A Prolusion on PDA Proliferation

Cell phones: Finally giving up on my old Motorola StarTac. It did well for me for a few years, but a year in MIT Sloan of running out of battery before 6 pm every day (even with frequent recharging) and of having no signal all the time made me decide there’s got to be a better way.

The Nokia 3360 it is, then. It comes with what should be an obvious feature to everyone–infrared and the capability to send and receive name and phone number information from my Palm. Does it have WAP? No, but I’ve not yet seen a convincing demonstration of why I would need to access the Internet from my cell phone (although my page does support WAP access).

Device proliferation. All these devices coming out–like the iPod. Single purpose devices can be pretty cool if done well. What constitutes “done well” for me? Well, not duplicating functionality with another device I have is a start. Playing nicely with my other equipment, sharing information…

About the title: browsing the OED today (sorry, subscription required), I came across prolusion: “A literary production intended as a preliminary dissertation on a subject which the author intends to treat more fully; a preliminary essay or article; a slight literary production.” As for the first definition, that describes a lot of my writing about technology, especially web services. As for the last definition: boy, that’s this weblog all over.

A note about this page for people who browse weblogs.com: normally I write the story offline then publish it (using my Applescript tool) to the weblog, then if it looks good I promote it to the home page. Apparently that isn’t enough to register that the front page of my web log has changed on weblogs.com. Time to talk to Dave…

Dumber Than a Box of Hammers?

UPDATE 1:45 PM EDT: A few links are surfacing that are pretty authentic about Apple’s new digital device, the iPod: a Firewire capable, ultraslim, hard disk based digital music player. Plus version 2 of my favorite Mac application, iTunes… Here’s the MacCentral coverage. Finally Apple’s page on the device is up. And you can get it at the Apple store.

First things first: a prayer request for an old family friend, Berkeley Brandt, who (as reported by Esta) suffered a stroke over the weekend–he’s 30 with a wife and two children.

In less sad news, as pointed out by my fellow Virginia alum Tim Fox, there are still drunken confrontations aplenty in Charlottesville. Of particular note:

According to police, as the students rounded the apartment building, they heard the sound of a weapon being racked. At this time they saw Dixon who pointed a long gun at them and said, “Boy where you going? I’ll f—ing shoot you.”

Some students fled at the sight of the weapon. Others, thinking Dixon only held an air gun, stood their ground, some pulling shirts over their faces for protection, and told him to go ahead and fire, police said.

A few of us were discussing this on an email list. I put forward the question, “were the fraternity kids in question [Douglas] Adams fans or just dumber than a box of hammers??” Fortunately for all of us Erik Simpson knew the answer to that:

First, the lads were not Douglas Adams fans. They could not answer even the most basic questions about Mr. Adams or his work. That part was easy.

Ha-HA! you say. They are therefore dumber than a box of hammers!

That, it turns out, is only partially true. We know, aswim as we are in the most enlightened notions of our day, that we cannot rank the intelligence of people (or groups of fraternal Wahoos or boxes of hammers) on a simple linear scale. We must instead evaluate multiple, independent kinds of intelligence.

First, you should know that Mr. Jarrett’s box of hammers, which I found in the back closet of his trendy Cambridge pad, is a rough-hewn pine box, about 18 inches by 12 by 8, and it contiains five hammers ranging from a tiny plastic toy hammer to a large Craftsman (TM) carpenter’s claw-headed job. The others are a ball-peen hammer, an artist’s mallet, and a small jeweler’s hammer. The specific identities of the fraternal Wahoos are much less important, of course, because they’re all pretty much the same. Statistically speaking.

Given the story about the gun and the T-shirts, you would probably guess that the hammers outstrip the Wahoos in spatial/mechanical intelligence. Boy, do they. In that area, even the tiny plastic toy hammer proved vastly more intelligent than all of the Wahoos. The only category the hammers dominated more convincingly was that of emotional intelligence.

The Wahoos, however, proved marginally more adept than their inanimate counterparts at answering basic math problems. They also demonstrated significantly larger vocabularies (when asked the right sort of questions, at any rate), and they generally carried the day in visual memory and musical aptitude as well. A prominent exception: none of the Wahoos could carry a tune like the ball-peen hammer.

I could go on, but you get the picture: in the specific kind of intelligence at work in the story, yes, the students involved were clearly dumber than Mr. Timothy O. Jarrett’s box of hammers, and the difference meets all standards of statistical significance. Overall, however, we can only say that the hammers and the Wahoos have different strengths and weaknesse. If anything, the students are on the whole roughly *as dumb* as the box of hammers but not demonstrably dumber. And we should point out that–as we would all expect–Mr. Timothy O. Jarrett’s box of hammers is remarkably bright as boxes of hammers go.

