July 31, 2007
Upon arrival in Medford, I found waiting an un-ordered package from L.L. Bean. I was surprised to discover that it was a plaque and prize from a race I ran on the 4th of July (it happens that I’m wearing the shirt today.) The official results showed me 6th in the age group, but the plaque is for 3rd, so I assume they must have disallowed double-dipping: 1st was the overall winner, and maybe there were two others with better category wins, like Freeport residents or Bean employees.
A nice surprise, however it came about. I seem to win the best prizes for races which aren’t my best, though.
Now Playing: Michigan from LP by Ambulance Ltd
July 30, 2007
Not exactly plodding
I guess the thing that’s missing from the NYT article about the lobster boat races is the recognition of how unique this sort of thing really is. You can’t really compare it, for example, with racing work vehicles on the road (e.g. pickup truck races) because the nature of the water is different.
On the road, the minimum requirement for a functional vehicle is that it roll. The minimum requirements on the water are a good deal higher (it has to float, it has to move efficiently through the water, and yet it should resist being pushed off the course it is steered on, for example) and that dictates the form of both pleasure boats and work boats to a greater degree than on land.
So a lobster boat has a lot more in common with a speedboat than it would appear. “Bulky, plodding boats” doesn’t really describe what’s going to the line in these races.
July 29, 2007
"Not just $1,000, but bragging rights..."
“…as the fastest lobster boat in Casco Bay.”
This announcement on the marine radio was followed, after a beat, by the comment, “No more messing around, now, let’s see that thing haul some ass.” Apparently someone forgot which channel was the trash-talking channel.
After all, traps are more commonly hauled than ass by, for one, Motivation out of Boothbay, or Cry Baby with the straight-six which was nearly the fastest non-diesel boat at the Harpswell races we went over to see today. This was my first time going to the races; I got sunburnt despite massive and repeated application of sunscreen. We considered taking a swim to cool off, but we put off that idea by heavy spectator boat traffic and the fact that the water, at 62 degrees, was notably colder than where I’d dipped in the New Meadows when I finished my run.
It’s hard to describe these races without showing them; this New York Times reporter tried and pretty much failed. (Apparently not someone who really understood what he was watching.) This video does a lot better; we saw a lot of the boats in there race today.
There are a lot of things we do in my state that they don’t do anywhere else, that’s for certain.
The other side of berry season
After my raspberry glut the other week, I enjoyed my berries in a completely different way this morning.
I had set out on a long-ish loop in my hometown along a course I’d never run before. I was around an hour and ten minutes out, and since waking up I’d had only about two-thirds of a squeeze-bottle of Gatorade. (I’d stashed the bottle and remaining contents in the weeds under a stop sign when I started the loop, and was about a half-mile from retrieving it.) I was under a self-imposed time deadline for the run.
When I saw the telltale leaves, I looked quickly for blueberries, and saw a few ripe ones. A quick stop can’t hurt, I reasoned, so I stopped for about thirty seconds. I picked and at maybe a dozen berries—not quite a mouthful, for low-bush blueberries—and ran on.
Those few berries were everything I needed; I could’ve had a quarter pint and achieved the same feeling. I had the taste in my mouth and all the feelings that go with it, and I’d grabbed it in an impulse stop by the side of a lightly-traveled road.
Immediately after retrieving my Gatorade bottle, I saw another, bigger blueberry patch, with ripe berries practically screaming out from under the leaves at ten feet away. But I had somewhere to be, and I didn’t stop. It turns out I had had time, but I can’t imagine that more berries would have been anything more than the few I had picked.
Technorati Tags: blueberries
July 28, 2007
Somewhere, I have a blurry picture of the odometer in my first car showing all zeros. Its makers pessimistically equipped it with a five-digit odometer, so when the car hit 100,000 miles, it rolled over the odometer completely.
I missed 100,000 on this car, but today I stopped to get a shot of what may be a more momentous reading:
July 27, 2007
Using one key for a lot of servers
If you’re at all like me (let’s hope not) you have too many passwords to cope with. I can’t help with websites, but I don’t think there’s been a time in the past five years when I haven’t had at least two different servers to log in to, sometimes more like four or five. There’s no way I’m going to remember all those passwords, and I don’t try. Instead, I put an RSA public key on each server, and keep the private key here on my Mac. When I
ssh to those servers, I get prompted for the private key’s passphrase, then I’m logged in. Same “password” every time. When I get access to a new system (CS department servers, web servers for former places of work, research cluster, Common Kitchen web server or development server) the first thing I do is upload my public key. The second thing I do is stop trying to remember the password.
