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Poem for Piñuela


If Dogs save no


and expect no


then you were so wise to fill every


with pats on the head,

a caress of that soft fur,

chasing behind the children,


but not too close,

soft, puppy Hugs,

watching "Bird TV" in the

warm light of afternoon,

long puppy naps

on the cool, tiled floors

of our African home

that was your

Home too.

You who had

the silent grace to choose us

from that Cotonou corner,

had, too, the grace

to know when it was time for our two paths to


But I whose days are all

Yesterdays and Tomorrows

still look for you on that

empty pillow,

wait for your soft paws,

tangled in the mosquito netting,

the fuzzy


of your chin on my knee,

wondering if now

we'll go for just one more


Rest in peace, Piñuela the Pup.

Categories: Benin
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The borked backup: a tale of database disaster

angry bear

This is a story with a happy ending, eventually. It’s the tale of how Google and some script-fu saved my bacon. There’s a moral, too: don’t be stupid, and you’re stupider than you think you are. That was my case, anyway, when a bear mauled my database.

I was running 4 websites on FreeBSD 9.0, and after two years of upgrading, it was time to upgrade the system to FreeBSD 10.0. That was an upgrade with some risks, and in my case, it went poorly. The system had been getting quirky anyway, so I figured it was time to just wipe it clean and install FreeBSD 10 fresh. I had downloaded to my local machine a full set of backups, so I was ready to go. As the new machine came up, disaster struck. Continue reading "The borked backup: a tale of database disaster"

Categories: Tech
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Making Communities, Breaking Communities

Pipedot logo

The online world of the World Wide Web is, in some ways, shattering into individual walled gardens hosted and jealously guarded by corporations who shepherd users into the controlling comfort of apps and single sign ons, and recoup their investments via advertising and datamining. The editorial by Doc Searls in the June 2014 edition of Linux Journal crystalized it for me: the Web as we know it is evolving in a way that benefits those corporations, and trade free entertainment for users' data. There are other problems too, like the filter effect of people being enabled to more stringently than ever select what information they want to be exposed to, and technologies like the Google search engine, that strengthen that effect to the detriment of contrary view points. So much for the Internet being a new era of universal enlightenment and sharing.

But this melancholy point of view takes shape while reflecting on what I do on-line, and with whom, and that brings me to the subject of on-line community. Continue reading "Making Communities, Breaking Communities"

Categories: Tech
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The Last Drop of Water

One day, the taps simply ran dry. No water. The only way to truly what that means is to live through it, to experience it, to suffer through it. Only then do you realize that all the other problems about which you complain are nothing in comparison, that your squatter neighbors live some version of this tragedy every day of their lives, and how precarious human existence truly is on this earth.

We learned later - the hard way, of course - that Senegal’s Presqu’Ile of Dakar depends almost entirely for its water supply from a reservoir just south of the Senegal river, carried through a pressurized conduit to the capital. Precarious, but Manhattan has a similar relationship with the Adirondack Mountains, actually. And a critical Y-fitting in the conduit had been damaged, with no replacement piece available. Suddenly, we were dry. The news got worse before it got better: the repair would take nearly two weeks. Continue reading "The Last Drop of Water"

Categories: Senegal
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September, 2013: Berlin, the city we skipped the last time because it was too long a train trip for the kids. Ericka, whose name was chosen by a father who though he admired the place. Diego and Valentina, world travelers and both so blond they fit right in without any German so much as casting a second glance in their direction. So it was as we landed in Shönefeld Airport, the airstrip that previously serviced East Germany. Continue reading "Berlin"

Categories: Germany
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September 2013: Despite the fringe of dryness in the deciduous trees, Lisbon remains steadfastly in late summer, and by mid-afternoon it's positively hot in the sun, which shines off the tiles of the pracas. Dakar is hot and rainy as we travel, we're told.

But despite the beauty and the old-world charm of Lisbon, I find myself feeling pity for it: Portugal's macro-economy is a mess, and the nation is in economic free fall. The whole capital looks and feels ragged: still charming and antiquated, but those two words are only a notch away from dilapidated and decrepit. What happened here? Continue reading "Lisbon"

Categories: Portugal
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Trackball Nirvana

Kensington Orbit

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. Continue reading "Trackball Nirvana"

Categories: Tech
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Democracy Matters in Guinea Bissau

election urn, Guinea Bissau

Witnessing the electoral process unfold in Guinea Bissau reminded me how important democracy is to those who need it most, and how unappreciated it is by those who have enjoyed it the longest. As if I needed a reminder, I turned out shortly past sunrise to one of several polling stations, where not only were the officials ready to go, but the people had turned out in droves and were waiting patiently and anxiously to vote.