Nostalgia in Tweed

Today was the first day I broke out my tweed jacket. Jim’s ex-girlfriend used to say that she knew when fall arrived, because I would be wearing my tweed. It’ll only be in the fifties today, so I suppose this counts as fall.

The tweed was a souvenir from our trip to Ireland a few years ago. We bought it in a small shop down the road from the town of Ardara. [Heh: I said “small shop,” but they have a web page. Then again, so do I]. The fall there was much more dramatic even than New England, as I think this illustrates:

As always, fall brings with it insanely busy times. This has been one of them. The week is almost done, thank goodness.

Enough. Working now.

Busy busy day

Busy day today. Waiting for phone calls, working on an end of the semester project and a major assignment, and trying to get other things done as well.

Anthrax scare at MIT yesterday. Still trying to find out whether it’s for real. For the record, this is at the other end of the campus from where I work.

Working on the E-52s–hard to get anything done there, but at least we have a target repertoire list.

It’s too beautiful a day for it to be crunch time. I can’t even get away to have lunch with Lisa.

Guess I better stop blogging and get to it…

Our House

Apologies to anyone who saw the mess that was my homepage this morning. I updated the template yesterday to include Blogrolling links in the left hand nav, and found this morning that the page didn’t appear–except for the print friendly links. I looked at it and saw that my HTML syntax for the comments I had put into the template to make it more readable was wrong–as a result, all the page was commented out.

I realized that I’ve written more about my everyday life in Seattle than my everyday life in Boston. As you may have guessed from the copious risotto references, we live in Boston’s traditional Italian neighborhood, the North End. This is our second apartment in the greater Boston area since moving here for MIT Sloan a little over a year ago.

The first apartment we were in was almost palatial–huge two bedroom place with 13-foot ceilings, exposed (painted) brick, full time night watchman, incredible service. But we realized we were paying about $2 a square foot for living in the middle of a construction zone. Fully loaded semi trucks rattled by our bedroom window in the middle of the night. Construction dust sifted through the framing of the modern windows to encrust the sills. And (the capper) there were no decent places to eat within walking distance. “Our house in the middle of our street”, indeed–some nights it felt like our bed was in the middle of the street.

We moved to this place about five months ago. The North End is a cool little neighborhood. Formerly an island and home to such Boston luminaries as Paul Revere, the neighborhood was connected to the main part of the city by landfill and subequently became home to waves of immigration. Today the neighborhood is separated from the rest of the city by the I-93 bridge–a fact which has probably done a lot to preserve the pedestrian friendly streets and “Itanglish” of the inhabitants. You can smell the cooking from early in the morning to late at night. You can walk a route that takes you past three traditional butchers, four bakeries, two pasticcherias, a ravioli maker, three delis, at least four greengrocers, three wine stores, and about a million cafés, trattorias, and restaurants, plus Paul Revere’s house and Old North Church, in about ten minutes.

The irony is that, if the Big Dig ever gets done. the walls of isolation that have protected the neighborhood will come down. Sure, there will probably be green space where the big green overpass sits now, but it’ll be a lot easier to get a car into the neighborhood. Something will change irrevocably. Maybe that’s why the neighborhood fought so vigorously against the Dig (that and the noise of construction that never ceases). The North End has been an island again for many years; for a second time, it’s going to be connected to the mainland. Something will change; we just don’t know what.

Recurring themes

It was a nice weekend. I’m in danger of getting into a risotto rut: I made a kind of unusual one this weekend. Instead of using onion in the base, this one used pancetta, garlic, sage, rosemary, and beef shoulder cut into 1/2 inch dice, with a reduction of Spanna (a Nebbiolo based wine, distantly related to Barolo). It was savory and very very good.

Thank goodness I don’t have food allergies. Somehow after the last fifteen years of being on antihistamines, a lot of my allergies went away, and all I have to worry about is dust. “Esta” wrote one of her funniest pieces last week on the family’s allergy issue.

I really think pieces like that are one of the things that keep the blog community going. When you’re too tired to write something funny, you can just point to a piece like that one. It’s like being part of a perpetual writing workshop where all the participants make all their work available all the time.

Which reminds me: I’m proud to link to a good friend of mine from “Virginia” who maintains the Tin Man blog. I don’t have the obligatory list of fellow bloggers in my page navigation yet, but this guy will be one of the first I include. He writes intelligently, honestly, and personally about things that are going on in his life, and his write-up of events over the past few months has been deeply affecting.

