seems like everyone’s spiritual punching bag. Everything he guesses is wrong. When he manages to get a grip on some of what he’s being taught, and applies it with spectacular results in the gym, he’s elated, but then berated for gloating about it. It’s like spiritual boot camp, and oh, does he ever break down.

The core of the message, is so common-sense it’s almost cliché: Are you happy? What do you believe is going to make you happy? Are you chasing a destination or enjoying a journey? Or, as in the last scene, Millman hears the questions: Where are you? Here. What time is it? Now. What are you? Less obvious is the question: if what you’re doing isn’t making you happy, why not? Where does the love come from?

Like Millman, the movie pitches a lot of questions. Like his mentor, who he calls Socrates, it tends to give only one answer: I don’t have the answers, they’re in you.

Now Playing: We Walk In The Dream from The Distance To Here by Live

Posted by pjm at 11:16 PM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2007

More than a penny

On my way over to the presentation, I passed by Jumbo. Remembering the success of my nickel on my first trip by him, I left a penny. I think maybe that wasn’t enough.

We didn’t win the business plan contest. This doesn’t come as a big surprise; the two competitors I identified earlier this month as strong entries came out on top. These guys came out on top—not surprising considering what they’ve already done—and these guys were second.

Despite the contest being billed as a winner-take-all, though, they ended up splitting the funds among us, such that we and two others actually came away with $1k, while the top two had some complicated division of the remaining prize (which, while largely cash, also included a fair amount of in-kind services like legal assistance, consulting, and lease credit for office space.) The upside is that, since we didn’t pick up the in-kind services, we’re not now tied to those companies for services or offices; there has been some discussion of locating somewhere other than the Boston metro area. The downside, obviously, is that we’re not $50k ahead on our initial funding.

We got some helpful feedback from two of the judges, who pointed out to us that while we’ve been focusing on the website, and the related software development has been growing in the background, it’s time we started pitching ourselves as a software company, and building the website as a proof of concept.

So there may be a company name change in the near future (one reason I haven’t been spreading around our working title,) and some actual software engineering is going to have to start happening.

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March 27, 2007

All-Gmail

Despite railing a bit against Gmail back in 2004, I did actually pick up an account a few years ago, if only to stake out the name.

Yesterday, grappling with mounting frustration at Mail.app’s inability to filter spam out of my email, and (since the Intel MacBook arrived) its tendency to crash when I label spam, I got fed up. I’ve been watching the Shipwright and many, many students using Gmail (which makes a lot of sense if you don’t have a laptop to use as a central email store,) and I was intrigued by the interface. I decided it was time to run the experiment: I shut down Mail.app and set all my (many, many) inboxes to feed into Gmail. I’m going web-based.

I’m deliberately trying not to recreate all my desktop-client habits, instead letting Gmail steer me into the most effective way to use it. The thing I like most so far is the “conversations” organization, which reminds me of the way elm used to file both sent and received mail in the same folder, defaulting to the username part of the email address on the other end of the correspondence.

(Yes, elm. Back in the days when I read mail over a 9600 baud frame relay network (and no, I’m not missing an order of magnitude there.) Damn, I’m old.)

Another driving motivation: I have Yet Another Mailbox now, in the domain of our forthcoming website. The Shipwright has, so far, been farming out domain services like email to Google Apps, so that’s a Gmail box by default. Yesterday he made us a small run of business cards. (Small, because the name is likely to change before we release anything.) It’s a very small set of information: logo, my name, my position (“Founder”), the new email address, and my cell number. I feel postmodern without a postal address.

Now Playing: Trans-Neptunian Object #1 from Cherry Marmalade by Kay Hanley

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Posted by pjm at 9:27 PM | Comments (1)

More on the sushi

A few weeks ago I mentioned the candy sushi. There’s a longer, more detailed post about them online now, for that fraction of you who read French. (OK, there are also photos for the rest of us.)

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Posted by pjm at 9:03 PM | Comments (1)

March 25, 2007

I'm getting too old for this

Three-day meets, I mean. Four-day, counting last weekend.

