Tag Archives: personal

7 Years of MHVLUG

Last night was our monthly MHVLUG meeting, and it also marked 7 years since our first meeting.

7 years… it’s kind of hard to imagine.  I was also really touched, multiple times last night, by the waves of appreciation I got from folks in the room.

Last night was a perfect night, even though it started as anything but.  At 4:30, Thor’s hard drive decided it was no longer a drive, and without a backup of the presentation, we were scrambling in the office to try to recover the drive, and come up with a backup plan, which meant finding another good base presentation online he could work from.  I still hadn’t gotten an ack back from the library, so had to call to ensure someone would actually open the door, and we didn’t get locked out of our space.  Pat called during setup, and reported that they were having a mail server meltdown at work, so he would try to get there by the end with the cake, but there were no promises.  This was exceptionally more chaos than we typically have to deal with for a meeting, but it definitely meant the night was starting off off balance, and we were just working to try to get it back on track.

As the meeting was about to start, Bruce Locke interrupted and got up and said a few words about how much he and others appreciated the efforts I’ve put into the group.  He then presented me with a set of gift certificates to our local beer mecca, that a number of members had gotten together and pitched in on.  I was really really touched by that.  While this is a labor of love, it’s very energizing to have such a tangible gesture of how much it means to others.

The talk was great.  Thor worked well off the borrowed slides, and we had a lot of great questions from the audience.  Sahana is a great project, and really demonstrates how much of an impact we can have on people’s lives as members of the open source community.  Sahana is actively being used right now in Haiti and Chile to handle the aftermath of their recent earthquakes.  We had at least one new face in the room, who had first attended our meeting last month virtually (over the live stream), and had come out for the face to face meeting.  As that was exactly what I was trying to get out of the streaming, I’m really glad it seems to be working.

I was given another comment of appreciation from the floor when I let folks know about the upcoming meetings we had locked and loaded for the year.  It is hard to get that far out ahead on the schedule, and it was great that everyone seemed to really be excited about our upcoming meetings.

The cake… was not a lie.

Pat showed up about 7:40 with the cake, just a few minutes after the lecture had ended.  We had people hanging out and chatting until 8, then 15 folks came out of the palace afterwards.  We had great conversation that went until 11.

As I was driving home, I thought to myself how perfect that all had really been.  Good people, a great talk, and lots of good conversation.  Really… just perfect.

Goodbye Naughts

1999 was probably one of my worst years.  It included lots of friends moving away, a rather awful breakup, and 2 funerals, one of which was for a friend from college.  I was very happy to be done with that year.

New Year’s 2000 was celebrated with a few friends from Wesleyan hanging out in my apartment in Beacon for the weekend.  We play some video games, and went and saw Galaxy Quest on a lark after the new year.  That turned out to be one of my favorite movies.

My future game plan on Jan 1 2000 was pretty much 2 fold.  #1 go to the Sydney Olympics on IBM’s dime (I was on the olympics.com team already at that point).  #2 leave IBM as soon as I got back and join another tech company in either Boston or SF.  My friend Trey and I had some tentative plans to collectively move to one of those cities and be roommates.  The one thing I could have said with certainty in January 2000 was that I would not be at IBM 10 years later.  Man, predictions are hard. 🙂

The 2 events that most shaped my decade happened in 2001.  In January 2001, I made a decision to stay at IBM.  I had an offer on the table from another company that would have taken me to Cambridge, but staying at IBM meant moving to the Linux Technology Center, which I really wanted to do.  In June 2001 I met my future wife, Susan Tveekrem.  We met at my parents house in Vermont, and I can still remember sitting next to her on the ramp up to the deck chatting with her.  5 years later she would be escorted by her father down that ramp in a beautiful white dress.

The other 2 events that get honorable mention for the decade both happened in 2003.  In March 2003 the first MHVLUG meeting was held.  I consider creating and maintaining that group to be one of my major constructive accomplishments.  I learned a lot about people, group dynamics, and community building through that.  I also made an incredible number of friends through that group.  In September 2003, through some encouragement by Susan, I went back to school.  6 years later I’d graduate with a Masters Degree in Computer Science from Marist College.  Working on that degree defined a lot of the decade as homework and exams were often constraints on many aspects of our lives.

