Archive for June, 2005


I was going to put this to a longer treatise, but I’m too busy and want to get it down.

Weekend before last, a bunch of us headed off the the desert oasis of Terjit to bid farewell to our education volunteers with some relaxing, dancing and boozing. I enjoyed myself generally, but I did not have a very successful drinking experience. I suppose that had my goal been catalepsy I was right on target.

I ended up in a heap over by the pool and my participation in the large scale nudity I hear took place later was only tangential in that I got my pictures taken with bare asses hovering over my slackened face. I wasn’t in a really bad spot so far as danger to my health or anything like that. I just missed the majority of the party and I was really disappointed in myself.

It has left me examining a bit my relationship to alcohol and how I deal with it. Given that I’d been drunk less that a dozen times before coming here, saying that I drink more now is not especially meaningful. I’d say I get intoxicated three or four times a month. I don’t drink very often when I’m not shooting to get at least a little drunk because I still don’t especially enjoy the taste of alcohol.

I’ve been sick and passed out four times in the last two years. All of those times were bigger parties. I have a bad habit of drinking anything that’s handed to me. It’s not a problem when I’m with a small group and everyone’s drinking about the same speed. When there are enough people that I can drift between different groups and do lots of different rounds of shots, I start to get in trouble. That’s a trend I’d not realized before Terjit and something I’m gonna keep an eye on in the future.

At one point I looked down upon alcohol as a crutch. All it does is lower inhibitions and why can’t I simply liberate myself? I’d say honestly that I still agree with most that basic premise. I’m not sure if I was completely confident if I’d want to drink or not. It is completely theoretical at this point since I’m not that guy and I’ve got to deal with the reality of being me. Does this make me less of a worthwhile person? Maybe.

To break the fourth wall, I was just wondering if any of you had anything insightful comments on drinking. Is it something that emotionally and spiritually mature people do?

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Things Fall Apart

Well, I think they’ve finally stolen the last of my cable. When I got here two years ago we had a 100m roll of cat5 along with a couple hundred RJ-45 jacks and a patch panel. Little by little the people from the university have been coming by and taking different things. I was just hunting for the last 20m or so of cable that I had in the closet and it is gone now.

I’m really ready to just give up. There are so many other interesting projects to work on and trying to get anything done here is a slow losing battle against futility.

I had two people who wanted to enroll in the new semester two class that we started two weeks ago. When they took the first semester one though, it was in version 2 of the curriculum. The way the Academy system is set up this means they can’t enroll in my version 3 semester two class. Normally you create a “bridge” course to get them up to date on the new version. Our status in the system is messed up though because our position as a regional academy was revoked a couple months ago.

They pushed to become a regional academy because growth and new projects make it easier to find funding. Being a regional academy means taking on responsibility for managing local academies in the area and we are hardly managing ourselves.

So, eventually the status was revoked, as it should have been. The records in the online system got mucked up though and we couldn’t create the bridge classes. So, it took about a week of dealing with Cisco in order to get all that sorted out. Once I do though, I find I still can’t enroll these students. Upon examining their records I find that neither one of them actually passed the first semester class that they took. One of them had 100% on the final exam. I am good with computers and having just taught the course, when I took the final exam to make sure I’d covered everything, I got 92%. There’s really no way to get 100% on the final exam other than to cheat.

But I wasn’t going to argue that point with them. Instead I told them that they couldn’t take the second semester until they passed the first. They told me that they wanted to take it and asked if there was anything they could do. I agreed to create a new semester one class that they could take quickly and get caught up.

This process managed to destroy my existing class because I kept trying to hold back giving the exams (which are theoretically given on a weekly basis) because I wanted for these students to be able to take the exams. As I held back I ran out of stuff to do since we’d done all the exercises already. When there was nothing to do the other students stopped coming.

This has happened before. It is a real problem. The students stop coming if there isn’t anything going on. Then if you try and start back up people start to show up slowly, but when they come in they want to have everything they’ve missed covered again. So it is a jerky process as I try to keep the students who are coming entertained enough to keep coming and the others up to speed enough that they keep coming as well.

So I was here 12h-20h every day this weekend. I am trying to get Notes done, but it was also so that these guys could get caught up. They never showed up. One skill I’ve not really honed here is being a hard ass. It looks like I’m going to get to practice soon.