  • Races: 10, 5 individual and 5 relays.
  • Yards raced: 2350, 1850 in individual events and 500 in relays.
  • Yards in warm-up or cool-down: Well in excess of 3,000, I’d guess.
  • Points scored: 19 by myself, plus part of relays scoring 66 more.
  • Points by which we beat the next team in our division: 1849.5
  • Hours spent at the Harvard pool: I prefer not to think about it, but on Saturday alone, at least ten.
  • Strokes swum in competition: three.
  • Years since I had last done a backstroke start from the blocks: 16.
  • Individual races where I beat my best previous time for that yards distance: 5.
  • Races where I nonetheless didn’t beat the time predicted by my meters time last December: 1.
  • Times I haven’t yet listed, because I will inevitably come back to this entry someday to see how fast I was:
    • 50y BR: 37.09

    • 200y FR: 2:22.67
    • 500y FR: 6:33.45
  • 20 oz. bottles of Gatorade consumed: 3.
  • Tubs of Gatorade powder used in multiple refills of those 20 oz. bottles: 2/3.
  • Chocolate chocolate chip cookies consumed: I lost count.
  • Blade shaves: 2
  • Alumni of The College present for a group photo: 8, plus one parent. (Oldest, class of ‘59; youngest, ‘02; one other from my class present on Saturday, but not on Sunday for the photo.)
  • Alumni of my high school swim team present and swimming: At least four, starting in the 50+ age group. One other spotted in December but not here this weekend.
  • Relays disqualified (“Deeked,” an abbreviation for “DQ”) by those alumni on Friday night: 2. (My brother blames his club coach, who said, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”)
  • Number of chances I had to deek a third relay today with illegal backstroke turns: 3. Illegal turns: 0.
  • Number of heats by which the field size for the men’s 100y IM exceeded the men’s 100y FR: 3.
  • Number of swimmers claimed for the whole meet: 850.
  • Number of masters swim meets in the world larger than this one: 2.

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March 23, 2007

1:02.40

I think that’s a PR. Certainly it’s the fastest I’ve done a 100y free in this particular swimming career; maybe I was faster in high school, but I don’t remember it. I’m getting used to not being last, but I hadn’t expected to score age group points (four) in this event, which had 25(!!) heats of eight swimmers.

It’s gotta be the cap. (Yes, that’s a blue lobster.) I pulled it on for the first time right before the race, sealed it over my un-hydrodynamic ears, and off we went.

Maine Masters cap

I had a 28-second relay leg, too; it was a mixed relay, so we scored 24 points just because there weren’t many teams contending. We’re currently standing fourth overall for points, and leading our division.

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

Ask and ye shall work

For once, I queried a lot of potential employers early enough to get work. My Osaka queries got several responses of, “no firm plans yet, but you’re at the top of our list,” enough that I think I can stop asking for more. Probably two magazine articles, plus the possibility of blogging for pay, which in this context actually sounds fun—like expanding some of the fragments in my notebook and sending them out. There are a lot of stories that aren’t big enough for full stories.

So Wednesday night, I spent an absurd amount (to me) on a plane ticket for Japan. Flights, especially return flights, are beginning to fill already. Outbound, I am flying through Indianapolis (why?) and then Detroit direct to Osaka; inbound, I will have almost six hours on the ground in Honolulu before jumping to Minneapolis and thence home. (I wonder if it will be practical to leave the airport for a few of those hours?) I should get in late on Thursday before the meet starts on Saturday, giving me a little time to explore the city, and a bit more on Monday after the meet ends, since I don’t leave until evening.

I also wonder if I have enough miles on some airline to bump one or more of those segments up to business class. Fourteen hours in coach is difficult. I will require an industrial-strength supply of paperback books.

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March 22, 2007

Your most effective tools may surprise you

The cat attempts several strategies to get me to wake up and feed him in the morning.

His favored approach involves sitting next to my head, putting one of his little white paws on my mouth, and slowly extending its claws into my lips. This has been less effective lately, as I have started “biting” his paws with my lips when I feel them close to my mouth.

