Sep 20, 2011
Why was I up so early this weekend?
Posted in: Life & Culture
Both days last weekend I got up at ungodly-early hours (read: 7:30am) because I was volunteering for two different programs. Sunday morning was Delve, an AP preparation course run by ESP for area high schoolers. More on that later.
On Saturday morning, I was helping out with the Math Prize for Girls. Founded two years ago in NYC, the Math Prize moved to MIT for the first time last weekend, and it was a great success. Offering a top prize of $25,000, Math Prize draws girls from all over the country—and it’s the perfect excuse for a reunion with friends from summer camp.
Which brings me to why I was riding through Central Square on my bike on Friday afternoon. Five or six girls from RSI this summer were coming back to Boston, and we were meeting for dinner at the delicious Fire+Ice in Harvard Square. On Friday afternoon, I realized that this reunion was the perfect opportunity to get off my butt, ride my bike, and save $3.40 in T fare.
So here I am, riding along through Central Square. I’m in the whole “constant vigilance” mode (a la Mad-Eye Moody) because Central’s sorta sketchy, so I see the cop cars, and the cops talking to a woman standing next to her bike, from about a block away. Cops are rarely good news, so I slow down.
And then I hear it. It’s sort of like a chant: "Hey, hey, hey, hey, go the other way." It was just like that, with 4 hey’s, and it sounded almost like the start of some rap song. Whatever it was, it was weird enough to draw my attention from the cops and look around… when I see the person who said it. He was this black dude, leaning against the bus stop, dreadlocks, staring straight at me. There was no doubt in my mind he was talking to me, especially when he said "Yeah, you," when he saw me looking. And because it was Central I freaked out a little. Why’d he tell me to turn around? I slowly came to a stop and locked up my bike. Deciding that there were too many people around for anything too bad to happen, I walked up to him.
Apparently, he’d been watching those cops for a while and they’d been stopping every single biker without a helmet. I will admit with shame that I don’t currently have a helmet, having just got my bike thus summer and only used it for a few short trips. So here’s me, completely unsure whether riding a bike without a helmet is even legal in Massachusetts, less than a block from some cops who are checking!
I walked my bike for a few blocks.
Then I got back on and started riding again. Otherwise I would’ve been late. Turns out riding a bike without a helmet is only illegal in Massachusetts if you are 16 or younger, so I would’ve gotten off with just a scolding. But I won’t forget that guy and his rhythmically-delivered warning. Whoever you are, you bolstered my faith in humanity last Friday afternoon.
I now pronounce it “later,” so I’m going to talk about Delve. As a treasurer of ESP, I was in charge of the treasury table, a nice secluded table in a nice secluded corner of lobby 10. Which was probably good, because I was tired and grouchy. Dealing with money was a much better idea for me that morning than dealing with people. The few people who came over to my table to ask a question got pointed to the help desk pretty quick.
A lot of students come to Delve, which means a lot of money comes in, and most of it comes in the form of a check. We like to have records of the checks just in case people ask for a refund, so we run them through this nifty little check scanner. And my job, my one job that morning, was to get the check scanner to work.
And I failed.
Getting the check scanner to work is a tricky process: you need to have ESP’s git repository installed on your laptop, as well as some encryption key that I don’t fully understand, and run a python script to populate a folder of check images and a spreadsheet of check ID numbers, amounts, and check numbers. In one sense it’s all automagic once this is done, so it’s "easy." But getting this actually set up is not easy.
Amazingly, it was not the complex setup that was the problem! I’d done all the setup in advance, and apparently that worked. The problem was getting my computer connected to the check scanner. Oh for the days when I believed that the solution to get electronics to work was to simply plug them into each other. But no: the Ethernet cable was securely plugged into both my computer and the check scanner, but the computer couldn’t find the check scanner no matter what I tried. I even tried reversing the direction of the Ethernet cable, before I realized I was being stupid.
So I stopped being stupid. I looked up the make and model of the check scanner online and downloaded the documentation. After learning all about which pin in the Ethernet cable did what in the connection, I found useful information: the IP address of the check scanner! After considerably more hunting, I found out how to manually enter the IP address of the place I wanted my computer to connect to.
At this point I felt like a 1337 h4><0r (which happens almost never here at MIT). I entered the IP address, 192.168.10.100, and, feeling like a boss, tried the python script again. It still didn’t work.
After trying several more variations of this and noticing that everyone had finished checking in 15 minutes previously, I admitted defeat. I packed up the check scanner and deposited the cash. I left the checks to do later.
Well I just got back from a meeting with the other treasurers to scan all the checks. The check scanner worked perfectly with my computer tonight. Turns out the secret was to manually enter *any* IP address, so long as it wasn’t 192.168.10.100.
That’s right. I had used my 1337 h4><0r skillz to come up with the ONLY thing that wouldn’t work. *sigh*
I know you must be wondering, "So, I know all about what Kate is doing on the weekends, but what about school? What’s she taking this semester?" That question deserves its own entire post to answer, and that post is coming up next.