I realized that I’ve described this process to several other people now, (and even mentioned it here before) and haven’t bothered to save the writeup anywhere public, so here it is if it’s useful to you.
The command to generate a key pair (this is asymmetric encryption) is
$ ssh-keygen -t rsa
You’ll be prompted for a destination for the files (your
~/.ssh directory is best, since that’s where the
ssh client will look for the private key) and a passphrase, which you’ll need to confirm. Then you’ll have two files, one with a
.pub extension. (The default names are
id_rsa.pub.) That’s the public key, which you’ll be uploading to any servers you wish to log in to.
(Note that you can create a passwordless login this way, if you’re confident enough about the security of your private key; it’s not advisable. I’ve used that, however, to allow scripts access to a remote server, e.g. with
Once you upload the public key to the target server, it should go in a directory named
.ssh in your home directory, and be renamed
authorized_keys (or appended to the existing
$ mkdir ~/.ssh $ chmod 700 ~/.ssh $ mv id_rsa.pub ~/.ssh/authorized_keys # or $ cat id_rsa.pub >> ~/.ssh/authorized_keys $ chmod 600 ~/.ssh/authorized_keys
Now when you log in, it should prompt for a passphrase, not a password, and because the passphrase is associated with your private key, not your public key or even this account, it’s the same on all servers which have your public key in authorized_keys. I think this is really cool, but I suppose I’m a specialized case.
Now Playing: If I Wrote You from Out There Live by Dar Williams
July 26, 2007
Leaving out scattered dog-walkers, the biggest organized use of the park across our street is softball. The lit fields are in use pretty much all year, from “warm enough” to “too dark.” The softball players come from all over, take up all available street parking, and often hang around drinking beer and setting off fireworks when their games are over.
Next comes soccer. Our neighborhood has a large Brazilian population, and I frequently see massive pick-up games going on, generally using portable goals about the size of a lacrosse net.
Sometimes there is a crew playing flag football in a season roughly corresponding to the NFL season. They play on Sunday mornings, rain or shine, and tend to rip up the tuft a lot when it’s “rain.” Also, the local Catholic school doesn’t have fields of its own, so they use a corner of this park as a practice field every fall, rendering it essentially barren by Thanksgiving.
Last Sunday, though, and again this morning, there has been a small group playing cricket out in the middle of the field. For some reason, this tickles me immensely.
July 25, 2007
He wasn't there to make an arrest
As we ran through Harvard this morning, I heard a funny sort of racheting click and looked up to see a campus policeman at the top of the steps into a building we were running past, locking his bike to a rail.
Now Playing: Something Is Me from 14 Songs by Paul Westerberg
July 23, 2007
Why I need to get out of the city
On this morning’s run, I saw two different cars running red lights. This isn’t remarkable in and of itself; after all, around here the unwritten rule is, green means go, red means go a little faster.
It’s that both cars were running red lights across crosswalks where I had a nice, clear “Walk” signal and was about to run across. And when I say, “Running red lights,” I don’t mean treating them as stop signs; I mean treating them as green lights.
So yeah, that’s you, the guy in the dark green Jeep going east on Lawrence at the corner of Governor’s Ave (conveniently close to the hospital) and you, too, the
lady woman in the white Toyota turning right off the Alewife Brook Parkway at Winthrop street. You might have been in a hurry, but stopping for the red light (and the pedestrians you’re required by law to yield to) is less likely to make you later than having one of them sprawled across your hood.
Because if I keep running in this city, sooner or later I’m going to wind up as someone’s hood ornament. A’s been clipped once already. I’d rather go back somewhere where venturing out on the roads didn’t mean taking your life in your hands.
Now Playing: The Bell And The Butterfly from Wonderland by The Charlatans
July 22, 2007
Paddling on the Mystic
We discovered a few weekends ago that the Mystic River boathouse on Shore Drive near Assembly Square, run by the Somerville Boys and Girls Club, rents canoes and pedal boats at $5/hour. So yesterday we went down to check it out. We made two trips, actually, since the first time (shortly after 1) there was a sign on the door saying, “7/21 hours: 3 to 8”.