If he was more persistent, he could almost certainly win with a different strategy, which he often starts but seldom sticks to. He gets a good purr going, then sticks his nose in my ear. The combination of the up-close full-volume purr flood and the tickling of his whiskers (plus the sniffing noise and the rushing air connected to hauling a pretty good volume of air in and out through his tiny nose) almost always produces sleepy chuckles from me; if he’d stick to it, he’d have me wide awake and laughing at him.

I suppose he would rather dominate me with his weapons than bring the indignity of participating in a joke. Cats are not, generally, willing clowns. But when they fall into the role inadvertently, they do it so well!

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March 20, 2007

Relay time

The team is getting wound up for next weekend’s meet. After distance day we lead club scoring by 25 points. (A curious quirk of the way U.S. Masters Swimming is subdivided is that “New England Masters” is its own massive club, with an internal “workout group” competition; everyone outside “New England,” which includes Connecticut, Maine, and at least one New Hampshire club, competes with each other.) I gather that there are more swimmers coming down for this meet than we’ve sent for years, and since masters swimming scoring rewards a lot of “splashes” as much as quality performances, high turnout is the first step to a winning score total.

Today we got proposed relay lineups. I’m in a mixed sprint relay on Friday night, and alternate for two more on Saturday. Unlike the meters meet in December, relay age groups here are not based on the sum of ages, but instead are determined by the age of the youngest swimmer in your relay. The trick is to assemble the youngest relay you can while staying above a particular age-group break point. If you’re 70, you can swim on any relay; if you’re my age, you can only swim on 18+ or 25+ relays.

It felt a little to me as though the lineups were drawn by a score-optimizing algorithm, though, the sort of program that never rests its key players. I wonder if I won’t wind up swimming at least one of my “alternate” slots on Saturday, and maybe picking up another one on Sunday, when the all-stars start wearing out.

Update, 3/21: Plenty of people, apparently, were unhappy with yesterday’s draft. Another round came out today; among other changes, I was promoted from alternate on the short MR. The wording of this email implies that while there are 40 relays proposed, they expect as much as 25% “shrinkage.” I expect there will be a lot of relay re-alignment on deck this weekend.

Now Playing: Fists In My Pockets from (Places) by The Shiftless Rounders

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March 19, 2007

What I did on my spring break

I went skiing.

No, really. When life gives you mid-March snowstorm(s), you go up to Windsor and ski Notchview. It was the first time I’d been skiing since I moved to Medford, and it was great. They had eighteen inches in the woods (who knows what that means for the groomed trails) even though most of the other areas in this end of the state are closed. (The conditions page showed a lot of, “Sorry, we didn’t expect this storm and we’ve already shut down for the year.”)

When I only had classical skis, I was all strength and no technique. (And lack of technique makes strength pretty irrelevant.) Since I bought skate skis, I still have the clumsiest form on the trail (I imagine) but boy can I fly.

Skating requires at least a little technique to move at all, and the more you practice the more you learn. Today, I actually pulled my hands out of the pole straps and carried the poles for long stretches, forcing myself to use only the skis rather than poling like a demented gondolier; it was slower, particularly if there was a hint of an upgrade (on a real uphill, I needed to get back in the pole straps) but I felt smoother if I limited myself to occasional stabs at the ground. Also, on the downhills, it was much easier to keep my poles from dragging!

On the way home, I stopped for a few photos. This abandoned ski area in Cummington has always intrigued me; there’s only one run and a lift visible from the road, but it jumps right out in the satellite photo.

Overgrown ski area

Now Playing: This Is the Sea from This Is the Sea by The Waterboys

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March 18, 2007

Reminder to owners of tall cars

Clear the snow off the roof before you drive.

Headed west on Route 2 near Lunenberg this afternoon, we watched a big sheet of frozen snow lift off the roof of an SUV and fall on the car behind it. As we passed that car, we saw that the windshield was pretty much completely starred (though fortunately for the occupants, not shattered.) He was back up behind the SUV—writing down the license plate number, no doubt.

It wouldn’t surprise me if, when the state police get the accident report on that one, the SUV driver gets a citation along with a sternly worded letter from his insurance company.