Susan and I celebrated the end of the naughts at our house last night, with about 10 friends, many made through or because of MHVLUG, playing games till about 2 in the morning.  Lots of great fun, and a good way to start off the Teens.

Moving on from OpenSim

This has filtered a number of places, but I figured I should post it out on my blog as well, which will hit the OpenSim planet in the process.

I’m moving on from the OpenSim project, for now.  I got involved a little over 2 years ago as part of my role in the Linux Technology Center at IBM.  Over the past 2 years I’ve made incredible friends, and seen the OpenSim project grow from seeds and ideas to wondrous function.  A really community exists around this project, one that is unquestionably going to change the world.

My official daytime activities are changing to something very unrelated.  You’ll still see other folks from the IBM team working actively in the community, Kurt, Rob, Arthur, Alan, Suzy, Zha, Dirk, but for now I’m going to disappear as I deep dive into my new work, and stop being such a slacker on some of the volunteer work I’ve let slide the end of this summer.

Good bye’s are weird on the internet, because no one every really goes very far.  But given how visible I’ve been at times on OpenSim, I figured I owed it to folks to say something instead of just disapearing into the ether.  As I’ve learned in working with other open projects, good bye’s are never final, so I hope to get engaged again in the future.  Until then… keep on planting those virtual worlds and letting them bloom.

1 thing you don’t know about me

Much like other facebook meme’s I passed on the whole 25 things cycle around.  But here is 1 thing you probably didn’t know about me: for grades 1 – 5 I attended a one room school house, and had the same teacher for 5 years.

The one room school house can be thought of as a historical throw back.  Prior to the invention of the automobile, you had to walk to school.  That meant that schools needed to be within the daily walking distance of a 6 year old, so the concept of the one room school was born.  A single teacher for a village, and a different school for each village.  With the introduction of the bus in the 1920s, most of these were wiped out in the face of progress.

But there were holdouts, typically in small rural towns.  I happened to grow up in one of these towns.  When I was in first grade there were 18 kids in the school, a single room, a single teach, and 6 grades.  That averaged 3 students per grade, but at this small of a sample size a grade might be 6 or even just 1 student.  Lessons were run in the front of the room, and students would then go back to their desk and work on some assigned tasks.  The older students were each buddied up with 1st and 2nd graders and helped them with reading assignments.  Recess was the same for all, and with that few individuals there was no room for cliques to spawn.  We were all there together.  Grades became a bit more fluid, at that level of individual attention you could be challenged individually based on your aptitude.  By the end of 2nd grade I’d started in on a 4th grade math book, but was with the rest of the 2nd grade class on other subjects.

By the time I got to the end of 5th grade, my teacher, Eula Bannister, who had been teaching in that school, in that way, for decades, also retired.  The school had shrunk to 5 grades at that point (population was going up, so 6th went to a neighbor town), and it was to be the last year of grade 5.  To me, leaving that system, there was some perfect symetry to that.  I owe a lot of who I am to that school, and that experience.  A big part of my personal drive came from a set of values that Eula inspired in me, over the course of 5 years.

Last week, during the annual school meeting, the town decided to close the doors on the Granville one room school house (I could wax eloquently on the fact that it was done by direct in person democracy, another value that comes out of rural vermont, but that’s probably for another post).  It was a hard decision for everyone, and a decision that was many years in the making.  There are so many challenges to keeping a school like that functioning, and correctly serving the students.  No matter how romantic the idea, the important thing is that students are being best served.  One of the huge challenges is finding a teacher with the range to handle that task, the energy to maintain, and the willingness to take the pay a small rural town can afford.  In this day and age, there probably isn’t a place for a school like that.

I feel special to have had this experience, knowing that much like the passenger pidgeon, and the mill wheel, it’s a thing of the past.  Granville’s school has done an incredible service over 158 years of operation.  I’m glad that I had an opportunity to spend 5 of those years with it.

Fun with Morphing

After a bit of playing around with gtkmorph tonight, I came up with this morph between myself and my Second Life avatar Neas Bade. I haven’t quite figured out where I’m going to use this yet, but it seemed like something handy to have. I need to actually replicate my avatar shape into the various OpenSim environments that I use, which I haven’t gotten around to yet, but will soon.

Fighting jetlag

Just a quick post, as my body thinks it’s currently 2 AM. Susan and I are back from our India adventure, which should provide some solid material over the next couple of weeks as I manage to digest it all.