On our return, they took my license (collateral), gave us life jackets, and pushed a pedal boat off the dock for us.
In hindsight, a canoe would’ve been a better idea, but I was fascinated by the idea of the pedal boat. It turned out that the rudder in a pedal boat is largely ineffectual (it appeared to have two bearings, “veer left” and “veer right,” without much room in between,) and also, the work one does in cranking the pedals is inefficiently applied to the water—in other words, working harder doesn’t move you faster.
Nonetheless, we probably set a range record from the boathouse. In the hour and a half after we set out, we made our way down to check out the dam on the southeast side of the Orange Line bridge, and up to the Revere Beach Parkway bridge. (I suspect this inlet has a name, but I don’t know what it is.)
The day was pretty nice, but we probably would’ve had a better time in a less balky craft. Alas, I neglected to take pictures. The majority of the visible wildlife was avian; ducks, a flotilla of geese returning from a shopping trip to Target (or Petsmart?), several smaller, busy guys (terns of some sort?) and a larger bird which may have been an owl; I didn’t get a closer look.
July 21, 2007
Several years ago I wrote a column titled, “No more chasing ghosts,” about a young man named Alan Webb. He had just become the fourth American high schooler to run a standard mile in less than 4:00, and the first in over twenty years. The third, and last until Webb, was Marty Liquori, and I hung the column on the idea that now, we could stop anguishing about “not since Marty Liquori in 1967…” and “Marty’s ghost could stop going to track meets.”
Alan Webb ran 3:46.91 at a tiny meet on a six-lane track in the woods in Belgium this afternoon. This makes him the fastest American ever, no qualifications; Steve Scott’s old record, which was 3:47.69, was twenty-five years old (older than Webb himself). Webb is now in the top 10 all-time for the entire world. I just watched grainy, jumpy internet video of the race, and the over-exuberant announcer (who I envied) kept using the phrase, “The ghost of Steve Scott.”
Now all Webb has to chase is Hicham el Guerrouj, the current world record holder. (And, more literally, Adil Kaouch, who I wrote about when he won a medal at the Fukuoka World Cross.) El G only retired in 2005, but his records date from 1997-1999. I honestly don’t think they qualify as ghosts, but that probably won’t stop someone from dragging the cliché out.
(Update, 7/22: I looked at the archive and discovered that I actually predicted the appearance of Scott’s ghost.)
July 19, 2007
It’s interesting to me that when I leave movies, I tend to be thinking about whether or not I saw an interesting or entertaining story. But tonight, leaving Paprika, I realized that I had seen something—that the images that made up the movie made such a strong impression that the story and its myriad overlapping details barely mattered.
I won’t even try to explain the plot; I didn’t understand lots of it anyway. It’s in Japanese, with subtitles, and I couldn’t keep everyone’s names straight, and a large part of the story hinges on the fact that the characters slip in and out of each others’ dreams like walking into different rooms. There’s science fiction (“speculative fiction”) and something of a mystery, plus enough of a love story (four men, two women, but are they one woman, and which one?) to keep things from settling in any one place. But it’s like going to a really good concert with your eyes, or seeing what a good race feels like; you become so engaged in the flow of the images that everything else fades away. The end is like stopping, or like surfacing.
It also makes a pretty powerful argument for this Newsweek reviewer (who feels pretty much the same way I do about the movie: “You wake from it as if from a dream: spooked, provoked and exhilarated.”) Why do we market animation only to children in America, when movies like this are possible? (It’s rated R somewhat more plausibly than Once, which got its rating for language; this one includes undressed cartoons, no more offensive than a good museum, but also some mildly disturbing images.)
Anyway, look, don’t take my word for it. I’m dancing about architecture here. Go see it, and really see something.
Now Playing: The Dawn Patrol from Tarantula by Ride
Difference of opinion
The vet’s undoubtedly sensible advice was to not weigh Iz again until he’d been on his new diet for six weeks, “so we wouldn’t get discouraged,” but I need more frequent check-ins to stay focused on the task at hand. So today I weighed myself, then me plus Iz, and he was down 0.2 pounds*. This is a pretty good drop, not unlike a person my size losing two pounds. However, there’s some dissent about the appropriate reaction to this.