Rule of thumb: if you can’t sweep the snow off the roof, maybe you shouldn’t buy it. (And if you just can’t be bothered… well, I hope the ticket is an expensive one.)

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Posted by pjm at 7:26 PM | Comments (1)

It's not always about the time

When I woke up in the night and realized the take-out Chinese I’d picked up on my way home from the pool was coming back for a rematch, I figured today’s 5K was out of the question.

But an hour and a half before race time, I felt shaky but not ill. I figured I could get around the course. And a half-dozen other grad students from my department were running, so I figured at the very least I would go down and say hi.

I wound up running the whole way with Professor Σ’s PhD student. He’s coming back from an injury, and today what we each felt capable of matched pretty well. We took nearly nine minutes for the first mile, in heavy traffic, then were sub-8 pace for the rest of the way. I didn’t lose my breakfast (two slices of toast), and he was pretty happy with his time. I think we both felt a bit better about the race than we would have otherwise.

When I was younger than I am now, and saw my running career as years of ever-faster times stretched out in front of me, I would sometimes wonder what it would be like when I reached an age where I was getting progressively slower every year—where I would regularly find myself saying things like, “I just don’t recover as fast as I used to,” and where being the youngest in the age group was an advantage, not a disadvantage. How will I stay motivated to keep coming out, to keep putting the miles in?

I may or may not be pretty close to that age, but I am getting a good idea of the answer to my question. It stops being about the times; it’s more about the people and the events, like it has been all along.

Now Playing: Falls To Climb from Up by R.E.M.

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March 17, 2007

13:26.28

While I was counting laps for my brother, I mentioned to a high school teammate of ours (who wound up ahead of me in our later event by about a minute and forty seconds) that he was going back to Maine before my race, and I wasn’t sure who was counting for me.

My brother had apparently mentioned this to others as well, because in the half hour before my race, both Jon and a Maine Masters teammate, Bill (second in the 70-plus age group) asked me where I liked the lane counter—of course they were counting laps for me! Bill agreed to check and see if Jon was there, and then said he would return to the start side and watch from there.

So I did my twenty laps—not many of them under 40 seconds, I’m afraid, but actually a much more consistent pace than I felt like I was managing—feeling like I was being passed back and forth between Jon and Bill, checking in every twenty-five yards for a shot of encouragement.

I didn’t actually see either of them, just the numbers Jon would stick under the surface counting off the lengths; nor did I hear them much. I saw the swimmers on either side of me, the one on the outside who wanted to go under 13:00 and crept away from me after the first 300 or so, only to turn up in passing range with 100 remaining (I caught him,) and the one on the inside who zipped my suit up before the race and probably beat me by a length. (We unzipped each other once we emerged on deck.) I heard the swoosh and rumble of the water and my own motion in it, the bubbles and gasps of my breathing, and that was pretty much it.

The time is pretty good. It’s 23 seconds better than my best, the only other time I’d raced this distance, and it should move me to fifth on the club list for the age group, which I’m pleased with. I’m not sure, but I think the first half was the fastest 500y I’ve ever done; that’s likely to change next weekend. Both halves were faster than my 500y from my first New Englands three years ago. I also didn’t finish last in my age group; there was another swimmer, probably in my heat, who finished about five seconds behind me.

I scored ten points for the team, not as many as some people who made the wet and slippery trip in today, but probably my favorite reward for the work.

Now Playing: Can’t Hardly Wait from Pleased to Meet Me by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 7:20 PM | Comments (0)

Splashy day

There are, perhaps, eight inches of wet, wet snow out there. (I haven’t measured, and it drifted a lot out here.) But the meet website says we are on as scheduled. Twenty laps at 39.5s per lap is my task.

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March 15, 2007

World-class indecision

I’m glad I didn’t write too much about Osaka given that things got a lot more complicated yesterday. It turns out the work is managed by the Local Organizing Committee (LOC), and the IAAF was contacting me on their behalf, hence the Japanese tax. But then the LOC decided they didn’t have a vacancy after all.

My editor said a number of nice things about my work in Fukuoka, and made another offer: different work, directly for the IAAF, for which they would either pay as usual or pay my flights/hotels for the meet. (For the LOC, that would have been “and” instead of “or,” but it would also have been more work.) Beyond that, though, could I come to Stuttgart for the World Athletics Final later in September?

