Archive for category history

Early 2000s server porn (uiuc.edu mail backend)


Saw this link posted over the weekend:

http://www.detritus.org/mike/gc/
And it reminded me of what things looked at back at the University of Illinois while I was there (2001-2005).  I posted a good “war story” about this beast back several years ago:

http://www.intotheweeds.com/2007/03/into_the_weeds_circa_2002.html
But here are some pictures. Those are MTI 2300 and 8300 arrays. Each of those bays is only 4.5 – 9GB max, and the whole rack of 2300s was less than a TB. 60,000+ email accounts, pure sendmail frontends with special directory lookup plugins (for UIUC’s custom “ph” directory service), and that whole rack of Sun Solaris beasts to run POP and IMAP and unix home directory storage for the whole campus.  Good times:


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πTZ


I get questions.

My wife and I are in the middle of remodeling a 19th century victorian in Cambridge, MA (see http://rebuildingwheneverland.wordpress.com for that story).  Folks ask things like “where did you two meet?”, “where did you learn to use all of these tools and do all of this building stuff?”, “what was life like at MIT?”

I am a putzen.  MIT class of 2000.  I lived at East Campus, specifically the hall known as “putz”, “PTZ”, “πTZ”, or Second West and this is an attempt to explain what that means.

Here’s a panoramic picture of H204, the room I lived in during most of college.  This picture was taken the year after I graduated, after I had passed it on to the esteemed Mr. Ryan Williams (a.k.a. “breath”):

h204room_panorama

On August 21st 1996, I arrived from the snowbound hellscape that was my childhood home of Rochester, New York and walked into the student center at MIT in Cambridge, MA.  Back then when you got to MIT you didn’t know where you were going to live and classes didn’t start for another two weeks.  This was a wonderful time called “R/O” or Campus Rush / Orientation.  All of the undergraduate dorms and frats (yes you could move right into a frat then as a freshman at MIT — this was before some unfortunate idiot drank himself to death in 1997 and ruined everything for everyone else) competed for the freshmen and we got to tour around, get free food, and pick where we’d live.

I had a “temp” room in a nice clean, ordinary boring dorm about a 20 minute walk from main campus.  I immediately fell in love with a rough-and-tumble, less maintained, cheaper-to-live-in, dorm that was closer to classes called “MIT East Campus Alumni Memorial Housing” but more generally known as East Campus, or just EC.  However, it was not my first choice for the housing lottery (or even my second).  I didn’t think I was weird or quirky enough to live there, and honestly it’s a little bit intimidating for a 17 year old kid from the suburbs, not to mention a little bit dirty and grubby.

They build roller coasters in the courtyard.  The walls are covered with hand-painted murals done by residents every year.  Two of the ten “halls” allowed smoking (and still do).  Several even let students bring cats!  Students regularly build elaborate “lofts” in their room out of scrap wood, allowing them to sleep on an elevated platform while having more studying and living space underneath.  They blow stuff up in the dorm courtyard on a semi-regular basis.

Here’s the EC “dorm rush” video from last year.  Please note that pretty much none of the stuff in this video was done just for the video.  This was filming of regular dorm activities like campus rush, spring picnic, fred fest, and regular everyday merriment:

Here’s an older one featuring an actual roller coaster and showing that really not much has changed in the past 10 years:

Fate ended up smiling upon me and I ended up getting assigned to East Campus in the housing lottery.  A few days later, in the courtyard as all of us new residents were gathering around on the benches and tables out there, a group of 5 or 6 of us coalesced and started talking.  We would all end up becoming friends for the next four years (some of us for life), and one of them would eventually become my wife.

But hang on, I haven’t even gotten to putz yet. For rush at MIT not only did we get to pick what dorm we lived in, once we got to EC we got to (and this is still the case) pick what hall we wanted to live in.  This means that each of the 10 halls ends up with its own unique personality.  As I mentioned earlier, some allow smoking, some allow cats.  Some are quiet, some are more mechanically or technically oriented, some are more into sports (intramural or otherwise), etc. etc.  East Campus is a dorm with two separate parallel buildings (east and west) with 5 floors each.  Thus the floors are designated with the numbers 1-5 (by floor) and East or West (based on what parallel the floor is in).

I chose and ended up on Second West.  For rush every year they line of the hall with a tarp, put a bunch of mattresses on the end, get out a hose and some soap and do an indoor slip-n-slide.  They did this 20 years ago when I was a wee frosh and they still do it today.  Some traditions run deep.  Second West is also known affectionately by its nickname “putz” or πtz (story of this nickname follows later).