Music for today: “The One Thing,” INXS. Before Michael Hutchence got lobotomized, as Greg used to say (long before MH’s untimely death):

You know your voice is a love song
It’s a catcall from the past
There’s no ice in your lover’s walk
You don’t look twice ’cause you move so fast

I’m thinking about old songs because I’m working on selecting another song to arrange for the “E-52s”. I don’t think Start the Commotion would work too well as a cappella, more’s the pity. “Light it up, baby!”

Back in Seattle Again

Sing along with me now: “I’m back in Seattle again”… Blogging in my bathrobe drinking Starbucks. Gotta love civilization, even if you’re scared to death about what’s happening half a world away. There will be some tense shifts in this piece. That’s one drawback about writing offline–it’s less spontaneous and therefore either requires the writer to edit more carefully or the reader to be more forgiving.

I started writing this: sitting in Logan Airport (now there’s a phrase that is scarier than it used to be!), listening to the gate personnel announcing that the flight to Denver is oversold. Listening to all the alarmist talk about heightened security and concerned about mile long lines at check-in and security checkpoints, I got on the subway at 8:30 for an 11:10 a.m. departure. Now, almost two hours later, I’ve been sitting in the gate area long enough to read the Sunday New York Times cover to cover and consume a grandé Americano.

Aside: Why do they call espresso with hot water an Americano? Because it’s weaker than regular espresso? Because it’s bloated and engorged with water?

Unlike SeaTac, Logan doesn’t have freely accessible wireless networks for passengers’ convenience–in fact, as far as I can tell, Terminal C has no wireless networks at all. So I’m writing this offline–in TextEdit, naturally–waiting for the boarding process to start. I’ll upload it later.

Lisa flies to Italy later today for a week with her Italian project team, working on the contract that she helped the company win. I don’t know how often I’ll get to see her over the next few months–her schedule is totally up in the air.

As for me, I have two days in Seattle ahead of me. Should be a fun time, even the part spent on business. For the plane, I have my laptop, my DVD drive, and copies of O Brother, Where Art Thou and And Now For Something Completely Different. Life is OK.

…At least, that’s what I wrote before I heard from Lisa in Denver that the bombing had started. I’m old enough to remember Desert Storm quite well, and I’m hoping that this one ends more decisively, but I have my doubts.

Printing without wires

So at long last I finally got our laser printer working on our wireless network. It was a little bit of a pain in the butt, so I thought I’d share the process with you.

The architecture of the solution, when all was said and done, was pretty simple. LaserJet with JetDirect card, connected via Ethernet cross-connect cable to Airport base station (dialup only), set up as an Ethernet bridge (thanks to Henry B for pointing this out). But getting there was pretty difficult.

First thing that we had to do was get a print server card for the printer. The LaserJet 2100M/TN doesn’t come with Ethernet connectivity, so connecting it to the wireless network required a JetDirect card. The standard card from HP is called the JetDirect 600N. Unfortunately it comes in about five flavors, depending on the type of networking you need to do. The cheapest model on E-Bay is the 3112. Unless you have some TokenRing needs, make sure you don’t buy this model. The one we finally ended up getting is the 3111a, which has 10Base-T and 10Base-2 support in addition to Appletalk (via the old fashioned serial connection). The card fit in the standard EIO slot in the LaserJet printer.

My initial plan was to connect the card to our AirPort base station using an old Intel 4-port 10BaseT hub we had lying around. Unfortunately, this didn’t work too well–we couldn’t address the card. I printed a test page for the JetDirect card and saw that the IP address and gateway were manually set to an unusual number–no doubt the settings required to run it in its previous home. But I couldn’t correct the settings from Mac OS X. I booted into OS 9 and connect to the JetDirect server using a crossover cable. I was able to reset TCP/IP to automatically get a DHCP address. However, when I reconnected the card through our hub, it didn’t seem to get an address. I then manually set the IP address, but still couldn’t address it.

Finally, I had to move the Airport base station to the other side of the room so that I could connect it using the 10-foot crossover cable directly to the printer. Almost immediately, I found it accessible via AppleTalk–apparently our hub was broken. I was able to set up an LPR printer to it, and we downloaded software from HP onto Lisa’s Windows 95 laptop so that she could connect to it as well.

All in all it only took about six weeks… Boy, I really must be a programmer now. Hardware and networking things used to seem easier.