As I said the other day, I’d already been toying with the idea of going and trying to round up enough work to break even. This new offer gets me very close to break-even, closer than I had been before, and offers a greater amount of slack time to pick up more work; it only looks bad next to the offer that turned out not to exist. And I want to go; unlike a lot of domestic meets (Indianapolis!), I can get excited about the idea of a week-plus in Osaka even if the meet isn’t the best ever. (This would also have been true of Helsinki in ‘05.) So I’m not very far from taking this; it’s a good offer outside the context in which it arrived. But I’m concerned about taking the time away, and being close to break-even rather than well-over puts me in a gray area.

The Stuttgart offer, on the other hand, seems like a no-brainer. It’s only a (four- or five-day) weekend, it’s a place I’ve never visited and an event I’ve never seen. (Someday I’d like to do some kind of ten-day European trip that hits two or three of the Grand Prix one-day meets, but maybe that will be at a time in my life when I do that as a vacation, not a working trip.) I think that one’s a go.

I feel like I am making too many firm commitments without knowing what else I’ll be tied up in when those commitments come due. Or even where I’ll be living.

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March 14, 2007

Celebrating the day

Back in Amherst, a math major at the College got up early and… well, how about their words:

“15-pack of sidewalk chalk: $3.19
Computer center printing fees: $.65
Getting up at 6 a.m. and writing 2,010 digits of pi across campus: priceless”

Apparently, the numbers stretch from the dining hall to the science center. I am disappointed that I missed it.

Here at the University, there is a pie-eating contest at the Math Department. Held at, of course, 2:45.

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March 13, 2007

Terms which have dramatically different meanings depending on which of my interests is involved

“Race conditions.”

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March 12, 2007

Master of none

Since I set my goal in January, I’ve been splitting time between running and swimming. I think the official evaluation is that I’m in decent shape overall, but not terribly good at either sport right now.

I’m running around 30 miles per week, generally off four runs a week. Usually one of those is a long run (10-12 miles is “long” at this point), one is speedwork, and the other two are usually just easy jogs, but last week one included hill repeats.

The other three (or four) days I’m in the pool. I’ve discovered that the day after a long run I don’t have a lot of pop in my kick, and I wonder if my total lack of zero-exercise days might not be wearing me out a bit. I’m scaling back some this week, because Saturday is goal-race day: one thousand yards in the pool. If I don’t have the endurance now, there’s not much I can do about it; I’m just doing fin swims and short sprints and hoping I can sustain a good pace all the way through.

Maybe swimming in my brother’s old Powerskin suit instead of the nylon-mesh drag suit I’ve been training in will give me the same feeling as switching from regular running shoes into spikes? I can always hope.

Now Playing: This Is It (Acoustic Version) by Ryan Adams

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Posted by pjm at 9:31 PM | Comments (0)

Not an event preview

An update on the business plan competition: about a week and a half ago, we attended a session where all the finalists ran through a summary of their business for a panel of experts who weren’t the judges, but were, I think, assembled from a similar pool of experience. We discovered that there are five finalists; one didn’t send anyone to the panel, and we think there are two others (beyond ourselves, of course) who have a solid chance to win.

Fortunately for us, there is an associated “Social Entrepreneurship” competition. This is fortunate because it draws the “we’re going to save the world” plans; we don’t have to face off with a group from the medical school which plans to cure cancer, for example. (There is no such group this year, but that’s the idea.)

We have to submit a one-paragraph summary (for the program) on Wednesday, a revised business plan on Friday of next week (the end of Spring Break,) and a ten-minute presentation the following Monday. Then on Wednesday the 28th, we (all) deliver our presentations, answer questions (one question per judge per team,) and the results are announced. We’ve started our rewrite already, which is tedious because we’ve altered the plan so much since January. It also reminds us how useful it has been to start planning in January; even if we don’t win, the contacts we’ve made through the contest and the work we’ve done will mean it has been worthwhile.

