We emerged from the ridiculous luxury of air-conditioned 4-wheel vehicles at the beginning of a patchwork of sandy trails and the thin speckles of Acacia shadows, many hundreds of kilometers from the coast and even farther from home. This was truly the Sahel, and I've never experienced anything like it. Perhaps I never will.
It's easy to dismiss the far-flung corners of earth, the difficult places where you'd never in a million years ever want to live, where you can't imagine how people get by, where it seems life is too hard to be worth living. But that discounts the fact that people already live there, and they're there today, and it's hard. This is the Sahel.
Continue reading "The Sahelians"
I was in Kolda, in Senegal's Casamance region, waiting for sundown and the cool of the night. A rustling in the treetops surprised me, and looking up, I watched four shadows go leaping from the branches of one tree to another. Primates!
Turned out, the shadows comprised a family of monkeys, and they seemed to be pretty much at home in the trees of the hotel. Who knows, maybe they were there first! Who cares, though: after so many years at the edge of the Sahel, disappointed with the paucity of wildlife and the encroaching of the desert, it was a thrill to be face to face with some happy-looking animals.
Continue reading "The Senegal Green Monkey"
The year was 1992 or so, and on the front counter of Cornell's Ag & Life Science Library was a terminal that offered easy access to all sorts of resources and information, including weather (useful in Ithaca, where morning sun could turn to 8+ inches of snow by afternoon on any given winter day), sports scores, and more. Some of those services were offered using gopher, a cross-system information system that disappeared when something called the World Wide Web overran it with a more compelling interface, graphics, and a less menu-driven approach. I got used to using it, and grew to like it.
Continue reading "New gopher on the prairie"
An Open Letter to Barnes & Noble:
Greetings. I've been a customer since I first decided to take the plunge and enter the world of digital books (e-books), and I made a conscious decision to buy from Barnes and Noble over Amazon for two important reasons: First, your epub format is an industry standard usable on a wide variety of devices when the books are unencumbered by DRM, and second, your web interface allowed me to download copies of my purchased books to my desktop for archiving and backup.
Two years later, I'm back to Amazon. Why?
Continue reading "An Open Letter to Barnes & Noble Bookstore"
Of course the Casamance has its own name: though technically it’s part of Senegal, it’s not just another region, it’s practically another world. And that yin-yang of belonging while remaining separate is at the heart of the Casamance experience.
We flew into Ziguinchor in a ten-seater turboprop under whose spinning propellers I watched pass the Petit Cote, the dust-strewn roofs of Banjul, and then the yawning, immense Casamance itself. The Casamance River twisted and snaked back on itself through a labyrinth of mangrove thickets, brackish backwaters, oxbow lakes, and broad silty plains riven with the tracks of animals crossing what might have been hardpan dirt or meters-deep quicksand, all in a landscape that spanned from horizon to horizon in infinite flatness. If the bold landscapes of mountain ranges speak of majesty, flat riverine landscapes whisper “impermanence.” The river moves from year to year and season to season, haunted by the ghosts of swollen rainfall or the pressing heat. As it writhes, the stains of salt trace its thrashing, and trickles of rainfall cross the mudflats to join the watercourse, lined on both sides with the emerald greens of the young mangroves that will ultimately strangle them. At the edges, small villages and the squared plots of subsistence vegetable farms crouch, speckled with the canopies of the infinite trees that make not forest but savannah. How to build and plan when everything is in perpetual motion, and always will be?
Continue reading "The Casamance"
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
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
Continue reading "When the Pirogues Return from Sea"
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"
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.
We noticed one of the first miracles of European Union integration as we departed Innsbruck for Salzburg: our train almost immediately left Austria at the border at Kufstein, and traveled the rest of the way through Germany – endless fields buttoned up for the winter with rolls of hay stacked at the margins – before arriving. Imagine how different things were a few decades ago when Germany was divided and Austria represented the frontier and the Iron Curtain that demarked the two philosophies of the Cold War.
Continue reading "Salzburg"
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"
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"
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"
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"
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"
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"
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"