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My ever evolving schedule.

For those who haven't seen my schedule elsewhere: I'll be in Ontonagon (UP) from April 28-May 1, Champaign from May 2-May 8, in the DC area for work-related meetings from May 9-May 16, then back to Champaign for the rest of May. In late May and moreso in June I'll be alternating weeks between Champaign and Chicago as I figure out where and how I want to live. So though I'm back, just logistically, I may not see many of you until June! I'm trying to take re-integration VERY slowly. I'm excited to catch up with everyone and reconnect and hang out!!!!

I'll share more details about what happens after May 16th sometime after May 16th...I won't really know until then.

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The City Library at the Caravan Park (A Dream)

Last night I had the first vivid epic story dream that I've had in over a year or two (ETA: looking back over my dream log I see that I did have one in October 2009, but before that the last one was Dec 2008). The kind i used to have all the time. It was a beautiful one, full of awe and discovery!

In the dream, I visited a place called The City Library.

In the dream, just outside of Washington DC there is a massive caravan
park. For miles and miles there are literally thousands of ancient 50s and 60s
era camper trailers laid out in a grid. It's part junk yard, part
intentional community, part resting place for nomads, and part slum.

On one side of the caravan park is a massive graveyard for shipping
containers and used rotting mattresses. There's a maze of these things stacked
very high.

On another side is miles and miles of abandoned farm land, overgrowing
with untended crops and populated with feral cows and goats. Small
patches have been reclaimed by permaculture squatters.

At the very heart of the caravan park however is its treasure. The
City Library.

It is an outdoor library. The bookshelves are make-shift, made from
reclaimed scrap wood or packaging materials (cardboard wrapped in
plastic sheeting). Every book is in a plastic sleeve to protect it
from the rain. It is a library boiled down to its simplest essence,
books and a minimal but effective means of protecting them from the
elements, nothing more, nothing wasted. The library stretches as far
as the eye can see. Rows upon rows of these bookshelves, millions of
books, and hundreds or thousands of people browsing.

The library was founded as a completely cooperative venture. People
from the caravan park simply wanted to collectivize their books: store
them in one place, and share them. Over time, it grew and grew as more
and more people donated their personal book collection. People
inspired by the library, bequeathed their personal libraries to this
collection upon their death.

There are no librarians, there is no checkout system. The library is
free and self-organizing. People take books, people return books,
people organize books, people build shelves, people package and
incorporate's all done at the community level without
employees or even a non-profit corporation or association.

I have a conversation with someone who is an expert on the history of
the library. Apparently a sign of its extreme moral legitimacy is that
the library recently received a major grant of millions of
dollars. They could have used it for nicer shelving, a fancy security
system to prevent book theft, a building, nice furniture, or any
number of other amenities...but instead they spent it all on more
plastic sheathes for the books and other very simple very humble items
directly relevant to the on-going collection and protection of as many
books as possible. They don't want to have anything that needs to be
maintained, anything that adds to the overhead, anything that would be
expensive to replace, anything valuable enough to sell off. They just
want to have a vast number of books to share, protected from the rain.


Separate dreams:

I'm in a building with a vast datacenter that is networked to all the
rooms in the building through various conduits. We're exploring the
conduits. I used to run this network. I notice some fiber optic cables
of an unexpected color running to an unexpected junction. Tracing the
cables I see that they actually go out the window to another
building. Someone has physically hacked in. Who? For what? Why?

I'm at IMSA trying to meet someone for a date (someone my age who
happens to live there, maybe an RC). I get lost and confused about
which residence hall I'm supposed to be in. I'm not sure if I've got a
keycard, so I'm wary of going through certain doors. I run across RCs
who don't recognize me but other alumni who do. I run across kids who
seem way too young and confuse me with their kid culture.