As I’ve noted before, if someone gets mentioned here often enough, I assign them a pseudonym to allow me to call them by name without coming up on web searches for their real names. (Hence, for example, Professors α, β, and γ, and my advisor Professor Σ.) So I don’t have to keep referring to “my business partner,” he will now be “the Shipwright,” which could be a pun on his real name if you stretched it far enough. He and I tend to be a little bipolar about our chances; on any given day, one of us is bracing for a long struggle to profitability, and the other is certain we’re going to take the world by storm, but it’s not easily predictable which of us is which.

Now Playing: amtrak trainwreck from sleeping and breathing by cathode

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March 11, 2007

I fix on the strangest details

I have been asked to go back to Japan at the end of this summer to work for iaaf.org at the World Championships, to be held in Osaka. I am, needless to say, elated about this, and after checking with my business partner to make sure it won’t cause any major problems, I let them know I was definitely interested. I had been toying with the idea of going on my own dime and trying to scrape up enough work to keep the net cost low, but their offer covers most of the costs and makes the work mostly profit.

The detail which snagged in my mind? The way the offer was phrased implies that I will be paying income tax in Japan for 2007.

(Actually, it implies that the tax will be paid in my name, not that I will actually file.)

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March 9, 2007

I may not be a famous researcher...

…but I now have a share in a named theorem. (From this observation.) Now, instead of trying to explain why you develop a powerful interest in cleaning your room instead of studying for exams, you can just cite us. (It also explains why I not only vacuumed the apartment this morning, but mopped the kitchen.)

Now Playing: Two Against Nature from Two Against Nature by Steely Dan

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March 8, 2007

How do you start learning about game design?

One of the undergrads I work with is an interesting case. He’s quiet, hard to draw out. He comes from one of the state’s desperately poor mill cities, and though he’d never say it, I think he’s still a little uncomfortable at the University, even after a few years. I bet if I described “impostor syndrome” to him, he’d be nodding before I was halfway done.

I think what he really wants to do is write games. I think that’s what drew him to CS, and I think that’s what keeps him at it—or, failing that, the unspoken promise of a well-paying job on graduation.

I’m not a gamer; I can play strategy games, but a few too many times I found that I’d blown a whole afternoon when there was something more important that I really should have been doing, so I just steer clear. As a result, I know next to nothing about the machinery of the games world. I know that graphics and rendering engines have a lot to do with it; I know there’s a lot of custom language development and language parsing that happens in games companies. That’s fine, I can steer him that direction.

But I also know there’s a whole branch of—sociology? anthropology? psychology?—focused on the study of games, what makes good ones, and why people play them. They call it ludology and it really is a serious academic specialty. I don’t think it’s worth steering this kid into that study, but I do think it would benefit him tremendously if we could find some kind of survey of the field so he’s aware that it’s out there; if he can develop an ability to apply their theories, that could help him land a job in games. Maybe.

So call this a sort of LazyWeb query. Does anyone know of a sort of survey of ludology?

Now Playing: Should I Stay Or Should I Go? from Combat Rock by The Clash

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Posted by pjm at 10:24 PM | Comments (3)

Well said, sir

I don’t think this requires further comment:

Frazz comic from March 8, 2007

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Snoozing students

The singular thing about graduate school may well be this: within a few hours, you can both doze off in class, and watch people doze off in a class you’re teaching.

With the professor out on Tuesday, I filled in to do a review for the midterm (today.) (If we had been a bit more forward-thinking, the midterm would’ve been Tuesday, but we weren’t.) Maybe it’s the chronically under-rested state of most undergraduates; maybe it’s the fact that class is from 1:30 to 3:00 in a chronically over-warmed classroom. I’ve dozed off in that room several times, myself. I didn’t count, but I can visualize at least four, maybe five of the students “resting their eyes” while I talked.

And I couldn’t really blame them, so I didn’t say anything.

Now Playing: Valentine from Pleased to Meet Me by The Replacements

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March 6, 2007

Attempted sabotage of World Cross

It’s beautiful. Really, really beautiful. World Cross is making one of its comparatively rare trips outside Europe, to the country which is (arguably) the current center of gravity of the sport, the nation that, in the last decade, won the event so often they established one of the longest championship streaks in any sport, ever.

