Tag Archives: ruminations


This semester I’ve been writing a weekly article for the Collegian, the Asbury College newspaper. Although it wasn’t my intent, it has become a technology-themed column, and has been recently christened “Geek Speak”. So I’m rather type-cast.

I wrote this article for that column, but it didn’t go where I intended it to go, and so it doesn’t fit the theme of the column. It’s still a work in progress, but I need to work on some other things, and so I offer it for your consideration.


I Wish You A Scroogey Christmas

About this time every year, I start reading “A Christmas Carol”, by Charles Dickens. It’s been a favorite book of mine for many years, and I’ve read it at least once a year for the last 10 years or so.

From the first revelation that Marley was dead, to begin with, to the last “God bless us, every one”, it keeps me captivated by the sense that I know Scrooge as though he were my very self. The angst about how I have spent my life starts to plague me as I look back over Scrooge’s life with him. Did I choose the right career path? Did I choose the right wife? Have I given my daughter the right kind of upbringing?

It is very easy, if you only know the Scrooge of movies and popular culture, to condemn him without understanding that, while he did indeed make the decisions that got him where he is, it’s much more complicated than that. Isn’t it always?

His father hated him, because his mother died giving birth, and young Ebeneezer spends his early years exiled to a boarding school, not even permitted to come home for school holidays until he is nearly a man. He spends those early years watching his friends go home to loving homes, while he spends Christmas in the schoolroom.

He wanted to provide a better life for Belle than he had, and, somewhere, got distracted along the way, “until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses” him. But, if you think about it, how many people you know have thrown their lives into their work, and lost sight of the things that really matter. If you’re honest, haven’t you done that, more than once?

Yes, he made choices, and he is a caricature, but he is also very human.

What amazes me about Scrooge is that he is willing to change. When you get to a certain point in life, it takes enormous courage to change, even when you can see that what you’ve been doing is wrong. There are expectations that people have of you. And there are the people that will say “I told you so” when you change, and you just *can’t* give them that satisfaction. They will surely, like Cratchit, seize up a poker to defend themselves, certain that there’s some trick.

People often ask me why I love the book so much. The reasons are far from simple. Certainly the collection that I’ve built of Christmas Carol books and movies is a little over the top. Most of those are for the beautiful artwork, since they all tell the same story.

I love the book because I am Scrooge. I read it every year because, each year, Scrooge speaks to me in a different way. One year, I agonize over the mistakes of the past, and another year I am made aware of the vast opportunity to do useful things in the present that will make a better future. And I’m reminded of the enormous impact that is made by even the tiny, seemingly trivial things that we do.

Sometimes I merely revel in the beauty of a winter day, and the people going about their business, touched by the joy that comes from Christmas.

It is ever a shame that the word “Scrooge” has entered our vocabulary as a synonym for the Stave One Scrooge. It would be even more a shame it if had come to mean the Stave Five Scrooge. Both of these characters are caricature, and not particularly interesting. The real Scrooge appears in the central three staves, where he discovers who he really is, and why he is that, and recognizes what he can do about it.

I wish you all a profoundly Scroogey Advent season.


I’m currently writing 4 things. One of them is creative, and the other are works of reference, into which I try to shoehorn just enough of my personality that it is actually me, and not merely the technology, which is speaking.

It seems that each time I try to write something non-technical, I get hung up before I can make it very far. I suppose it could be that I’m just not particularly creative – that has certainly occurred to me. Or it could be that it’s OK that my skills lay elsewhere. I have some stories that I want to tell, but when I tell them, they seem stilted and wooden next to the words of Bradbury, Dickens, and Kipling that I’ve been reading so much of lately. So I end up throwing away a lot of stuff, and never letting anyone see it.

I suppose this is for the best. It’s not very good. And mostly it’s the process of writing it that I enjoy, and then find myself embarrassed to show anybody the results.

Anyways, I’m writing this, mostly to avoid writing those other things. Deadlines, you know.

Expostulation and Reply

Expostulation and Reply, by William Wordsworth.

I was reminded of this while watching something about Benedict this morning, and about his urging that we observe what is around us, and learn from it, as much as from the things that we read and study. One of the Benedictine monks in the video made the simple, but profound observation, “If you miss this moment, you miss your life.”

At the same time, I’m fascinated by the notion that books are “the spirit breathed from dead men to their kind.”

“WHY, William, on that old grey stone,
Thus for the length of half a day,
Why, William, sit you thus alone,
And dream your time away?

“Where are your books?–that light bequeathed
To Beings else forlorn and blind!
Up! up! and drink the spirit breathed
From dead men to their kind.

“You look round on your Mother Earth,
As if she for no purpose bore you;
As if you were her first-born birth,
And none had lived before you!”

One morning thus, by Esthwaite lake,
When life was sweet, I knew not why,
To me my good friend Matthew spake,
And thus I made reply:

“The eye–it cannot choose but see;
We cannot bid the ear be still;
Our bodies feel, where’er they be,
Against or with our will.

“Nor less I deem that there are Powers
Which of themselves our minds impress;
That we can feed this mind of ours
In a wise passiveness.

