Something to build...

"The Real Green Revolution is about rainwater harvesting.
Let us catch water where it falls. Let it transform human lives. Let it
change social existence. If this happens, the world will be
transformed. The world will merely be an agglomeration of ecological
rainwater-harvesting democracies." -
Anil Agarwal

La Vida Robot

How four underdogs from the mean streets of Phoenix took on the best from M.I.T. in the national underwater bot championship.

This is a really great story, I just wish the ending was happier. It
reminded me of how as an 11 year old my future was inspired as the
result of gluing together a bit of balsa wood and smashing it to pieces
on a world stage. Thanks Odyssey of the Mind!

Nothing to see here, move right along...

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Hello Open Source World

I have been using Open Source software for a long time. I used to be happy just getting free software in the form of shareware
downloaded from local BBS's (I just
remembered a random dream from one of the last few nights in which I met the
original sysops for Megasystem - in my dream they were two skinny
middle aged Albanians). I definitely played with the Wildcat
BBS server, and I got Mosaic running
via a PPP connection to the University of Nevada Reno (thanks Brad
Lew!). I used Pine for email on CMCVAX, but again I don't think Pine
was or even is, open source. I think my first real encounter with Open
Source was the Perl programming language in 1997, which was also how I
fell in love with programming.

Pulling out my well worn Learning Perl book I can see right there on page 2 where I was introduced to it:

Perl is distributed under the GNU Public License,
which says something like, "you can distribute binaries of Perl only if
you make the source code available at no cost, and if you modify Perl,
you have to distribute the source code for the modifications as well."
And that's essentially free. You can get the source to Perl for the
cost of a blank tape or a few megabytes over a wire. And no one can
lock Perl up and sell you just binaries for their particular idea of
"supported hardware configuration"

Of course, I didn't quite understand this when I first read it. I
remember thinking that any program ever written in perl had to be made
available for download - which of course is not the case.

So fast forward past Linux, cygwin, GAIM, Firefox, Thunderbird, GIMP, Mplayer, mono, vim, and especially my year at DecisionSoft
which really indoctrinated me in Open Source Software, and we arrive at
the present. If I need software I first check Sourceforge and
Freshmeat. I love to string Open Source tools together - by design open
source tools work together brilliantly (converting Real Audio streams
to mp3s may be my favorite: mkfifo soundpipe; lame -b 64 soundpipe
filename.mp3 & mplayer -quiet -ao pcm -aofile soundpipe URLofStream
). If I can,
I download the source and build it. Many times I have hacked the source
here or there to do something random that I needed. Once I helped Jeff reorganize a mess of SVG# code, which later found its way into CVS, but I didn't really change anything.

Today however, a patch I wrote for LibTorrent has
been accepted into cvs on sourceforge! Nothing major really, it just
allows chat messages to be sent among peers in a BitTorrent swarm. The
hard stuff was already done, I just had to hook it all up. Nonetheless,
it feels good to have finally contributed to something that I totally
believe in and use every day.

I guess the next major step is to start a project and find strangers to
help me work on it. Perhaps this metadata photo project that I am
brewing in my brain.

Tomorrow, we head off to the Nyika Plateau. Perhaps I will see a Gnu, and my Open Source week will truly be complete.

Lockable Fridge

I actually took this picture back when were staying at Ufulu gardens.

For me it sort of captures the full circle of injustice between Africa
and America. In the US, I have heard of people locking their fridges
so that they won't overeat when they are on a diet. Of course, in
Africa you lock a fridge to make sure that people don't steal your
food. Crazy world.

More Pythons

Last time I mentioned that Boy George was hanging out closer to our
house instead of on his monkey brain tree. Well, today I think I found
out why. Georgina came and told me I needed to look at something. She
took me to the monkey brain tree and showed me a snakeskin wrapping
around it and leading into a hole in the tree. Apparently we have our
very own Green Python who has taken over Boy George's tree - hence his
hanging out nearer the house. Georgina tells me it is no 7 footer, but
it is not small either. George the gardener stuffed some branches in
its general direction, but thus far it has not come out. Don't worry
dear readers, I will tell you as soon as Pi emerges.

It seems silly blogging about animals all the time. Everyday is full of
things way more interesting but way more complicated. I have a number
of blog posts that I am working on, but they require so much thinking
power that they have yet to be published. Meanwhile, I hope you can
enjoy my blog like one enjoys the zoo.