And the U.S. is warning people away. They think the World Cross might be a terrorism target.

First off, what business is it of theirs? Sure, there’s little question the Mombasa World Cross will be significantly less choreographed and engineered than Fukuoka was last year, but 90% of that can be written off with the recognition that Africa and Asia do things differently. The IAAF was ready for that when they sited World Cross in Kenya. That’s half the point. And this probably means that, if someone wanted to disrupt the event, they’ll have an easier time of it in Mombasa. But it’s not up to the U.S. to stick their oar in; it’s up to the IAAF and Kenya to deal with it.

And second ridiculous thing about this: what do they think this is, the Super Bowl? What kind of attention would terrorists get from attacking World Cross? For one thing, people simply aren’t concentrated at a cross country meet the way they would be at, say, any one of a dozen soccer games held in Kenya in a given year, leaving off any number of other stadium events held on the continent in a given year. Explode a bomb, kill a few dozen people, and the thousands of people who hear about it on the news will say, “There’s a World Cross Country Championships? Really?”

There are homegrown Kenyan radicals who want to use the World Cross to make a statement, mostly Kenya’s discontented Muslim minority. There’s been terrorism in Kenya, most notably the Nairobi embassy bombing in 1998. So these are real issues, and I don’t think anybody’s taking them lightly.

But, as A said, a terrorist attack at World Cross sounds a lot like an attack on Hartford. Why bother, when there are so many more attractive targets?

I’m not a betting person, but if I was, I’d put my money on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi causing more damage to the World Cross in Mombasa with this statement than any terrorists.

Now Playing: Video from Ben Folds Five by Ben Folds Five

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Posted by pjm at 7:25 PM | Comments (1)

It continues

Oh, this cartoonist has been where I’ve been…

Frazz comic for March 6, 2007

Now Playing: Close My Eyes from Smile by Ride

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

March 5, 2007

Abject humiliation

What else would you call it when you get smoked by people twice your age?

Frazz comic strip from March 5, 2007

(I’m sure this strip will vanish in a few weeks…)

Now Playing: St. Robinson In His Cadillac Dreams from This Desert Life by Counting Crows

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Posted by pjm at 9:01 PM | Comments (0)

The most graceful one in the bunch

Sometimes, when I see USATF’s strategies for getting wider recognition for our star athletes, I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. One that has me laughing (so far) is the poll currently on the USATF website: “Who would you most like to see try out for the TV show ‘Dancing with the Stars’?”

Now, I’m not familiar with this show (I don’t watch much TV) so I don’t know if they’re seriously considering having one of these athletes try out. So I just took it as a thought experiment: who would be most entertaining to see dancing?

It turns out that I voted for the current leader: Christian Cantwell, recently the national indoor champion in the shot put. He’s leading (narrowly) sprinter Wallace Spearmon and (widely) sprinter Lauryn Williams and distance runner Shalane Flanagan. Yes, this guy’s athletic specialty is throwing a sixteen-pound iron ball as far as possible. And, if you’ve ever watched the ensemble of motions putters use to transfer kinetic energy to the shot without stumbling out of the ring, you’d probably guess that he’d make a better dancer than most runners.

Plus, he’s huge. That has to be good for a few points somewhere.

Now Playing: Basement Apt. from eePee by Weeping Tile

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Posted by pjm at 7:41 PM | Comments (0)

March 4, 2007

Smoother ride

Wheelworks did nice things for my bike. The ride back from the shop this afternoon was the smoothest I’ve had in weeks, making me think maybe they had even done something magical to the front fork. (It’s possible that they did; I don’t know how to clean it.) It shifts smoothly and without much resistance, and they put new brake pads on the back so those brakes now grab better than they have for a while.

I increasingly feel like being able to properly care for my bike is a skill deficiency I should correct someday, though I’m not sure quite how I’d go about it. (Paramount does offer one-on-one instruction.) I have a book I’ve turned to before in a tough spot, but while I think once it actually helped me disassemble and reassemble successfully, more often when I compare its instructions to the bike itself I’m still mystified.