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Google Rox My Sox

I was trying to help a friend with a mail problem and I noted in Google’s FAQ that in addition to providing POP access, they also permit SMTP forwarding. Sweet!

This means that I can send mail using Thunderbird. I like gmail‘s interface just fine, but for popping off a quick reply, doing HTML messages or writing in French, Thunderbird had its advantages.

I’ve not been able to use it because though STARTTLS is enabled on both the honors’ server and stderr, they won’t let me connect because none of the addresses in this country have a PTR record. I also can’t run my own server here because our entire IP block has (rightfully) made it into a couple blackhole lists. So, I’ve been limited to web interfaces for the most part.

The neat thing is that gmail takes all the messages I send through it and threads them with existing threads if appropriate. The timing can get a little off, but all in all I end up with a single coherent thread regardless of if I replied using gmail’s interface or Thunderbird. That attention to detail is what I like about the Google folks.

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Livres Déprimants

I was lying in bed reading Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman this morning when I recognized a trend in the books I’ve been reading as of late.

One theme is the ephemeral and futile nature of love. On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction by Karl Iagnemma is a good case in point. All of the stories are very well told, but there isn’t really a happy ending to any of them. The final story, Children of Hunger, is a wonderfully crafted and completely depressing look at the balance between fulfilling one’s internal emotional life and pursing the external, in this case scientific progress.

Joseph Heller’s protagonist in Something Happened has one of the most jaded (and honest) perspectives on human relationships I’ve encountered in a while. It was especially fascinating for me in that his descent into disillusionment began as he entered his donkey years. Since I’ll soon leave the desert and rejoin the real world of deadlines, fast food and picket fences, this was especially poignant (and disheartening) for me.

Another theme is people who go crazy in response to the the pressures of life. Pretty much every character in Paul Auster’s Moon Palace has a breakdown at one point or another. Auster makes it sound almost romantic. The book is not a little ball of sunbeams by any means, but it left me in a significantly better mood than In the Country of Last Things.

What is strange is that the books aren’t my selections for the most part. All but one of them were given to me by someone else when I asked for good books they’d read. I’m taking it as a sign from God that people suck and I’m supposed to just give up and go crazy. ☺ Unfortunately I’m a bit too busy right now to go crazy, but soon. I’ve got it penciled in for mid-July. I figure I’ll start on the degenerating descent sometime at the beginning of the month. I’m already pretty antisocial as of late. I figure adding in some eclectic dietary practices and muttering to myself, and I can get to a breakdown in three weeks or so.

In seriousness though, if you run across any of these, give them a read. I’ve been pleased with all of them. Something Happened in particular messed with my head and Moon Palace made me cry in a detached fitful sort of way.

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I think I’ve blown a fuse in my brain. Something about 22 hours staring at a computer screen trying to master the evil empire while eating animal crackers was a bit too much. (I ate five 150g bags of animal crackers sitting here. That’s over a pound and a half of little fishes and camels. (Mauritanian animal crackers have no bears or lions.))

I’ve been sitting here wandering over good time wasting sites. I went back to my okcupid account. There is a base personality test that they use for broad categorization and I decided to retake that since my last assessment was “Boy Next Door” which I felt was generally fitting, but not completely apt. I wanted to see if things would come out different if I took it again.

The test assesses along four axes:



Rash, Bold, Unpredictable. Makes decisions faster and less carefully than the average person.


Makes decisions carefully. Is aware of, and weighs, consequences. Takes time to think things through.



Kind. Considerate. Less selfish than average. Cares about the happiness of nearby people.


More selfish than average. Selectively moral.



Love is the subject’s primary motivation.


Sex is the subject’s primary motivation.



Relatively innocent. Unjaded. Possessing undiscovered potential. Evolving.


Seasoned. Refined. Possessing perspective through knowledge.

I like the layout of the test and the various axes. So far as overall personality, I think something like the enneagram is a more complete metric. For something that is more easily grasped though and specifically aimed at dating, I like this one.

So, I went from being the Boy Next Door (RGLD) to being that Last Man on Earth (RBSD).

I think I like this one less in description, but I can definitely feel the shift away from love and emotionality in myself as of late. It has just been too long. I’m tired of being lonely and sad. I figure I ought to just get in the game and try and hook up a bit. The rest will just have to wait for that incogitable time when I meet a good woman. ☺

The loss of my innocence is depressing to contemplate. I’m gonna go drink and play pool…

I did have fun updating my adjectives. It pandered to my enjoyment of things hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian. I went from perspicacious, loquacious and irreverent to mercurial, ebullient and blithe.