One last note–I’ll have to get another hub if high speed broadband ever comes to our neighborhood–connecting directly to the base station won’t work too well then.

Food, Music, and Scripting

It’s a beautiful day here in Boston. What a pity that I have to do work.

It’s interesting how people pick up certain habits about writing their blogs. I think Dave sometimes starts with an introductory “Good morning!” and some random thing that’s floating through his mind. For me it’s like a vocal warmup–stretches the writing muscles and gets me thinking.

Last night’s anniversary dinner was really nice. I made a risotto Milanese with pancetta, and a Siena style dish of chicken breast fillets with lemon and parsley. The risotto was fantastic, and I think I might have to add it to my regular repertoire. We decided to make a special night of it because Lisa’s trips to Italy are about to begin, and at this point we don’t know how often she’ll be home. Work is tough…

Speaking of repertoire, I’m in the middle of trying to build one for the E-52s. I’m finding it more challenging than I thought. There are two main challenges: finding good songs for female soloists and finding music that I like and the group likes too. I knew I had weird tastes in music, but there’s nothing like directing an a cappella group and watching their reaction to your musical ideas to really bring that home.

I might do a little Applescript work this morning, now that the fuss has pretty much died down over my first attempt. We’ll see how things go. I had one great plan dashed because the application I wanted to use wasn’t scriptable. It’s interesting. My initial thoughts about using script as a glue to tie website access to my desktop was that once I had the plumbing and the website API, I would be all set. Now I’m discovering the downside of relying on scripting: all the applications I use need to participate, or it won’t work. I already had to move from BBEdit Lite to TextEdit for updating my blog–I could write against the full version of BBEdit, but I’m a student and spending money for another software license when I have a passable text editor is hard to justify.

Blogging in New Places

I write this blog from an unaccustomed place: Apple’s TextEdit application. That I’m doing it from a text processor isn’t in and of itself unusual; normally I write my blog in BBEdit before uploading it to the web. The unusual part is that this blog will be published to the web without my opening a web browser.

This is what I started writing about in July when Apple quietly announced that they would make support for web services–web applications that can be addressed using either XML-RPC or SOAP–available in the operating system and accessible via AppleScript in Mac OS X 10.1. Yesterday I wrote a short AppleScript (available for download) that uses SOAP to call web services belonging to Manila, the publishing system that hosts this blog. The script takes the content of the topmost TextEdit window and makes it a story on my website.

Apple’s made web services pretty darn easy to use. You specify the URL you’re going to and the location of the command you want to use, and the parameters that it takes. You execute the SOAP call. You can call out elements of the resulting XML result by name as though they were normal AppleScript properties (enabling me to get the message number that results when the story is posted).

Le Bien, Le Mal

What’s not to like? Well, sometimes if the script you’re writing doesn’t work, it’s hard to figure out whether you’ve made an error, whether something has gone wrong on the other end, or something else entirely. Case in point: I was getting error messages yesterday from Manila complaining I hadn’t supplied enough parameters to create a message. Had I missed something? Had Dave added something? Then I looked at the XML output (using a great tool from one of Apple’s scripting guys) and realized that the password element had been dropped out. On a little digging, the same Apple guy tipped me off that “password” has a special meaning in AppleScript and I had to treat that property differently (see the script source).

Okay, not perfect, but still having fun. What’s next? How about tying a spellchecker into the workflow? Ease of use capabilities like saving username and blog address, and keychain support, and other applications, and…

I better not get ahead of myself.


The subtitle is taken from Guru’s jazz/hip-hop album, Jazzmatazz. It’s a duet with MC Solaar, French hip-hop artist, in which Solaar basically shows Guru up as a rapper of inferior skills. But I don’t think he knew that when he recorded it. 🙂

Others are Doing It Too

Larry responded to my piece to point out that he’s done this between TextEdit and Blogger. There are probably other people out there doing this too. Let’s have a scripting-our-blog party!

Euripides in Boston

It was Lisa’s birthday yesterday. Night before last I was reading Greek tragedy–the “translation” of Alcestis made by Ted Hughes shortly before his death–and thinking about Lisa. No, not in the context of a Greek tragedy! I’ve got a couple of bad analogies here, so if that sort of thing causes you pain you might want to skip this and go read Bruno (not only is Chris a much better writer than I, but his work is illustrated).

No, I was thinking that I know a lot of people like Alcestis. Queen of Thessaly, she gave her life so that her husband, Admetos, could live (he was “doomed to die young.” Her husband in his grief showed hospitality to Heracles, and in response Heracles went, wrestled Hades, and brought Alcestis back to life. Typical deus ex machina ending, I suppose.

