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When the Pirogues Return from Sea

The morning sun was scarcely over the horizon and a cold wind was blowing off the sands of the Sahel when I first saw them motoring up the steely, smooth waters of the Senegal River: Senegal's artisanal fishing fleet, back from a long night – or maybe several – in the cold waters of the eastern Atlantic. A dozen wooden pirogues wended their way, gracefully, past the island of Saint Louis where I watched them from a hotel balcony, towards the tangled knot of ships and men that constitutes the fishing port.

I watched them with a sense of appreciation. Other than the outboard motor and the grey vinyl Wellington overcoats worn by the crew, not much of that scene has changed in centuries, including the long, drawn out lines of the pirogue itself, which was originally a river craft stretched out and sent into the unforgiving ocean in search of bigger fish. After many years of working among the highest levels of political leadership to bring about meaningful reduction in Senegal's poverty, I watched these traditional people going about their traditional craft in the traditional way, and I thought to myself, "I haven't affected these folks in any way at all." That's not totally true, of course: they're the rantings of a frustrated bureaucrat impatient with the rate of progress and all the insalubrious aspects of trusting political leaders to want and work towards change. Continue reading "When the Pirogues Return from Sea"

Categories: Senegal
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The TypeMatrix 2030 Ergonomic Keyboard

TypeMatrix keyboard

On a lark, I decided to give the TypeMatrix keyboard a try, having passed it up earlier in lieu of the Totally Ergonomic Keyboard. At a hundred bucks, it was a low-risk gamble, and I am ever-more curious about interesting, innovative, or just curious keyboards. Someday we'll look back on the age of keyboards as a novelty that betrays our technological unsophistication, but that age isn't here yet, and for the moment we are still largely glued to our keyboards, so why not experiment?

Off the bat, a few observations: Continue reading "The TypeMatrix 2030 Ergonomic Keyboard"

Categories: Tech
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Salzburg was magical. Salzburg was lovely. Salzburg was freezing. I'm told the magic of Salzburg is in the hills, but we had trouble looking too far up, as the wind was out of the north and the snow flakes were falling in our eyes as we looked around. Continue reading "Salzburg"

Categories: Austria
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I'd hoped to learn all about the speckled history of Innsbruck, "the Bridge over the River Inn" in order to flesh out this story. In reality, between kids and work and other responsibilities, I never really got a chance to learn much at all about the place we spent Christmas of 2014.

That doesn't mean it hasn't earned a very special place in my heart, though: Continue reading "Innsbruck"

Categories: Austria
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Christmas in Innsbruck

Krist Kind Procession, Innsbruck

Christmas is different in every culture around the world, and while many of America's Christmas traditions come from Germany and Austria, that doesn't mean it's the same thing.

For one, in Austria, it's the Christ Child himself who delivers the gifts to good little children, not some bearded, Nordic fat man in a red suit. And we were lucky – not only did the Christ Child bring a gift or two for us while we stayed in Innsbruck, but we got a chance to see the lighted procession on Christmas Eve. Continue reading "Christmas in Innsbruck"

Categories: Austria
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The Stubaital Glacier

Randall Wood Stubaital Glacier

The kids wanted a white Christmas, sure, but I was also hoping our trip to Austria would yield a little snow. I was hoping to do a little snowboarding for the first time since we traveled to Sierra Nevada, and the second time since my 20s. But as we arrived in Innsbruck in Christmas week, it was beginning to look unlikely, and the forecast was cheerily focused on sun and seasonally warm temperatures.

"It doesn't matter," my Austrian friend said. "We'll just go up and ski the glacier."

My heart leapt. Continue reading "The Stubaital Glacier"

Categories: Austria
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The Squatters


Intro: February 2012

Call it a lesson in the obvious, perhaps. I've had the pleasure of living among squatters, and my eyes have been opened to what squatting really means in West Africa. Our neighbors on two sides in Dakar have set up home on vacant, yet-unbuilt lots. They are camps of families and acquaintances making their homes on lots otherwise undeveloped. They organize themselves around sources of water when they are available, keep their sheep, build small cooking fires, socialize ... and then they are gone. Continue reading "The Squatters"

Categories: Econ/Development, Senegal
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The Truly Ergonomic Keyboard (TEK): Review

TEK keyboard

When you've bought your third expensive keyboard it's time to admit you have a fetish. Or that you spend most of your day glued to the business end of a computer. Or both! But face it: if you spend a lot of time writing, a decent keyboard is worth more than its weight in gold, for reasons of efficiency, health, and comfort alone.

I was in the mood for a keyboard built around a linear (not-staggered) layout, and a few reviews of the TEK ("Totally Ergonomic Keyboard") made it seem appealing. So I bought one and have used it for the past couple of weeks. Here are my conclusions, and a few notes of comparison with the Kinesis Ergo keyboard, which I also like and use daily. Continue reading "The Truly Ergonomic Keyboard (TEK): Review"

Categories: Tech
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Movember 2.0

So it's November again – I mean Movember – and as this is potentially my last time participating in the drive to raise awareness and funds for prostate cancer, I plan on going out in style. [No I don't have prostate cancer, just planning on doing something else next year].

So here we go! The rules state that on day one of November, you start clean and then grow a moustache over the course of the year. But that's boring! I played by the rules last year, and it took me all month just to get back to the amount of facial hair I usually sport. What's the fun in that?

This year it's going to be different. Read on! Continue reading "Movember 2.0"

Categories: News
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The Walled City of Carcassonne

Image thanks to

I had been wondering why castles and stories of knights and princesses so thoroughly captivate the kids, and decided it’s probably simply because such an industry has come up around those stories, and there’s so much money to be made. Then we visited Carcassonne and I decided there’s something else.