The one about the seven foot python

A few minutes ago, George the gardener came to the window to tell me
that a big snake was killed down the street. So George, George, George
Junior, Georffrey and I all went down to check it out. Sure enough, two
houses down a crowd of mostly kids were standing around a seven foot
python, whose head was pretty much chopped off. This thing was huge and
fat - like as fat as my bicep. You could plainly see the bulge of a chicken or something
equivalent in size midway down the snake.

On the walk home, George the husband of Georgina explained that it is
illegal to handle a snake, therefore the police were on their way over.
It is not illegal to chop its head off, just illegal to touch it
afterwards. Apparently this is to keep them from being hunted and sold
for their skin, and also to keep people from hurting themselves.

Actually it has been an interesting day for wildlife around the house. Perhaps it is because I am reading Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
and I am absorbing some of her nature awareness. Anyways, Boy George
seems to have moved from the Monkey Brain Tree, to the drain next to
our patio. He seems a lot less afraid of me these days too, perhaps he
wants to keep an eye me more. Lets hope he doesn't start eating the
poisoned flies.

But the really strange thing (besides the seven foot python) was the
gigantic flying black bug with blue wings. I have seen it before, but
it today it was climbing my window and carrying a tarantula. It was too
heavy though and it kept falling off. Eventually the bug decided to
just buzz around the tarantula when anything came near, as warning to
not get too close. Gigantic black bugs are very protective about their
dead tarantulas apparently...

More pictures of our pets

There are hundreds of these caterpillars. Especially in one particular
mango tree. George and Lazarro tell me that many Malawians eat them,
but they themselves claim not to. I don't know though, they do look
pretty tasty.

Speaking of insects for dinner, flying ants are apparently a favorite
among the locals. After some rain, it is crazy, because these flying
ants will emerge from a bunch of little holes in the ground. For about
10-15 minutes, 5 flys per second will emerge and go do whatever flying
ants do. 5 flys per second for 15 minutes. Do the math, that is a lot
of flys. In the evening on a heavy flying ant day the sky will
literally be raining down with ant wings. Where the ants are I have no

This is Geeko the Gecko. He used to hang out with me while I coded.
That is until he ate the fly that you see in his mouth in this picture.
Silly Geeko, that fly was dead from the insect repellant that was
sprayed in our house - and Geckos should not partake. I found him dead
near my surge protector the next day.

Finally here is Boy George with his blue head on. I am more skeptical
about his claims of being a Chameleon, but he definitely changes color.
He is my favorite pet. I can always find him on the monkey brain tree,
when I need to get my brain off of work.

Blessings Furniture

We arrived in Malawi with no furniture. About the closest thing to
furniture that we had was our two sleeping bags. The house that we
moved into was completely empty, so we have been slowly trying to
furnish the place. A guy from church lent us a desk, 2 chairs and a
little table, all of which have been critical. Expats are always
leaving and selling their furniture, so we thought that would be a good
way to go. I soon discovered that what someone back home would throw in
the dumpster or give away, expats charge $500 for. There seems to be a
value added through import mentality that the expats try to levy on
other expats. It is sort of fair I guess, it is difficult to find stuff
many things here, so if someone else has managed to get it , they might
as well compensate themselves for their own efforts. If only I could
have a morning of garage sale-ing through some wealthy American

So I was happy to meet a guy at the hash who knew a furniture maker.
The joiner's name is Blessings, and I went right away went to meet him.
Blessing's shop is pretty simple. It is a very outdoor area covered by
a tin roof. Blessing's claims to be able to make just about anything,
so he has an old Argos catalog, an Italian furniture magazine, and some
pictures of his previous work in order to inspire customers. It takes
him about two weeks to make a big piece of furniture like a bed or a
table. When your furniture is all done, a dented up pickup truck
arrives in a cloud of diesel smoke with your new furniture hanging off
of the tailgate, along with a whole crew of guys to help carry it
inside. Our bed was about $150, the table and 6 chairs $250. The price
is definitely reasonable for Lilongwe, and it feels good to be
supporting a business, "Blessings M's Unique Furniture", that is
utterly local.

Our table under construction:

It looks much better now!

At the moment I am anxiously waiting a sofa and two chairs to go along
with it. I have gone for a design that looks simple on the outside, but
Claudia's requirement that it be comfortable (many we have sat on here
are cushions on wood - not comfy) has required a fairly intricate
internal design. I am responsible for the cushions, which will probably
be a combination of cut mattresses, something fluffy, and some beige
material to cover it. If it is a success pictures will follow.