Archive for December, 2003

day one hundred eighty nine a

I’m sitting in a little cyber cafe in Saint Louis right now. This town is really proving to be interesting. It has African towns to either side on the mainland, but the island is essentially a little French colony. We were out last night and the place feels a whole lot like New Orleans. At least it feels a whole lot like New Orleans to me who has been living in Nouakchott for the last six months, your mileage may well vary.

The way the city is set up is you come down along the Senegal river from Mauritania. You run into a city which looks quite a bit like a Mauritanian village. A little more color and a little better concrete. Then you cross
over a bridge that was supposedly designed by Eiffel and imported from Germany or somewhere. Once you are on the island you are in the colonial capitol and it has a definite French feel to it. A little run down, but nice enough that I think most of you would enjoy it. Then on the other side of the island you have a peninsula that is about 300-500 yards across. There is a Wolof fisherman’s village there and about two miles down is our hotel.

Our hotel is a little place on the beach and is very pretty. We have a hotel room where we are putting all out baggage and then we have a two big tents out on the beach with about ten people per tent. The cost ends up being 4500cfa ($7.50) (cfa = central African franc and 1000cfa = 1750um = $1.75) a night. Not a bad deal for a very sweet hotel.

So far I’ve just been doing vacation sorts of things. Little bit of shopping in the market, little bit of going out to eat, little bit of going to clubs… I went with Andy last night to a casino. In Vegas there are laws about how much the slots have to pay out on average. Here, not so much… He went through 10000cfa in about half an hour. That’s quite a few ice cream cones (or beers depending on your tastes). It was entertaining to watch though.

We have about twenty people in town and we are expecting another ten tonight. We should have a big enough group to get the party going wherever we end up.

Well, my time is about up. I am going to go and try and find the museum that is rumored to exist somewhere and a merguez sandwich (I have no idea what merguez is other than it is meat and all the places I ask for it don’t have it).


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day one hundred eighty six a

Well, Christmas has come and gone. It was largely uneventful. Thanks though to my psychotropic anti-malarials I at least got to be home rather vividly in my dreams. =)

Christmas Eve after I finished writing in my journal I was touched with a bit of homesickness. I wandered the streets of Nouakchott for a bit singing Christmas carols to myself until eventually ending up at the Catholic church.

The mass was interesting for a variety of reasons. We started out with Silent Night doing each verse in a different language. I’ve been in a service like that before, the thing about this one is that more than likely each of the seven languages was likely a first language for someone in the crowd.

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day one hundred eighty a

> The idea is sort of complicated, but really not too hard if you’ve been > doing networking for a while. Yesterday the guys teaching the class > mangled fairly thoroughly. Most of the time I was content to let them > since arguing isn’t a favorite activity of mine and arguing in French > doubly so. At one point though one of the guys said the blatantly > incorrect statement of “bridges don’t separate collision domains, only > switches and routers” (and gateways, but since a gateway is a type of > router it was a bit redundant.) I inquired as to “isn’t a switch just a > sort of bridge?” He said “yes, but…” and starting talking about IP > broadcasts which is a completely other kettle of fish.

its the same kettle of fish if your switch can cope with layer 3 frames.

they probably mangled the discussion because the stuff is so hard to teach. and their are exceptions to nearly everything.


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day one hundred eighty three a

Well, I took my final and I managed to squeeze by my required 80% for the course with a 97.7%. =) I wasn’t ever really worried about this one though because it is all very basic information. Things should get progressively harder from here. I ought to have time to get ready though since it took us three months to get this one together. At this rate I’ll be able to begin teaching next year.

Merry Christmas Eve everyone. I am thinking I will go to mass tonight at the Catholic Church. I have been in a church for the last 25 Christmases and I like the sense of continuity and community. Tomorrow Obie is having us over and chocolate chip cookies and foie gras are on my personal menu. Maybe some glazed chestnuts… I don’t get to experience any Mauritanian Christmas traditions for obvious reasons, but I can at least sample some French ones.