Except. Many of my classmates’ spouses, including Lisa, gave up comfortable lives elsewhere to make enormous sacrifices so that their significant others’ lives could improve. In Lisa’s case, she gave up friends, familiar surroundings, and two incomes in Washington, DC to come to an uncertain income in a city with a much higher cost of living. Whatever Heracles watches over those between employment saw to it that she got a lucrative job, one that has already sent her to Italy once. But that doesn’t lessen the enormity of her sacrifice.

It occurred to me that I’ve not said “thank you” to her publicly. So thank you, dear. I’m no Admetos, but you out-Alcestis Alcestis for me.

Continuing in the face of Death

Another Alcestis resonance for me this week was more obvious. How did Admetos have the strength, knowing that his wife gave her life to save his, to throw open the doors to welcome Heracles?

I think that all of us, as we struggle to continue with life “back to normal, but not business as usual,” have to figure out for ourselves how Admetos did it.

Coming or going?

Lisa (happy birthday, love!) and I have been doing a lot of walking around Boston the last couple of days. We both wanted to get out of the house and away from the TV after the last few days.

Saturday started with a walk from our home in the North End to Tealuxe on Newbury Street. We walked through Quincy Market, past Faneuil Hall, into and through Boston Common and the Public Garden, and past some very expensive shops on Newbury (including what Lisa says is an outpost of the best coffee store in Milan). All this before breakfast–maybe a little much, but it felt good to get out and do some walking.

Our normal breakfast at the Tealuxe in Harvard Square was a personal pot of tea and a scone for each of us. The Newbury St. Tealuxe actually serves food (albeit just sandwiches), so I varied it with an egg, cheese and bacon sandwich that had been pressed in a grill. We shared a pot of Golden Tippy Assam tea. I ended the meal with a cinnamon scone. Afterwards we walked to the Boston Public Library, just around the corner in Copley Square. It all seemed a bit over the top, maybe, but at the same time it was incredibly important–we were celebrating being together and being alive.

Saturday we also started seeing monarch butterflies. One dogged our steps returning to our apartment along Richmond Street. Sunday, we walked to school so I could pick up some readings for my classes, and we saw another one as we crossed the Longfellow Bridge. It fluttered along beside the bridge, careered across the traffic, and over the other side of the bridge. When we saw it, it was winging lazily across the Charles.

There were more of them. Practically every five minutes–on Massachusetts Ave, in the shadow of Calder’s Great Sail… I couldn’t decide, and it seemed very important at the time: had they been there all along and were just leaving? Or had they just arrived from another place, just when we most needed to see them?

The work goes on

If ever I needed a reminder that life does not stop with a tragedy, it was this week. I got the reminder in the form of my project for my Entrepreneurship Lab course. Our project plan is due today at 5. I’ll be offline most of the day as a result.

My work still feels trivial, though, in comparison to the work happening in New York and the Pentagon.

What Not to Do

Update: My sister, always more articulate than me, has written in ten lines what I avoided saying in everything below.

The article this morning in the New York Times reported that Arab Americans have been subjected to harassment and threats. Last night’s version for me was a little more graphic. As I left my apartment building to make a run for some needed groceries, I saw a young muscular man in his mid-twenties wearing a t-shirt, obviously homemade. The t-shirt said on the front, “Die Raghead Scum.”

In the corner store, I heard a soft spoken talk show host explaining that this wasn’t really America against terrorism but the civilized world against terrorism, because you didn’t know who would be next. I agreed with this assessment, but then he went on to say, “There’s a surprisingly small number of countries in the world that are civilized. Outside of the US and Canada, Europe and Japan, most of the rest of the world are barbarians.”

I expect to see xenophobia and racism in the next few weeks that will excel the worst excesses of the Gulf War. But against whom? In the absence of hard evidence, we strike out at those we fear because of differences.

And they’re not making it any easier for us. The reports of Palestinians in the West Bank firing their guns in the air after hearing what had happened is only one reminder that we are already deeper in ancient conflicts than most of us realize.

But if we’ve learned anything from history, it’s that an eye for an eye does not end anything. How can it? How can one loss of life ever repay another?

What To Do

Give blood. If, like me, you can’t because you pass out (shameful truth), give money to relief organizations.

At “MIT”, the Red Cross isn’t taking any more donors because their infrastructure can’t handle it. Don’t give up if you’re turned away–come back later in the week. The survivors are going to need a lot of help for a long time.