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I’ve slept twenty hours in the last three days, but none in the last twenty four hours since I’ve been sitting in my lab for that long piddling around. Does erratic alternation between extremes count as a type of balance? Sort of like a seesaw with two big ass rocks at either end?

Internet Explorer sucks, btw. You can’t pull nodes out of a DOM tree loaded via XMLHTTP and insert them into the main document. This means that if you want to pull in chunks of other HTML files you are shit out of luck. Also, getDocumentById is not defined for XMLHTTP objects. I ended up writing a wrapper around the XPath functions to get the nodes I needed. Not that it turned out to matter since I couldn’t use the nodes anyhow.

It has been a struggle and it is far from over. The basic animation components are starting to work, but all the dynamic stylesheets are munged. It is a real pain. I was hoping to have something to send to the invitees before they came, but that is looking iffy since I have actual work to do.

Anyhow, off to sleep for a couple hours before coming in to teach tonight. I did a conference call yesterday with me in Mauritania, a guy in South Africa, someone in New York and someone else in Texas. It was convoluted to say the least. We’ve got some money missing from the last course and quite a bit of equipment from when the Academy started. We’re getting along though. I’ve been feeling better teaching this time. An hour spent looking up the terms I’m going to need in French does wonders.

Off to bed…

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I ran across Yirmumah on Penny Arcade. Funny stuff. I also blew about three hours the other day reading the entire archive of Sore Thumbs.

Ass Kicking Pilgrim

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I know some really interesting people here… The game de la semaine is based off the song “Deez Nuts” from The Chronic. The intro to the song goes like this:

[phone rings]

Woman: “Hello?”

Thug: “Whassup?”

Woman: “Hello, what you doin?”

Thug: “Nuthin’, just kickin’ it.”

Woman: “You all done?”

Thug: “Naw, what you gonna do today?”

Woman: “Um, pick up my clothes from the cleaners. I’m gonna get my nails done…”

Thug: “Hey, did what’s his name get at you yesterday?”

Woman: “Who?”

Thug: “Deeeeeezzz Nutsss!”

Woman: “Aw, shut up nigga.”

[phone click]

Trying to get people to say, “who?” when they are on the lookout for it is a real challenge. On our way up to Terjit this last weekend we had a couple Hassaniya speakers with us. At one stop a guy went into a boutique and start talking about a friend of his in Nouakchott who had a friend in this village. When the boutiquiére inquired, “minwho?”, the requisite “Deez Nuts” reply left us all rolling. It was a bit obnoxious, but good natured enough to not be seriously mean.

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Faissant de la Contrebande

Last weekend saw me off on a trip to the South. Mauritania is generally booze free except for a few restaurants and bars catering to expatriates. Since we are all pretty poor, we have to be a bit industrious to get our swerve on properly. This most frequently means picking up a bottle or two of cheap Senegalese booze when coming back from trips. It is not especially legal, but border searches are rare and it’s really the only option.

Sometimes though, when one wants to do a larger event, special steps are needed to provide a sufficient quantity. This was my mission for last weekend.

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Chemchoune El Arab

I’ve been a bit remiss in getting updates written. This means that memorable events such as the tcheub-u-jen eating contest and my subsequent failed attempt at bulimia will be left to no better record than my abysmal memory. Oh well, so it goes… ☺

Chemchoune El Arab, l’un des grandes, one of the greats. Chemchoune is the Arabic form of Samson, and the man is fixture in the mythos of Mauritania. I’d heard tales of his feats of strength from past volunteers, but had given up hope of actually seeing him perform. Much to my pleasure did I notice a poster featuring a big man with a handlebar mustache performing feats of strength and fortitude. In one corner he was buried under a pile of rocks, another showed him pulling a car with his teeth and a third with him swarmed with children. My pulse quickened, as this looked like the Chemchoune of lore, but the poster was in Arabic, so I couldn’t be sure.

A short time later though, I saw the same poster, but this time in French. It was Chemchoune and he was going to be performing at one of the local basketball courts on Saturday! So, 16h Saturday saw myself and a group of interested volunteers at the Stade Sebkah.

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