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

No wonder they didn't sell the first time

Our nearest Stop & Shop has a few tables where they’re selling their leftover “Valentimes” merchandise at 75% off.

I must have missed that holiday.

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Posted by pjm at 9:15 AM | Comments (0)

March 3, 2007

Tune-up

I’ve been spending time in bike shops again lately. A few weeks ago, I got sick enough of the weird noise to take the bike over to the shop closest to campus. He was disdainful of the brand—exactly the sort of reaction that makes me not like bike shops—and didn’t think I was giving him enough information to find the problem, but someone else in the shop offered to take it out to recreate the problem, and when he returned he had things pinned down to the bottom bracket, so I left the bike there.

They broke down the bottom bracket and found… issues with the ball bearings. At least one was running around outside the cage that is supposed to hold them in place, and that was causing the crunching noise; several of the others were either missing, or no longer round. The rebuilt bottom bracket no longer makes crunching noises.

However, in removing and replacing the front chain ring, something happened to the front derailleur, so it no longer smoothly shifted between chain-rings. (The handlebar shift display showed 3, but the bike was in 2 and wouldn’t go to 3.) I opened up my bike maintenance book and twiddled with a few things, which was probably a bad idea; I got it to work in 2 and 3, but not 1. Also, when in 2, the chain would gently rub on the chain-guide, which isn’t supposed to happen. I had managed to change the state from “broken” to “broken differently.”

Noting the no-longer-true front wheel and the year and a half which has passed without effective maintenance since I bought it, this morning I found the time to run it down to another bike shop for a tune-up. They didn’t look down their noses at the bike itself, but they did scold me for not cleaning it enough. (They’re undoubtedly correct, but since when have I had the time, materials, and knowledge to properly clean my bike?) Apparently I have no hope of keeping up my bike to the standards of bike shops, so why do I bother trying?

They have it for today. Hopefully by Monday I will have reclaimed a smooth-running commuting machine again.

Now Playing: Other Side by Josh Ritter

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Posted by pjm at 11:14 AM | Comments (0)

March 2, 2007

Buyer's remorse

A’s phone died earlier this week. Usually taking the battery out for a “hard restart” was enough, but this time it lost the main display screen entirely, so it was time for new hardware.

I took the opportunity to upgrade my own hardware from one of these, which has been working just fine (even the battery does pretty well, which is actually a bit surprising,) to one of these. (By renewing our contract and submitting to mail-in-rebate forms, we’re not spending anything on the phones.) I haven’t really started to use it yet, but just on “curb appeal” I’m not sure why I bothered. It’s thinner, sure, but no lighter, and the face of it is a smidge bigger.

And I can’t get the battery cover off the old phone to swap the SIM cards, so I can’t start using it and figure out how it’s an improvement over the old one. Maybe the camera is better? Maybe the bluetooth sync with my Mac is improved? I need something to keep me from feeling guilty about retiring a perfectly functional phone which meets my needs.

Now Playing: What For from Strip-Mine by James

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

March 1, 2007

The low-stress job hunt

It’s funny the kind of assumptions people make when they hear about my plans for next year. (My co-conspirator, who will need a pseud here soon, reports the same problem.) One is that we’re going to need jobs to pay the bills while we get things off the ground. It’s distinctly possible that we’ll need jobs in the not-too-distant future, possibly even by this time next year or sooner, but so far our optimistic plan is to go to work full-time for ourselves immediately following graduation.

Rather than explain this to everyone, it’s easier to just go to the recruiting presentations. It doesn’t hurt that they usually feed the attendees, and I’ve been doing pretty well this week. Julia’s company brought in a very nice lunch yesterday, for example, and this evening was pizza on Google. For a company which supposedly offers good food at all their offices, the pizza idea came off as a bit lazy… but if the turnout for yesterday’s presentation had been as large as it was for the Google crew, it could’ve turned quite expensive. And Google handed out t-shirts at the door, which they ran out of before I left.

Now Playing: Transcendental Sports Anthem by Devin Davis

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Posted by pjm at 9:12 PM | Comments (0)