I'd like to say I "protected" democracy, or "defended" it. In fact, I only observed it and somewhat amateurishly, at that. But I was impressed by how seriously everyone took their civic duties, and the vibration of urgency, anxiety, and importance, with which the Bissau Guineans carried out their responsibilities. I remember well another country whose 30% rate of participation bodes poorly for engaged, conscientious population that holds its government accountable.

Ever wonder what democracy looks like? Have a look at this picture. Wondering what it does not look like? Read my Dictator's Handbook.

Categories: Guinea Bissau
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Bissau, Guinea Bissau

The wheels of our 20-seater aircraft clattered to a halt at the Oviedo airport, and we stepped out into the tropical heat. Guinea Bissau, and I was here because hell, when else would I have a chance? I reel at the absurdity of the situation, and yet Bissau was a wonderful surprise and I returned "home" a few days later charmed indeed.

Maybe it was the tropical greenery, a welcome cry from the sparse sterility of the Sahel: mangos and coconut palms towered above us and the entire city – a village of 400,000, really – was tufted with trees and plant-life. Stains on the concrete alluded to a humid life at riverside; deep concrete ditches along city streets evoked the torrents that would run through them when the rain clouds gathered and the sky blackened in the rainy season. I know those rains well from Nicaragua, and in fact the more I reflected on it, the more Guinea Bissau reminded me of Nicaragua's Caribbean coast: the greenery, the red soils, the lacustrine ambiance, the bright fabrics and dark skin. Continue reading "Bissau"

Categories: Guinea Bissau
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Apps for Android: my personal list

Everyone has their own, preferred constellation of software for their Android devices. But I found to my pleasure that I can manage separate devices while usually only purchasing the software once, and that's allowed me to do some interesting things. Here's what keeps me productive, day to day: Continue reading "Apps for Android: my personal list"

Categories: Tech
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Cotonou in Six Seconds

I don't often publish things here that aren't my own, but I can't resist linking to this fantastic piece of stop-motion video, showing my old home — Cotonou, Benin — over the course of a day.

Cotonou in Motion (Benin, Africa) from Mayeul Akpovi on Vimeo.

A gorgeous bit of work by Mayeul Akpovi, whose last name shows he is probably Beninese himself. Awesome to see Africans taking pride in their home! And damned if it doesn't fill me with a strong nostalgia for the place I called home from 2006–2010. Who'd have thought?

Categories: Benin
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2013: The Year of Usenet

Usenet license plate

2013 was the year of Usenet. For me, at least. And here's what I learned.

You might not even remember Usenet. What for my generation was a glimpse of the amazing power of the Internet isn't even known to the new generation of Web 2.0 youngsters: if this article is too long for you, this is the tl;dr conclusion: the Internet is generational, and the new generation isn't better, it's just different. Continue reading "2013: The Year of Usenet"

Categories: Tech
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From Joomla to Serendipity


Like so many other things in life, I thought my website was just the way I wanted it, right up to the moment when suddenly I did not. This is the story of my transition from Joomla to Serendipity (S9Y).

I'd rebuilt it in 2005, using Joomla 1, and though it took some time and effort to customize the theme, build out categories, tweak menus, and so on, I was happy with it for years. Even as Joomla was modified, I left it alone, as I had no reason to change. I especially liked that Joomla was a content management system, not a blog, that I could create and publish material based on subject, not on date (I still dislike the ubiquitous "Archives" menu on most Wordpress sites). And I also liked my site's layout, in which one article was highlighted at the top, spanning two columns, and then other articles followed below in two columns, kind of like a newspaper and certainly not like a plain old conveyor belt of blog articles.

Then, suddenly, I rejected it and worked feverishly to rebuild it on a different platform. What happened? Continue reading "From Joomla to Serendipity"

Categories: Tech
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It's Movember!

movember stache

It's Movember, folks, the month when we draw attention to prostate and testicular cancer. I'm joining a fundraiser campaign this year, and during the month of November will be raising funds to contribute to the scientific effort to find a remedy.

Interested in participating? Start growing that 'stache, gentlemen. Otherwise, check me out at my Movember Senegal Stache Team page and watch that '70s goodness grow! And kindly kick in a buck or two — our 21-person team is trying to raise a thousand bucks through the power of facial hair. Continue reading "It's Movember!"

Categories: News
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How did we get here?

How did we get here? No, really, what is the chain of unfortunate events that leads to a situation like this one?

Well, let's see what we've got: a tractor-trailer mired axle-deep in mud. No, that's not mud, it's human excrement. And it's spun its tires — which were too bald and deteriorated to be worth much anyway — until one of them flew to bits, and now that truck is going absolutely nowhere, and getting it out of that predicament is going to take a couple long hours of pretty nasty work.

How did we get here? Continue reading "How did we get here?"

Categories: Econ/Development
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