Every year for the past 23 years (at least) on the Saturday or Sunday of the weekend before thanksgiving on 2nd West, something special happens.  It’s called “putzgiving” and I’ve been there every year for the last 11 of them (while I’ve been back living in Boston).  For the past 5 years I’ve made a turkey for it and helped to feed the roughly 60-80 current residents and alums that come back every year.  It’s a fabulous delicious feast of food, camaraderie, and reminiscing.  For the putzgiving celebrating the somewhat arbitrary “20th year of putz” back in 2012, Mark Feldmeier, one of the older alums (even older than me) gave a brief speech marking the occasion and touching a little bit upon what makes putz “different”:

Putz isn’t a frat, but it bears some communal characteristics similar to one.  In fact, in the early days, the letters πTZ were put on signs and t-shirts to make fun of fraternities.  A regular pastime of the hall during old-time frat rush was to go out and steal the signs of real fraternities and paint over them with πTZ in large letters.  But as the Big Chicken (Mark) says in that video, over the past 20 years things have changed a lot but the community of putz remains.  There’s a longevity to it, and it’s remarkably cool that people come back for events, get together out of town, form business together, write songs, go to each others weddings, or even get married and have children themselves.

What else is there to say?

Always mechanically and/or computationally oriented, putz has built robots, constructed many in-room lofts of varying construction quality, and in one case even chopped a huge hole in a room wall to put in a fish tank (which I think might still be there).  In 1996 the oldest continually operating webcam sprung to life (https://intotheweeds.org/2012/11/22/a-look-back-in-time-golden-age-of-the-internet/).  In 2000 a large music storage and playing linux webserver and sound system was built to allow for remote queueing, organization, and streaming of music into the hall’s lounges and bathrooms.  In 2005, the Time Travelers Convention was held and even got mocked on SNL by Tina Fey.  In both 2004 and 2014 Putz/East Campus teams won the annual MIT Mystery Hunt.  Putz alums have been featured on Jeopardy (unfortunately losing) and Battlebots (also, unfortunately, losing) over the years as well.  We also have putzen who have proudly served in the military, in the priesthood, and just about every field in between.

I’ll close this post with a bit of trivia.  A message from Abe Farag explaining a bit about the origin and history of πTZ:

“…The 1994 class of 2nd west attracted some calm academic kids- Physics majors: Gunther, Rob, Joe, David C – who moved floors I think? (Oh my this was a long time ago)
But somehow in the 1995 class 2nd west attracted a cast of characters with some Spunk. I don’t know how that happened. Like the cosmos forming new stars out of the either. Maybe a masterpiece is easier to create on a blank palette then one already crowded with some message.

The 1996 rush was even fun & then with the 1996 class a flood gate of fun rolled in. I have no idea how “PTZ” started. I did play a lot of hack hockey & did poke fun a lot of our D-level game. I’m honored to think I might have started PTZ- but I don’t think it was me.

If I called us Putzes it was just to be silly. Not to start a club. 

In early 1992 Gunther made a hall t-shirt that said “We’d make bad elves” which was a drawing of an elv that had built a 3 armed doll & santa hitting him. I think of that as a precursor of the feeling of us being Putzes if not the exact name. We were so lame that we made t-shirts of our IM teams that made fun of how lame we were. But I’m sure that Mark yelling was a big part of the ethos of Putz. YO Mark.

However the name bubbled up I think PTZ stuck because of the fun link to pseudo Frat & rush & because the feeling of not having an identity at the time – of being an outcast floor- which we were at the time.

I also think it was 1993 Rush that some Brave & BOLD Putzen went to the great Killian dome RUSH kickoff event with a PTZ sign & PTZ t-shirts & like pied pipers lead some incoming kids to ec. I think 1 tenet of PTZ is that Making Physical stuff leads to fun. That was a Pivotal moment for PTZ.

To all Yee Putz… enjoy the great legacy you are part of.
GO forth & Putz.
+Abe 
PTZ- 1994.”

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It “snow” comparison


UPDATE: Here is a composite picture that tells part of the story. Click for the full-size image. On the left is from last weekend (February 7th, 4:11pm). On the right is this morning (February 15th, 11:15am). The walls and mountains of snow just keep growing. This includes another 14″ or so that has been added in the past 24 hours (after writing the blog post below).

blizzard

Please excuse the pun in the title (or don’t). If you haven’t heard, Boston has gotten an unprecedented amount of snow over the past three weeks and will probably end up with about 70″ within a 30-day period.

I come from Rochester, New York. Depending on your statistics, it is considered one of the snowiest cities in the U.S (and sometimes is #1 on that list). So my thought has been: have I just been living outside of the snow belt for so long that what used to not be a big deal in my normal winter experience is now completely bizarre to me?

Let’s start by looking at the current leaders of this season’s “snow bowl“. Boston is right there in between Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester, and is behind the total amount of snow that snow-belt cities Buffalo and Syracuse had at this point last year, and about equal with Rochester. So yes, this is an unbelievably large amount of snow for Boston, but not unprecedented for some urban areas.