I'm at a hotel with many confusing passages and hallways, trying to
find out how to acquire a room and make payment, possibly near the
City Library, possibly specifically set up for tourists who
want to visit the Library but who don't want to slum it in the
adjacent caravan park.
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Club Pseudo - Scott Swanson Memorial Edition

I'm coming back to Illinois for the shortest antipodal round trip ever.

I get to O'Hare at 8pm on Friday (UAL 886)

I leave O'Hare at 3pm on Sunday.

I'll also be in San Fransisco (at the airport) from 10:40am - 1:40pm on Friday, and from 5:50pm until 10:40pm on Sunday.

I don't have any plan except to be at IMSA on Saturday from 2pm until late, and to hang with people I meet there late into the night. I'll figure out the details when I get there. I'll probably stay at some motel in Aurora near IMSA...I think maybe there'll be one reserved for the event.

My phone number once I get to the US will be 773-808-0510.
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RIP Scott Swanson 1973-2010

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Understanding the Global Financial Crisis

I've found these resources to be completely invaluable to understanding the current global financial crisis, the terminology and the economics in plain language:

The Crisis of Credit Visualized - A quick 11 minute overview of the whole thing.

This American Life #355: The Giant Pool of Money (05.09.2008) - Explains sub-prime mortgages and mortgage backed financial instruments.

This American Life #365: Another Frightening Show About the Economy (10.03.2008) - Explains commercial paper and credit default swaps.

This American Life #373: The New Boss (01.30.2009) - Act Three explains the Keynesian theory behind the recent economic stimulus package.

This American Life #375: Bad Bank (02.27.2009) - Explains bank balance sheets and toxic assets.
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Insane Geek Auction

I just splattered all over twitter about the Charity Auction at Linux Conference Australia to Save the Tassie Devil.

The scene. Several hundred Linux geeks descend on the elegant Wrest Point Casino and eat fabulous food, drink free booze, and make small talk about programming fighter jets, configuring firewalls, hacking kernels, and building robots. Fisticuffs over which distro is preferable seem to be at a minimum.

After a delicious 3-course meal, a scientist gives a speech about how the Tasmanian Devil is doomed to extinction within 25 years due to a completely mysterious wasting disease.

Devil Facial Tumor Disease is completely insane. There's almost nothing else like it known in any creature anywhere. It is a cancer. But it is a cancer that spreads from one animal to the next directly. It isn't like where certain viruses spread and cause a predisposition for cancer. The cancer cells from one creature actually infect the next creature. The DNA of the cancer cells is NOT THE DNA of the infected creature. Every Tassie Devil that has this cancer, has a cancer with identical DNA, a single sick devil started this disease with its crazy mutant cells. Apparently the devil's have VERY similar DNA from one individual to the next which is why these mutant cancer cells are not being rejected by the infected individuals' immune systems. This is literally zombie kinda shit, an infected devil bites another devil and it develops the infection. Anyway it's terrible and we all felt bad.

So there was to be an auction to help raise funds for research into this disease.

Running the auction was Rusty Russell, the founder of Linux Conference Australia. He introduced Bdale Garbee, former Debian project leader and well known Linux hacker.

Bdale had a story. He and his wife were taking a vacation in New Zealand and by completely random chance she took a photograph of a waterfall that turned out beautifully. She didn't use any special equipment just a 5 Megapixel point and shoot camera like most people bring on their vacations.

Then on another vacation by random chance they were in Washington DC and were planning to go to The National Gem and Mineral Collection. Unfortunately, it was too crowded. So they went to see an exhibit of Nature photos instead. Bdale's wife, Karen, got info on how to submit photos to the exhibit. She submitted her waterfall and it won the Art in Nature award for 2008.

Karen Garbee's photo, "Waterfall" is now in the Smithsonian.

And a poster-sized, signed and numbered limited edition print of that photo is what was to be auctioned.

The bidding started at $100 and started going up by increments of $100.

The bidding stalled around $2000.