“Think you, ‘mid all this mighty sum
Of things for ever speaking,
That nothing of itself will come,
But we must still be seeking?

“–Then ask not wherefore, here, alone,
Conversing as I may,
I sit upon this old grey stone,
And dream my time away,”

Books on tape and reading aloud

In the high and far off times, oh my best beloved, various persons read books to me.

My parents read the Narnia books to us kids at home, and Mr. Bruce read The Hobbit to us in class. I think that these two, more than any others, ignited my love of books, and in particular of that genre of fantasy that Mr. Lewis and Mr. Tolkien were particularly good at.

There were many, many other books that were read to me, but those are the ones that I most remember.

I read to my daughter, every night. We’ve gone through The Little Princess, The Secret Garden, and are almost done with the last of the Narnia books. And of course there have been many other books – the Junie B Jones books, the Boxcar Children, and the Magic Treehouse feature many times.

And I listen to audio books every day on the way to work. I have a membership at Audible.com, and get a book from them every month. When that runs out, there are numerous free podcasts of stories that I listen to. Some of these are from the Old Time Radio Podcast Network, which is one of the websites that restores my faith in the original goals of the Internet, or at least my interpretation of them.

I was discussing all of this with a coworker, who said that he doesn’t feel that he’s actually read a book if he’s listened to it. I can agree with that at some level, with some books, depending on who did the recording/reading.

There are some books that I simply wouldn’t ever get through if I couldn’t listen to them. Some of this is due to time, and some of it is due to the difficulty of certain books. Anna Karenina just about killed me, but I got through the entire thing, reading it the old fashioned way on paper. But that was an act of sheer willpower. There are some books, however, that when read in a different voice, can hold my attention a little better, and I can get through them. I made it through a number of Anne Rice books this way, which I really don’t think I could have done otherwise.

I still do read a lot on paper, too. At the moment, I’m reading Eldaterra, The Abolition of Man, and Montessori, a modern approach, among a few other things. I’m reading the Just So Stories for the umpty billionth time, and recording it for your listening pleasure. 🙂

I love reading aloud. I love reading to kids (if they actually listen) and, for some reason, I love reading and recording, with the notion that other folks are listening and enjoying, particularly when it is stories that I love so much, like the Just So Stories, or A Christmas Carol. I’d like to also do some readings from Dandelion Wine, but there’s the trouble of copyright there.

Anyways, nothing much profound to say about this. Curious what folks feel about the validity of claiming to have “read” a book, when one has only listened. I guess that once a year or so has passed, I no longer remember whether I read or listened, unless the reader was spectacularly bad, or spectacularly good. For example, I listened to “The Man Who Was Thursday”, which was just awful, because the guy reading it either didn’t get the story, or had a head cold, or … I don’t know. Anyways, when I read it (on paper) it was brilliant, and a lot of fun.

Site admin responsibilities

My ethical dilemma for today. I know, because I’m the site admin, that a particular user is posting things under multiple names, agreeing with himself to lend credibility to a position that nobody else holds.

So, the question is, when users have an expectation of anonymity, and one user is intentionally exploiting that anonymity to be cruel, can I “out” this user, because it’s my site?

I dunno, but he’s seriously making me angry, and I suppose I should just take the moral high ground and ignore him, but I’m finding that very hard to do.

NPR and Open Source

Wow. The editor of Radio Open Source responded to my post about his show. That’s very cool.

And his explanation of the name actually makes a lot of sense to me. I’ve often asked the question “what would the Open Source model look like when applied to X”, where X is politics, education, community, architecture, and so on.

That puts a whole new spin on your show, Mr. Greeley, and I’ll listen to it in that light. Thanks for the clarification. And, yeah, I am interested in helping out.

Old Man

Well, I’m 35 now. I figure that makes me an old man. I don’t feel any older than I was 10 years ago. Sure, my pants are a little tighter, and it takes me longer to recover from racquetball, but I’m still playing racquetball, and that has to count for something.

Mom and Dad gave me two very nice ties, and Sarah got me some great candles, and some accessories for my Dremel. I have no idea what I’m going to do with those accessories, but everybody needs more power tools.

Looking back over the last 35 years, I’ve had some pretty amazing experiences, and things just keep getting better. Last year I got to go to Stuttgart and Moscow. This year I got to go to Dublin twice, and to Colombo, Sri Lanka. Next year, I’ll probably get to go to Amsterdam. And I have a great job into the bargain, and work with very cool people.

So I’m looking forward to the next year. 🙂


While I was at ApacheCon, I had an interesting conversation with a newspaper reporter. Presumably, he was interviewing me. He had been assigned this Free Open Source Software thing, and was very new to the concept, and trying to understand what it was about.

We were talking about the fact that FOSS allows countries like Sri Lanka to build software businesses, with very little startup cost, that could legitimately compete with Microsoft, at least for business outside of the USA. It also allows these non-USA countries to be, as much as possible, independent from the USA for their information/computer/software industry.