Me: This is great. Let’s stick to the program, and we’ll get you back to goal weight in no time!
Iz: This is great. Let’s celebrate. Ice cream? I’m buying. Can I borrow $10?**
* Assuming the scale is accurate to .05 pounds. It’s precise to 0.1, but how accurate?
** Of course, since he can’t talk, this is just my interpretation. It’s possible that a great deal of the personality of this very personality-ful cat comes right out of my own head.
Now Playing: Fists In My Pockets from (Places) by The Shiftless Rounders
Technorati Tags: cat
July 18, 2007
Since I’ve moved my workspace to the front of the house and the dining room (my upstairs office generally being too warm), I’ve seen more of the street and the vehicles going by on it.
The best regular sighting, for several weeks, has been a man on what appears to be a powered skateboard. It’s big for a skateboard—more like a half-length surfboard—and it has a small gas engine, about the size you’d see on a string trimmer. He wears a helmet and steers with a rod that appears to work like a tiller, and tows a small trailer. I used to see him every day around 5 in the afternoon, but on Monday there was a policeman hanging out by the softball field who appeared quite interested and may have followed him home, which may explain why I didn’t see him yesterday.
Still, it seems like one way of using the least possible gas…
July 17, 2007
I just got a head-hunting email from a large Internet company looking for people with experience in systems administration and software engineering. This, in itself, is not too surprising. The fun part is that it was sent by a graduate of my College—ten years after me, natch—who found me through my Facebook profile.
Apparently he didn’t read the part about my current state of employment. (Though he did sort of hint that I should be handing this message on to other alumni I might know.)
July 16, 2007
There’s a little bit more than a “coming soon” page at www.commonkitchen.com as of this afternoon.
Since the beginning of July, we’ve shifted the site to a new server and written the first chunk of what will eventually be the full site. Looking back on the code we’ve written—and debugging it—in its code this is very much a “second system,” a bit of a jumble of all the lessons we learned the first time around. We’re using the framework better now, but we’re not yet writing elegant software.
I don’t like talking up things we haven’t done yet, but I do think it’s worth mentioning that this is only the barest start of what we have in mind. We aren’t expecting anyone to be impressed just yet.
Now Playing: Van Nuys (es Very Nice) by Los Abandoned
July 15, 2007
Neck deep in raspberries
I didn’t think it was possible to eat enough raspberries that I felt sick, but you really do learn something new every day, I guess.
One of the hangups of fruit and vegetables—particularly the organic grew-it-in-my-yard variety—is that you get none for a long time, and then suddenly you get a lot, all at once. (Zucchini is a great example of this. There is no such thing as enough zucchini, if you’re growing it yourself; there is either none, or too much.)
A’s parents have a raspberry patch, about the size of the fenced-in play area we had in our backyard when I was very small, and when the berries start coming ripe you can pick a liter in about half an hour, probably in excess of a gallon of berries every day. And that’s with a significant amount of the picking going directly from bush to mouth, with no stopping in the picking container. And then, after dinner, you can sit at the table with the container in front of you and eat raspberries until you feel sick, knowing there will be more tomorrow.
Berries—raspberries in particular—are really a stupendous idea, evolutionarily speaking. The plants put a pretty big percentage of their annual energy budget into producing these sweet little fruits surrounding their seeds; then they wither. Untouched, the berries re-seed the patch for another pass next year, but they’re also attractive to a wide variety of animals, from birds to bears. Those animals get a caloric boost and return the favor by (unintentionally) spreading the seeds. It’s a gorgeous system right there, but the berries work another strategy: they ripen in stages (if a deer gets all the ripe ones today, there will be more ripe ones tomorrow) but they all ripen over a short period of time and glut the market (so there are more berries than any one host can monopolize.) There may be some competitive advantage here, too, where the seasons are staggered with other competitive food sources in the area; it forces the berry-browsers to shift around to different sources of food rather than exploiting one past recovery.
Trees do this, too, but the strategy is different. Their seeds tend to be damaged by animal consumption (acorns eaten by squirrels seldom become mighty oaks, though if the squirrel caches them and forgets them they may yet do well.) The trees have “mast years,” where after three or four (or a dozen) years of light seed production, suddenly they will flood the seed market, trying to produce enough seeds to get a few past the consumers.