Rusty was about to end the bidding when one of the conference staffers gave him the "stretch" signal so he started rambling. Word then came up to the stage that Linux Australia would, if the bidding went over $2500, match any bid up to $10,000.

Someone then immediately bid $2500.

The bidding stalled again.

Then Flame of the Geek My Ride project offered that if the bidding went to $3000 the winner would get to have his Queensland GEEK license plates officially transfered to their vehicle for 1 year.

Mary Gardiner, who runs the paper review committee of the conference said that anyone who pledged over $3600 would get a seat on the review committee. A joking addendum to this was that over $4000 and that person could refuse to be on the committee if they wished.

Then Linus Torvalds (who had been at the conference all along but keeping a very low profile) sent word to the stage that if the bidding reached $3500 he would replace the linux mascot and logo Tux with the Linux Conference Australia 2009 mascot Tuz (a Tassie devil wearing a penguin beak over its nose).

Somewhere along the line (things were getting a little chaotic by this point), someone suggested that Bdale offer to shave his beard if the bidding went over a certain amount. Bdale seemed extremely uncomfortable with this. He told a story about how he had started the beard as part of a bet in College and that his wife of many years (the photographer) had only known him beardless for a few weeks when they'd first started dating in college.

There was some general confusion as to whether Bdale had consented to any kind of offer for him to shave his beard or not but in the midst of the confusion arjen_lentz offered to shave his own head along with Bdale.

The bidding remained stalled briefly until someone stood up and was about to make a bid just as several others came to the stage to make a further pledge. The bidder was prevented from bidding until the pledge was sorted out.

The new pledge would match up to $4000 if and only if the bidding reached $4000 AND someone else pledged to match up to $4000. Matthew Wilcox did this second match, saying that he would bring the money from the pass the hat up to $4000 from wherever it happened to be. So now a $4000 pledge would send $16000 to charity.

ETA: See comments below: It was apparently Monty Taylor, of the Drizzle fork of MySQL, Michael "Monty" Widenius, the original author of MySQL, who offered the initial 4000 pledge and it was apparently 4000 Euro, rather than AU$4000. All other amounts in this post are AU$.

Now the bidding started up again and hit $5000 and at some point a coalition of about 15 people banded together, not seeming to care who would end up with the photo or the license plates, and bid on the condition that Linus Torvalds be the one to shave Bdale Garbee's beard.

They took the upper hand of the bidding at $7500. Then they bid themselves up to $8000. Then when they heard that the LCA matching limit was $10000, they bid themselves up to $10,000.

They won with a final bid of $10,500 sending over $28,500 to charity overall.

Only a room full of geeks would: Form a coalition to win an auction rather than just letting an individual win and then privately donating. Value a celebrity hacker having his precious beard shaved off more than physical ownership of a beautiful work of museum quality art. Engage in one-ups-manship of adding seemingly valueless pledges to the prize pool. Figure out how to collectively come up with well over $28,500 (factor in the Euros and it's over $35,000) for a charity they'd just discovered in under an hour.

After it was all over, I walked back up the hill to the accomodation.
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Lowery delivers

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Conservative Preacher Opens with Support for Environmentalism, Separation of Church and State, and Global Justice

Help us, oh God, to remember that we are Americans,
united not by race, or religion, or blood,
but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all
When we fail to treat our fellow human beings
and all the Earth with the respect that they deserve:
Forgive us.
Rick Warren, Inaugural Invocation - Jan 20, 2009

Civil Rights Preacher Closes with Support for Gay Rights

Lord, in the complex arena of human relations,
let us make choices on the side of love, not hate
on the side of inclusion, not exclusion
tolerance, not intolerance
Joseph Lowery, Inaugural Benediction - Jan 20, 2009
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Deeply Moving

The podcast for Democracy Now for Monday 19 Jan 2009 has already been published. It is a pre-inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. day special broadcast.