I talked about how, in particular, I’m very interested in African nations being able to stop sending millions of dollars a year to Redmond, Washington, but be able to keep those dollars in their own country, paying local programmers, investing in local businesses.

It was at this point that the reporter observed that I was being very unpatriotic in promoting FOSS to developing nations.

This was a very interesting notion to me. I wonder if it’s accurate. However, I don’t think so. I think that being monopolistic, as a nation, is unpatriotic. Allowing the rest of the world to suffer, economically, in order to promote our own economy, is unpatriotic. Sure, it may seem patriotic, but that’s a grossly short-term vision. Because at some point, we kill our markets by forcing them into poverty. And, too, pushing other nations into poverty has unintended side effects. Like, for example, we end up exporting all of our jobs, rather than all of our products, because labor is so much cheaper elsewhere.

It turns out that if we make everyone wealthier, we make everyone wealthier. But if we make everyone poorer, we make everyone poorer. The spiral goes both ways, and our foreign policy had more influence on the direction than we like to think about. If we continue to force the spiral to go down, rather than up, at some point, some other nation (like, say, China) is going to decide that enough is enough, and that we’re far too irresponsible to be allowed to have that kind of power anymore.

So, no, I don’t think I’m being unpatriotic. I think I’m thinking globally, and long term, and that folks who try to frame FOSS as being communist and unpatriotic are being myopic.

More than once in the last two weeks, I have heard someone quip as follows:

When we were kids, our mothers said “eat your vegetables, some kid in China would love to have them.” Now we say to our kids “do your homework, some kid in India wants your job.”

I find this us-vs-them mentality to be grossly short-sighted. Until we can learn to cooperate on a global scale, we’re dooming our kids to a future of economic downturns and wars.

The future of (Open Source) software

It’s easy for us Open Source “experts” to go to various places around the world and impart our wisdom on the people there. But what I realized in the past week is that it’s really only a matter of time before they are telling us the best way to do Open Source. Not to mention that it’s just the wrong attitude to take, since it’s only when everyone are equal participants that the Open Source model really works.

Anyways, I need to stew on this a little longer, because there’s a lot to think about. Mostly, though, I tend to have rather negative reactions to any model that has “us” from the west teaching “them” from the developing world what the right way to do things is.

I finally figured out what WS02 is all about, and it seems that they grasp what Open Source is meant to be as a business model. They are a software company, and their product is Open Source. So they benefit from the contributions of folks around the world, and those folks benefit in return, but they are still able to run a profitable software company based on those efforts.

It occurred to me to make the (very unfair, but stick with me) comparison to ISPs in the USA who have based a business around the Apache web server. There are dozens of them. They sell services on top of an Open Source product, but in no way contribute back to the community that makes their business possible. Quite to the contrary, they do things that subtly work against it. My biggest pet peeve in this area is ISPs who have “documentation” on their website about how to run your hosted website. Granted, *some* of it is worthwhile, and some of it even links back to the relevant parts of the real documentation. But for the most part, ISP Apache documentation is full of inaccuracies, stuff that stopped being true in 1997, confusing phrasing, and misconceptions about best practice.

If we could get all of these documentation writers to participate in some small way in the actual Apache web server documentation project, contributing howtos and documentation patches, as well as correcting their own misconceptions, imagine the wealth of howtos and documentation we would have now.

But, instead, we have 48,000 howtos that tell you that authentication requires .htaccess files and “Limit GET POST” blocks. The sheer enormity of wasted effort staggers the mind.

Hmm. I seem to have gotten slightly off track. I was talking about the future of software.

Anyways, think about this. India is making a name for itself as a place to outsource development and support. So companies in the USA send their work to India, but the vision and plan is still coming out of the USA. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, is making a name for itself in Open Source software. Sri Lanka has a higher per-capita rate of Apache developers than any other nation on earth. And, Sri Lankans are driving the vision and plan for the entire Web Services suite of projects, in addition to participating in other projects.

In an industry where geography is uninportant, we’re going to see more and more powerhouse software companies coming out of developing nations where they grok Open Source as a business model in ways that we in the west don’t yet. I’m obviously not the first person to make this observation, but having see it first hand, it seems much more real to me. Sri Lanka and Brazil are the places to watch.

You should switch to …

I find myself rather frustrated with the geek tendency to use “you should switch to …” as a proposed solution to problems.

“How do I get postfix to run header checks?” “Switch to Exim”

“How do I delete a line in vi?” “Switch to emacs”

“How do I install foo with Yast?” “If you were running Debian, you’d just have to use apt-get”

“I have this problem with svn” “You should switch to source safe”

“How do I get php installed on Apache on Windows” “Install Linux”

This is pretty much never the right solution. Yes, occasionally, it’s the right solution. But this is very infrequent. Folks have made decisions about what software they are using. Or, as frequently, that decision has been made for them, and they are not at liberty to change it. And it’s not really useful at that particular time for them to explain to you the rationale for that decision.

And, yes, I know, you’re trying to be helpful. But it’s not. Really.

Yeah, I’m being grumpy this evening. Sorry. I should go to bed …