Foie gras (which translates literally to “fat liver”) is produced by gradually increasing the amount of food a duck or goose is force fed. Force feeding literally being a guy, a bunch of fatty food and a funnel. This causes the liver to grow to as much as 10 times normal size. The fatty liver then makes for a tasty dish apparently. The idea is disturbing to me. Disturbing enough I’ll only eat it once. =)

I’m off to find some supper. Hope everyone enjoys opening their presents and spending time with family.


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day one hundred eighty one a

I have been wandering the internet looking for a particular word I am pretty sure exists but can’t find. It is for when you perform an action without conscious thought. Not the sort of autonomic (right word?) response like yanking your hand off the stove. Also not a conditioned behavior a la Skinner et. al. Anyone know the term I am hunting for?

A good example is something both my mom and Steph have done to me while riding in the car. Something will happen that makes it look like an accident is impending and their right arm would come out instantaneously to hold me back in my seat. Certainly faster than the conscious decision process to try and keep me from going through the windshield. It was a warming gesture if a bit absurd since I outweigh either one of them by a good fifty pounds.

When I was teaching Steph to drive I worked at instilling in her a certain response, and that was if there is uncertainty of any sort your foot should be on the brake before you even realize it. Nine times out of ten it is far better to be going slower rather than faster when headed into a possible accident.

The one notable exception that she was still working on when I left was merging and changing lanes. Slowing down in those situations is just a good way to get hit.

Last night I learned that at least some Mauritanians have similar instincts. Unfortunately the fellow who came to an abrupt stop did so because he had just realized he had pulled directly in front of me. I managed to walk away with nothing more than some scrapes and a front tire bent in the shape of an “L.”

To my fault I was expending far too much thought on whether I wanted to stop for a burger and far too little on paying attention considering that I was riding through the world’s larger bumper cart rink.

My house is fairly a crossroads and it it at least once a week that I hear the screech of tires and crunch of metal. You’d think that people would at least slow down a bit when coming to major intersection. Granted the stop sign has as of yet to be discovered here, so perhaps that is the cause.

Anyhow, I got a new tire at the bureau and proceeded to a quite enjoyable Risk game at Obie’s where I was mostly successful at not getting blood on anything too terribly important. I spent a brief and shining three rounds as Royal Emperor of Africa before Carl embroiled myself and South America in an arduous war of attrition ending with the eventual demise of both our peoples. His died first though and that made it all worthwhile. =)


P.S. In French you would say, “J’ai fait un accident, Je suis rentré dans une voiture.” Or literally, “I made an accident. I returned in a car.” Okie. Sure.

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RE: this is absurd… (a random occurence sufficiently wierd to broadcast)

yup. the world has changed. the difference is that now it’s socially acceptable, nay, socially expected and reinforced, to be paranoid about things that you don’t understand.

I watched Bowling for Columbine a bit ago and though I could certainly feel Moore spinning on things I thought his point about fear was a good one. I’m still working on the whole reading of local news here, but to date it really does seem like that the key is lower.

When reading it almost feels unprofessional to me. I think though that I am accustomed to my news reading to elicit some sort of adrenal response. News about government reforms and political rallies seems dry and boring.

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re: “This is not America”

(i found out about saddam’s capture late sunday afternoon from the bookstore cashier.)

I was on the road coming back from en brusse and at a gendarme stop (there are regular police and army checkpoints along all paved roads here) the guy told us that Saddam was captured.

I’ve got the paper from the day after with a picture of him looking all ratty. I really need to learn French so I can read it. =) For being a strongly Arabic influenced country, people generally seem to care surprisingly little about all that here.

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day one hundred eighty a

Going to be geeky for a bit, so if you don’t like that feel free to ignore this one.

A reasonable metaphor for an ethernet is a room full of people all shouting. Everyone hears everyone else, but they just ignore the people who aren’t speaking to them directly.

The thing is that the computers get confused if more than one person is talking at the same time. When two computers speak at the same time it is called a collision.