I wonder, though, if I’m inventing this idea while looking at a relatively artificial (if organic) berry patch. The blackberry and black raspberry patches my father finds on his walk home from work seldom produce at this volume, but they aren’t as large, either. I remember being able to kill ten or fifteen minutes picking wild blueberries in certain spots along the coast, when I was younger; I had a bear’s nose for blueberries then. I was able to spot some atop Katahdin, but not enough to flood any consumer market; I could’ve picked most of the Katahdin patches bare in four or five minutes if I could’ve reached them safely.
Now Playing: You’re Still Beautiful from Gold Afternoon Fix by The Church
July 13, 2007
My family sometimes refers to the Canada geese becoming more common on the lake behind our house as “tourists” or “immigrants,” mostly because of their name, but this morning in Medford I saw a real non-native hanging out in the sun.
We were walking back from running with a grad student over at the University, and I looked over at the open door of an art studio along the way. Sitting on a table outside the door was a massive lizard, easily on the order of four feet long. I assumed it was prop of some kind (I think there’s a scenery shop in there somewhere) until it moved.
Now Playing: Sooner Or Later from Bang! by World Party
The Battle of the (Kitty) Bulge
Iz is a pretty vocal cat. This isn’t to say that he talks a lot, although he can, but that he has a wide range of vocalizations, ranging from the little “chirrup” noise he makes when he jumps up on something to the staccato “quacks” he makes when he’s sitting on a windowsill wishing he could chase birdies.
There’s one which we’ve decided should be called “the vet noise.” It’s lower than any other noise he makes, pretty much a growl, and he only makes it while at a veterinary office. He was giving it yesterday when the vet put him on the scale and announced that, despite having been on a limited diet for nearly four years, he’s still gaining weight.
The measuring cup we use to scoop his meals has now been replaced by the next size smaller, and I suspect this is going to mean twice-daily protests in advance of mealtimes. If we had another cat, it would be skinny… and Iz would be fatter.
Technorati Tags: cat
July 11, 2007
Haile in New York
I could drag out my obligatory picture-of-pjm-with-famous-runner (wow I look young there), but there’s a quote from Geb in the article, about New York City:
“I’ve been there many times,” he said. “I know the roads in Central Park. I haven’t run in the New York City Marathon, but I was there to watch it three or four years ago. I’m running the Berlin Marathon this year because I won it last year, but maybe New York in the future.”
Hmm, I thought, and looked in my iPhoto. I remember that visit…
Now Playing: Money Blues from Ghost Repeater Euro Bonus CD by Jeffrey Foucault
Firebug and page layouts
Since the holiday weekend, the only thing that’s really going on around here is work. Common Kitchen is evolving like a weed in its Subversion repository, with 236 revisions as of right now and well over 200 tickets in Trac. We’ve become obsessive about closing tickets, and since we implemented Trac’s milestones feature, watching the roadmap.
Our decentralized working pattern means we don’t spend a whole lot of time looking at one screen and talking about how things look, and there are a lot of tickets saying things like, “That green went away? What happened?” Last night I spent 45 minutes tracking down a CSS bug, and part of that time was finding the right tools to diagnose the problem.
Let me save you some time. The tool is Firebug. Firebug is a plugin for Firefox which opens a bottom-of-the-browser window allowing you to browse page source (in the same sort of collapsible-tree format as Firefox’s DOM inspector), highlight portions of it, and see which CSS rules apply to that chunk of code, in order from strongest to most distant inheritance. In other words, it lets you back-track up the cascade. Rules which are overridden are shown, but struck out, so you can pick them out as well.
By showing me that some rules simply weren’t being applied, I was able to go back to the CSS validator to figure out what was buggy about my stylesheet, and solve the problem. And now that I know how to attack the problem, I find myself popping open Firebug all the time to check out why things are doing what they’re doing. It’s a neat idea, and a very helpful one.
July 7, 2007
The things you can hold in a book
I’m pulling books off the shelves in my old bedroom at my parents’ house. Most of them are going to a used book store run by the local library, but I’m finding some interesting stuff.
For example, a hardback copy of Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island. There’s no publishing date, so it’s not clear what edition of the book this is, but there is a bookplate inside the cover which indicates that it belonged to my grandfather’s uncle Harry. The inscription before the title page is so faded it’s barely readable, but it appears to say, “Harry from Grandma, December 25, ‘93”. (That would, of course, be 1893.)