The entire episode is Dr. King in his own words. It is all speeches and NONE of them are the I Have a Dream speech. It is all speeches from later in his life including an amazing one that he gives condemning the Vietnam war and predicting that the legacy of the Vietnam war would be the US militarily meddling in countries all over the world and suffering serious blowback consequences because of it. It also features the speech he gave the night before his assassination.

You've heard choice quotes from both these speeches. But I at least had never heard them in their entirety.

They Are Amazing.

I'm really serious that you should download this MP3 and listen to the whole thing carefully and attentively. Do this sometime before the end of Monday. You've got the day off and it is too cold to do much else while you eagerly await the end of the Bush administration. Use that time to listen to this.
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Finding the Time to Experience Time

meggyn just posted details of our 40 Day Sadhana that we did back in August/September. My daily meditation is more of a no-mind Zen style of "just sitting", but for the 40 days of this Sadhana we shared a more intentional meditation with a specific spiritual goal (self-acceptance). This Sadhana was from the Kundalini Yoga tradition and we learned it at a great open house at the Yoga studio in our suburb.

One of the most interesting experiences I had on this particular meditation was that I gained a new feeling/understanding of time. In my current meditation I simply meditate for as long as "feels right", but for those 40 days we used a timer. On most days we set it for 11 minutes. During those eleven minutes there was nothing I could do to change how long it would take. I couldn't breath faster or breath slower. I couldn't chant louder. I couldn't think harder or less hard. I had to completely surrender to the passage of 11 minutes. And some days it felt like a long time and some days it felt short, and knowing empirically that it was exactly 11 minutes every time really opened my eyes to how mental state affects the experience of time but not its passage.

And really this is the only thing we can ever do to time. But when I'm not being as mindful I certainly try to change it! Maybe I rush whatever I'm doing so I can get to the "good stuff" faster, and in rushing I make mistakes and end up slowing down. Maybe I spend all my thoughts on the next thing I'm going to do instead of on what I am doing. Maybe I move slowly towards and unpleasant task, only prolonging the experience of unpleasantness. Maybe I think that if I only go faster I can get that 2 hour task done in 1 hour. I rarely stop fighting time. I rarely stop to simply let time be the length that it is.

Spending 40 days experiencing the length of 11 minutes with nothing else to distract me was an important reminder about how time works. It turns out that you don't actually have to DO anything in order to make it through 11 minutes of sitting, inevitably you will. And there's pretty much always time in the day to carve out 11 minutes to be mindful of that fact.
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How To Meditate Without Dying

A big misconception about meditation is that you're supposed to "Not Think". You can't really stop your mind from thinking (unless you're dead!). The key is to not grasp on to the thoughts but to let them flow freely by without judgement, worry, or care.

Imagine you're watching a stream. And say a duck or a stick catches your attention as it floats past. Normally you might follow the stick or duck as it goes down the stream, moving your eyes and turning your head and watching it until you can't see it any more. Now you're not watching the stream anymore, you're watching the stick or the duck. Every day we do this with our thoughts. What if you just watched the stream? Something floats past and you notice it as part of the stream but you don't dwell on it, it floats out of view and you don't try to hold on to it. Even if the thing that floated by was a big ugly piece of trash you don't get upset that it interrupted your view of the stream, you accept it as just another part of the stream.

That's what meditation can be like. You just let your thoughts stream by. You don't worry about them, don't analyze them, don't try to remember them, don't try to hold on to them, don't try to follow them. Just let them be had. Some days you'll have a flood of them during meditation, things you have to do will pop up, things you're worried about will pop up, random discomforts you're feeling, itches you want to scratch. Other days your mind will be more quiet, more passive. Neither of these days is better or worse than the other, they are simply different states of the stream. And if you happen to give in to grasping some of your thoughts, maybe you break your pose and scratch that itch, or maybe you start to actually think about making plans for that thing on your todo list, notice that you've done that and forgive yourself for it, to dwell on guilt about grasping a thought takes you further out of your meditation than grasping the thought did!