The way ethernet works is that if I notice that I was talking at the same time as someone else I take a break for a bit and try to give them time to talk. The other person does something similar and since we both wait for random amounts of time hopefully we won’t start talking at the same time.

The taking a break though slows down how fast I am talking, so too many collisions mean a slower network.

There are devices called bridges that act as doors separating groups of computers. They keep track of who is on each side and only let the people talk across the bridge when the person they are talking to is on the other side.

A group of people who could possibly be talking over each other is called a “collision domain.” (In math the “domain” of a function is the possible things that can be used in it, thus the domain of possible people involved in a collision is the “collision domain.”)

A bridge is said to separate collision domains because it reduces the number of people who can be talking over each other. There are devices called switches which are also known as multiport bridges because you plug several computers into it and it is like each one is behind a bridge, so it only gets people who are talking directly to it.

The idea is sort of complicated, but really not too hard if you’ve been doing networking for a while. Yesterday the guys teaching the class mangled fairly thoroughly. Most of the time I was content to let them since arguing isn’t a favorite activity of mine and arguing in French doubly so. At one point though one of the guys said the blatantly incorrect statement of “bridges don’t separate collision domains, only switches and routers” (and gateways, but since a gateway is a type of router it was a bit redundant.) I inquired as to “isn’t a switch just a sort of bridge?” He said “yes, but…” and starting talking about IP broadcasts which is a completely other kettle of fish.

I gave up as soon as I could tell he wasn’t particularly interested in being wrong. A couple guys in the class though picked up on the problem though and a half hour of bickering commenced.

I think the whole thing might have been comical if I wasn’t so tired. That and there are people in this class who don’t already know this stuff and the exam ought to be hard enough if they are given the right information.

Anyhow, I need to figure out why about half of my mail still isn’t going out.


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day one hundred seventy nine a

So after much much discussion we decided that instead of cramming six months into ten days and end on the 30th we would cram three into four days and put the second semester off until later.

It is cool in that it leaves me free for Christmas and New Years.

So I’ve been sitting here going over networking 101 (not hard) in French (giving me a headache). The test though for the beginning is very theoretical. We are covering alot of conceptual models that I don’t know especially well because they aren’t actually used, they are the basis for things that are actually used.

It mostly just leaves me wanting to take a nap.


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day one hundred seventy eight a

I’ve been thinking for the last few days about silence. I’ve largely given up on trying to come up with general conceptualizations of spiritual maturity. For me though the extent to which I feel like I am in touch with an inner sense of silence correlates to how well I think I am faring spiritually.

I’m not quite sure how to put it other than a sense of a part of myself that is beyond the daily things that happens. If I am stressed or angry or happy or whatever there is the emotion, but it is not all of who I am.

It is different from just being analytical and detached though. That is how I was for a long time (and still am to an extent). That is more so a act of repressing things as opposed to silence which is more letting go.

It’s hard to put into words…

Back at school we would do workshops on various and sundry things. One of the most interesting is a three day workshop on a poem called “The Four Quartets” by T.S. Eliot.

I was walking over to the bureau today and had a chunk of that poem come into my head…

“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”
-T.S. Eliot, “The Four Quartets”, Burnt Norton II

The bit made mild sense to me the first time I read it. I think though that it sort of hung around in my brain for a bit and my ideas sort of used it to grow on. It now seems a very clean and beautiful expression of the concept, but I wonder how much of that is just its familiarity to me.

Regardless, the idea has been coming up for me alot. I feel disconnected from other people at times; as though their perception of reality doesn’t quite line up with my own. I suppose that is true of most anyone, but I’ve been thinking on it nonetheless. The recognition of and need for awareness of the still point is something I am looking for in others right now. A sense of recognition of both the frailty and brevity of life.

For myself I need to start meditating again. It is just always so easy to put it off when I get busy. I’m hoping to get a calendar for Christmas. It sounds silly, but it makes a big difference when skipping a day means a day not crossed off on the wall.

Anyhow, it is late and I have class in the morning.


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