My great-great-uncle would’ve been 22 in 1893, so it’s a reasonable guess that the woman who bought this book for him was born in the 1830s at latest.
Technorati Tags: jules verne
July 6, 2007
…but not (yet) at Common Media. One of my former colleagues pinged me with a job description for what my former job has now become. If you like running, grok the web to the point where you can “view source” on a web page and have a clue what you’re looking at, and believe that if something is worth doing it’s worth doing as well as possible, ping me and I’ll send along the link.
Every so often...
…we get an American distance runner who goes out and pops a big one in Europe, and we wonder if we’ve found the Next Great whatever. Nicole Teter, David Krummenacker, and Jen Toomey all had big wins; I think Teter and Krummenacker’s both came in 2002, an “off year.” Krummenacker won a world indoor 800m title, but not much else since he missed the Olympic team in ‘04. Teter and Toomey have been injury-ridden for several years now. But I still get excited when I see it happen.
This just in from Paris:
1500 Metres - Men 1 Webb , Alan USA 3:30.54 2 Baala , Mehdi FRA 3:31.01 3 Boukensa , Tarek ALG 3:32.77 4 Korir , Shadrack KEN 3:32.81 5 Sullivan , Kevin CAN 3:34.16 6 Simotwo , Suleiman Kipses KEN 3:34.78 7 Lagat , Bernard USA 3:35.09
Baala is the defending European champion, running on his home track. Lagat is Lagat. I had expected to see Daniel Kipchirchir Komen in there, but apparently not. Webb has now beaten Lagat three times this year; it’s probably fair to say he owns Bernard now. Also, with just two races, Webb is now fifth on the GP list for the year; the top four are all Kenyan and (excepting Augustine Choge in 3rd) have four or five races in the series.
Update: USATF notes that this is both a big PR for Webb, and the fastest time in the world this year.
Now Playing: Shake That Thing from In the Land of Salvation and Sin by The Georgia Satellites
July 5, 2007
More proof that this is really happening
We did a slew of paperwork this afternoon, which did not catch us up (some early investors are owed stock certificates, for example) but did cover most of the desperately urgent stuff.
I am getting unsolicited postal mail at our incorporation address.
Within a week or two, I hope to be able to share some more proof that this is really happening with the rest of you.
July 4, 2007
And sometimes it's not the reporter
As a counterpoint to my new alias, I offer a not-so-stupid reporter story. (Or maybe it is a stupid reporter story.) It came to mind while I was retrieving quotes for a big (for me) story I sent to Running Times a few days ago.
After the women’s 10,000m last week, someone asked Deena Kastor when was the last time she had run a 10,000m on the track. On my recording, Kastor is quite clear, saying, the 2004 Olympic Trials, which she won. I dutifully reported this in my story.
The problem is, it’s not so. Kastor ran in 2005, placing fourth. (Her winning time in Indianapolis, incidentally, was slower than that 4th-place finish in Carson.) A reader noted this, and told my editor, who corrected the posted story.
Did Kastor misunderstand the question, asking when she’d last run? Did I misunderstand the question, and she answered it correctly? Did she forget the race? Or was she deliberately forgetting it? Who knows, but I should’ve checked. (And, silly me, I was at that meet.)
July 2, 2007
Want me to spell that for you again?
Sometimes I wonder if I’m over-selling myself when I say I’m “good at” track writing. And sometimes I think the standards for calling yourself a “reporter” are so ridiculously low I should be billing myself as “experienced” or “expert” or something like that.
Yesterday I ran the annual 4th-of-July-weekend road race. I improved over last year, running 30:45 for 4th overall, with the top three all being high school kids. (I figure “nobody older than me in front of me” is a valid goal for some of these races.) As I walked through the chute, catching my breath, a guy with a camera and a notebook asked my name.
I told him, and he said, “Mark?” No, I said, and repeated my first name, then spelled it. I should add that my name was clearly and correctly written on the bottom of the bib number I was wearing, and that label was then transferred to a results board which was posted for an hour or so after the race.
In the article in today’s paper, they used “Mark” as my first name, then my correct first name as my last name. I wonder what the real names of the other guys are?
The irony may be that the first two finishers were both wearing shirts with my last name on them.