Neither Ericka nor I is a stranger to castles, having visited many over the past decade. But Carcassonne was captivating in ways that extended beyond the crenelated ramparts. I think it may have been the geography: from the streets of modern Carcassonne you travel outside the city limits, crossing a grassy plain to where the medieval fortress sits perched on a little hillock with a perfect view of the surrounding countryside. Never mind you’re traveling to the city gates in a 2012 Peugeot taxi blasting pop tunes through Bluetooth speakers, as you approach the city gates you’re horseback, wearing heavy leather boots and carrying a weapon of forged iron. And then you are there, on the outside looking in, separated from the inner sanctum of the walled city by a moat (now dry and grassy), and a real, many-ton drawbridge. Carcassonne. Continue reading "The Walled City of Carcassonne"

Categories: France
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Albert and the Mutts: a lesson in poverty reduction

Meet Albert, the best-known street dog in the Almadies neighborhood of Dakar, where we live, and the sire of probably hundreds of Dakarois puppies over the years (he's taking a well-deserved nap in this pic). He's undisputably the king of the neighborhood — even our Basenji warrior leaves him alone. As for the puppies, well his days of fatherhood came to an end, thanks to the intervention of a group of philanthropists and a program of street dog sterilization. But the whole story makes an instructive metaphor.

There's no question something needs to be done about all the underfed, fleabitten, miserable animals living a hairsbreadth from danger in the streets, gasping for shade under parked cars, scrounging through barrels, and generally living badly. And the Dakarois are scared mostly to death of dogs, so they are happy to have fewer of them. So when it comes time to develop and implement a street-dog sterilization campaign, how does it play out? Continue reading "Albert and the Mutts: a lesson in poverty reduction"

Categories: Econ/Development, Senegal
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Backing Up FreeNAS to an external hard drive

I love this little device: it's an iXsystems MiniNAS running FreeNAS 9.2, with tons of disk space, RAM, fast network connections, all on a low-profile device that uses precious little energy (30W). Nice! And having all my important stuff on one box not only gives me the freedom to screw around with my desktops but simplifies and centralizes the work that goes into backing up my information.

It's tempting to be lulled into security by a hefty NAS running the ZFS file system on RAID-6. Yes you've got some redundancy and a resistant file system. But RAID is not backup - a mistake too many make. And here I ran into some trouble. FreeNAS gives you tons of options for transferring zpool datasets around, and since it's networked you can rsync your heart's content to other systems, but what if you just want to back the stuff up to a hard drive locally? Like an external, USB hard drive? Turns out, there's a way, but it requires a bit of Unix-foo.

Fortunately, this is FreeBSD, so lots of things are possible. Continue reading "Backing Up FreeNAS to an external hard drive"

Categories: Tech
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San Juan, Puerto Rico

The best thing about the folks of San Juan, Puerto Rico is their accent: a lot of them sound like me. That is, they've got a New York accent. That changes everything. In fact, Puerto Rico is practically unique across the Caribbean for being an American territory with strong American connections but a culture and history rooted in the Spanish empire as well, and an island that reflects both.

Miguel took us across town in late morning. "Any earlier and the traffic will kill you," he explained. "It's bad and getting worse" We spent a good deal of time waiting to cross intersections anyway, gazing out at architecture that looked kind of like South Florida, but – amazingly – cleaner and better kept. But it was clear the island is struggling, ad we read it in the papers too: to call Puerto Rico's current situation as a 'slump' would be an understatement. That would explain the continued emigration to places like New York, where well over a million Puerto Ricans join the 3 million that stayed behind. "New York's Puerto Rican community is famous," Miguel explained, adding, "Know the other big center of Puerto Rican emigration? Orlando." And then with a smile and a strategic pause, " That's right: Mickey Mouse eats beans and rice" Continue reading "San Juan, Puerto Rico"

Categories: Caribbean Islands
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The Laughing Gulls: Little San Salvador

Laughing Gulls

Turns out, good branding matters, even in geography. Don't believe me? Ask someone currently trying to get by while living in Dildo (Newfoundland and Labrador), Crapo (Maryland), Boogertown (North Carolina), Hellhole (Idaho), or Drain (Oregon). There are others, of course. So it is that the little stretch of sand and sea once known as Little San Salvador has done much better with the relatively more evocative name of Half Moon Cay. That's what I was thinking when I awoke to find our boat rocking gently at anchor off the sandy crescent of Caribbean goodness on which were to spend the rest of the day playing and exploring. Continue reading "The Laughing Gulls: Little San Salvador"

Categories: Caribbean Islands
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Low, White Sand: the Turks and Caicos

I only knew two things about the Turks and Caicos islands before traveling: one, that due to serious concerns about corruption and transparency, the United Kingdom had come close to throwing them out of the British Commonwealth and revoked their right to self government in 2009; and two, that by Caribbean geography alone, it was darned likely I'd find an aquatic paradise of white sand beaches, transparent, turquoise water, and bright sun. On both accounts, I was correct. But I learned a bit more, as well. And mostly, I learned it from Ernest Hemingway. Here, pour yourself a drink before reading on:

Thomas Hudson took a sip of the ice-cold drink that tasted of the fresh green lime juice mixed with the tasteless coconut water that was still so much more full-bodied than any charged water, strong with the real Gordon’s gin that made it alive to his tongue and rewarding to swallow, and all of it tautened by the bitters that gave it color. It tastes as good as a drawing sail feels, he thought. It is a hell of a good drink.
Continue reading "Low, White Sand: the Turks and Caicos"
Categories: Caribbean Islands
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