The statements so far from the mayor and officials from the local mass transit authority (MBTA) indicate that the real issue here has been an inability to clear out snow from streets, train tracks, and to maintain equipment which the snow and cold has damaged. Mass transit is completely shut down tomorrow again, and a snow emergency continues. This is a good move, in my opinion, because we need an extra day of cars and people not being out there so that the city can do something about removing the mountains of snow.

Re-opening the city so soon after the first storm two weeks ago was, in retrospect, what got us into the current mess. You can only shove so much snow aside before there’s just too much of it and the streets narrow to be impassable. This is precisely the situation we were in here for most of last week. Traffic was at a standstill as two-lane streets became one (or even 1/2 lane) with parked cars and mountains of snow competing for road space. Lets hope the crews make some good progress cleaning up the streets and sidewalks tomorrow while we’re all home from work. I also hope that the embattled MBTA can get its act together. However the lack of budgetary attention paid to that agency from the state over the past few years, and downright animosity from residents of the western suburban and rural part of the state when faced with their tax dollars paying for “city” infrastructure has left the agency in a spot where they just don’t have enough resources to remove all of the snow and repair/maintain equipment. By some estimates last week about half of the trains on certain subway lines were out of service due to weather-related malfunction.

So, good luck to them. And they should get a move-on because the current NOAA forecast discussion indicates a good chance of a potentially significant storm this coming Thursday, and another one Saturday into Sunday.

Now, back to my original question about 70″ in a month. I looked around for record of this happening in a city before (particuarly a major city, like Boston). I found a few of similar incidents in smaller cities though — all in the “snow belt” region of Buffalo-Rochester-Syracuse, of course. Back in 1985, Buffalo had 68 inches of snow in December. That’s less than we’re facing here now, and in a city that’s smaller and probably has a much easier time with snow removal and street clearing (not to mention no large subway/trolley system to also keep clear). In December 2001, the city of Buffalo had a record 83 inches of snowfall, with a maximum of 44 inches on the ground at one point. That seems to indicate to me that there was some sort of thawing in between — a luxury we have not had here in the city of Boston over the past three weeks. In Syracuse, however, there was also a 64 inch December, and supposedly a 97 inch January back in 1966 that I really want to find and read some more about. But other than those few anomalies? I couldn’t find a month of more than 52 inches of snow for Buffalo, Rochester, or Syracuse.

So yeah, 70″ in a less than a month is very very rare for *any* place — even the snowiest cities in this country that deal with blizzards regularly. It’s certainly unprecedented for a major city with a multi-mode mass-transit system and a population over 640,000 (4.5 million in the “greater boston” MSA). In other words, I haven’t gone soft. This really is a whole lot of snow.

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RIP Aaron Swartz


Aaron Swartz, best known as a co-author of the RSS specification, a co-owner of pupular social news site Reddit, and a lead campaigner against internet censorship and corruption committed suicide yesterday at the age of 26.

It’s sad to see such a brilliant, creative mind and potentially positive, young, influence for good in the world and community gone. I didn’t personally know him, and I can’t say I don’t have mixed feelings about the JSTOR incident (although it has been instrumental in bringing publicity to the issue of journal access and the heavy-handedness of computer-crime law in this country).

Some may say he went too far, pushed the envelope, and was unreasonable. George Bernard Shaw said the following:

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

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Substitute the word “Communist” with “Socialist” and I could see this happening today all the same….

Under the Mountain Bunker

Yesterday vs. today:

1947 FBI Memo Re: “It’s A Wonderful Life”

With regard to the picture “It’s a Wonderful Life”, [redacted] stated in substance that the film represented rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists. [In] addition, [redacted] stated that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters.”

Related: 

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Roger Boisjoly Poll


Roger Boisjoly
So, what do you think?

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A Look Back in Time: “Golden Age of the Internet?”


In May of 1999, my hall at MIT’s East Campus Dormitory, known as “Second West”, “putz”, “PTZ”, “Pi Tau Zeta” (and probably many others), was featured in Yahoo! Internet Life Magazine because of the venerable putz webcam, which had been operating in some form since 1997. Today, of course, that webcam is still operating (assuming Pranjal or some current resident remembers to reboot it every once in a while) at http://www.mitwebcam.com.

So I kept the magazine. It turns out that the single paragraph and picture on the putz webcam wasn’t the only gem in this thing. I took the liberty of scanning the full magazine a while ago and a full pdf is linked below. Aside from the mention of the webcam, there’s an introduction to this new “stark” search engine known as “Google!” (not sure what the exclamation point is about), and an interview with Richard Branson about the future of the internet and his businesses. The centerpiece of the issue is the list of America’s top 100 wired colleges (MIT got 2nd place to Case Western, of all things, and I have no idea why).

Article mentioning “Google!”, and PTZ Webcam mention Clippings:

Full PDF of magazine issue (right click and “save as”):

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