Back when North Carolina was called the Rip Van Winkle state, asleep while
industry raged on all sides, local industrialists shared a vision of prosperity
that only rail builders could usher in. It was the late 1800s, just four
decades after the cease of Civil War hostilities, and North Carolina was
suffering. But before the century would end, a network of steel rail would connect
North Carolina's textile mills and tobacco farms to the markets of Virginia
and harbors on the Atlantic. And there they would stay for about a century
before consolidation, truck traffic, and changing interstate markets would
make some of them superfluous.
Rail lines are tough to make disappear, though. So if you know where to
look, you can still find their bones slumbering under forests. And Lord
they are beautiful.
Continue reading "Slumbering Giants: the End of Rail"
Nothing gets the pulse racing like escaping from the world we're living in
now, and discovering the worlds that lived before us: it's a reminder that
nothing lasts forever, not even this.
North Carolina's Haw and New Hope River valleys were formerly
prone to horrific flooding. The hurricane of 1945 was one of just
many hurricanes that laid siege to what was already a poor valley,
putting it under water. The US Army Corps of Engineers came up with a
plan to flood it permanently, offering a mechanism of flood control
and providing hydropower for electrification of the region. When it
was done, Lake B Everett Jordan had become a permanent fixture on the
Continue reading "The End of the Road"
We used to say I don't care anymore if I never have money. As long as I have my sweet honey, and a shack in the woodland.
— Greg Brown, "Who Woulda Thunk It?"
Continue reading "Shack in the Woodland"
In the clarity of hindsight, I perceive I didn't find Nunn Mountain as much as I succumbed to its charms:
Quiet, verdant whispers slip through, borne in the soft breezes of late summer,
Shadows are suspended from the bright needles of Loblolly Pines.
Continue reading "Pilgrim on Nunn Mountain"
The only thing better than a pilot's license is surely a friend with a pilot's license. And in 2016, such a friend with a big heart, and an empty seat in his Cessna, offered to take me on a ride I'll never forget.
Matt was flying Cessnas for a small company in Uganda. "Take me along some day if you've got space for me," I joked one day. But it was half-hearted and a joke. So imagine when one day he called me up and offered me a ride in exchange for some help loading up a guy who had broken his leg in the rural bush of northern Uganda. I could scarcely meet him at the aerodrome fast enough.
Continue reading "The Bush Pilot"
I bought a Samsung 3 in 2013, and used it relentlessly for the next six years. That's a long time, but thanks to the now-banished feature of a replaceable battery, I was able to prolong its life by three years longer than other phones simply by spending fourteen dollars on a new battery when the original one began failing! Finally this year, the GPS started to fail and it seemed time to upgrade. Here's what I won, and here's what I lost by going to a new device:
Continue reading "From Samsung Note 3 to Note 9"
SuSE Linux 8.1
So, in a bout of nostalgia, I laid hands on an old DVD containing SuSE
Linux 8.1 pro and installed it in a VM, and have been using it all week.
I last installed this OS in about 2001 on a Compaq Presario with 128MB of
RAM and a 20GB hard drive.
It's unusable in a couple of ways: websites are mostly https these days,
and this OS doesn't have the certificates or the cyphers to make the
modern WWW work. But other than that, it's a pretty great experience.
Thinking back on the last 17 years of Linux, I'm thinking this is as good
as it ever got:
Continue reading "Linux in 2001: as good as it ever got"
The more time I spend in Ethiopia, the more I like it, and the more it draws me in. Even after a decade in sub-Saharan Africa, this is something new and different. And though Ethiopia outside the capital is truly a different world, Addis reminds me an awful lot of Managua, another place I called home for many years.
Maybe it's that familiarity that led me so effortlessly into adventure.
I had traveled across town for a meeting, and back out on the street found the local bank machine wouldn't accept my card; stupidly, I'd set out in the morning without drawing some cash at the hotel. And out on the street I had no access to wifi, so my phone was useless to call for a ride. I hailed a few cabs, all of whom roundly refused to carry me for the cash I had on hand. What to do?
Continue reading "The bus to Kazancis"
We left Mauritius in December of 2010, thinking it was as far as we'd
ever traveled, and that we were leaving a piece of paradise, never to
return. So I was shocked to find myself there again only eight years later.
It's as far as I remember, but when you reach a destination at the end of
many, individual jumps, it seems farther.
Continue reading "Mynahs by Morne"
It must have been around late 2014 after a full nine years in West
Africa: I was deathly bored of the continuous struggle to invest in the
governments of poor places while remaining infinitely wary for the fraud and
misuse that comes with the pleasure of spending another people's money. I
desperately wanted to leave the donor business. "Also," I told
Ericka, " if I don't get out of this sector, some day I'm going to find
myself on a plane to Somalia or something."
So the irony wasn't lost on me when I boarded a plane for Hargeisa just a
few years later.
Continue reading "The Sands of Hargeisa"
I'd been predisposed to hate Addis. I knew the hills outside of Addis
were green and beautiful, and a friend who had worked there frequently told me
Ethiopia itself was wonderously beautiful. "But not Addis," he
added. Fair enough, few emerging market capitals are what you would call
lovely. But a popular travel writer characterised the place as filthy and
rutted and festering, and that's the image I braced myself for as I arrived.
Instead, Addis was pretty interesting.
Continue reading "Addis Ababa"
I first visited Nairobi in 2007 with Ericka. Coming off a week-long safari, we needed to find someplace to spend the night before flying onward, and found a mid-range hotel on the edge of town closest to the airport, where we spent an awful, noisy night listening to the adjacent bus terminal and sweating on questionable sheets. Morning came soon enough, and we hoofed it out to Jomo Kenyatta airport and got on with our lives. No metropolitan center can compete with the magic of one's first visit to the Masai Mara or Samburu National Park, but Nairobi was a necessary evil to that trip, not a destination.
Two years later we passed through on the way to the Seychelles, and stayed with friends in an upscale, gated community burgeoning with diplomats and expat aid workers. The houses were lovely, with manicured green gardens sparkling under the tropical sun, and their shaded interiors whispered of hard woods and cool evenings. But the traffic we experienced getting across town to our friends' house! It was shocking.
I found myself in Kenya a third time ... and then again ...
Continue reading "Nairobi"
Sometimes, you are just drawn to a technology or a tool, there's no explanation, and there's no going back. That's the way it was with me and trackballs: I'd only had a laptop for a few months when I discovered trackballs, decided it was my cup of tea, bought one, and have been using them exclusively ever since. In that time – almost fifteen years, at this point – I have used a lot of different trackballs. Each one is almost great, but missing one thing. This is the story of my quest for trackball nirvana.
This article was first published in May 2014. It was updated with two new models in April 2018.
Continue reading "Trackball Nirvana"