Giving of a different nature for the holiday season

“We have so much… stuff.  None of us really need any more of it this year.  And yet all of the world there  are people that don’t have enough.  Wouldn’t it be better if we got someone a goat than giving each other more stuff?”    

      – my mother, 4 years ago

That was the beginning of changing our Dague family Christmas traditions.  We don’t do gifts to each other any more, but instead give something to some cause that each of us cares about.  It takes a major stress point out of the holidays, leaving only what is important behind: spending quality time with people you love.

This year my contributions are coming in two forms, and as time is running out on one, it seemed a good idea to post soon.

One Laptop Per Child

The One Laptop Per Child project has been nothing if not ambitious.  The idea is to develop a portable computer specifically designed for developing countries, and distribute millions of them to children in these countries.  It has wireless, mesh networking, and a set of base applications that let you do email, web browsing, instant messaging, simple programing, and a whole host of specific educational software to boot. 

From now until November 26 you can Give One Get One, where you purchase 2 laptops, you get one sent to you, and one goes to a child in one of the participating countries.  I purchased mine the other day.  It runs all Linux and open source software, so I’m pretty excited to get mine, and that some possibly budding geek in another part of the world is going to get one because of me.

I’m also looking forward to ways in which I may be able to contribute to the software environment on the XO pc.  With any luck it will even get here prior to my trip to India, as it would be interesting to bring along on that adventure.

Kiva

Kiva is a microfinance organization, which lends small scale loans (usually a couple hundred US dollars) to individuals through out the developing world.  When you participate in kiva you transfer money into their system, then you decide which loans you would like to support.  Once the loan is repayed, you get your money back.  You can reloan it to other individuals, or withdraw it from the system.  It isn’t a gift, per say, but it does enable individuals to bootstrap themselves.

Chris has been active with Kiva for a while, selling Kiva products to help raise money for the core organization.  I need to thank him for making me aware of the organization, and micro lending in general.

Vacation and Books

The greatest value of vacation is it snaps you out of your normal routine. In the absence of the standard trappings of the 21st (as we were in rural Wisconsin and Minnesota for the entire trip), I brought a stack of books. The two books that actually got some attention were “Serious Creativity” by Edward De Bono, and “The Language Instinct” by Steven Pinker. Both are non fiction.

Serious Creativity is a book that sums up all the Lateral Thinking methodology that I learned last year in my leadership classes. The book largely overlaps with what we learned in the class, concept fan, provocations, random word, etc. While the book is great, I’m honestly not sure how much sense it would make to someone who didn’t also do 2 days of training on the techniques. There were a few new interesting bits in the book though, like the introduction of the 6 thinking hats (a much more interesting way to run meetings), and some comparisons of western and japanese biases around putting products into the field (which helps explain why there are so many cool new things coming out of japan all the time).

The first semester of my junior year of college was my death semester. I took the following 4 classes:

  • Advanced Quantum Mechanics. Yes, it was as hard as it sounds. This class was by far the most challenging, and rewarding class that I took. The class often produced up to 40 hours of homework a week, and the 24 hr take home final (which was 6 questions) took me 18 hours to complete (21 hours walk clock time, as I slept for 3 hours in the ITS Helpdesk before going back to complete problem 4).
  • Radiation and Optics. This was the 3rd and final Electricity and Magnetism class in the Wesleyan Physics Dept E&M sequence. While not nearly as challenging as Quantum, R&O was taught by my favorite instructor at Wesleyan, and was a hefty chunk of work by itself (6 – 8 hours a week).
  • 3rd Semester Ancient Greek. A 3 person class (which meant there were some occasions where it was a 1 person class) in which we translated 3 of Plato’s works. This represented the end of my ancient greek studies as I didn’t put in the work required to really get to the next level (due to Quantum swallowing most of my time).
  • My blow off class, Chomsky Linguistic Theory. Learning rules of transformational syntax, applying them to arbitrary English. The optional book for this class was Steven Pinker’s Language Instinct, which I bought. However, you may understand why I never actually opened the book while at school.

I had tried digging into the book a few years ago, and gotten about 50 pages in, before it went back on the shelf, though I still can recall much of the discussion on how pidgin languages are formed. I decided to start where my bookmark was an journey on from there. It turned out to be a great idea.

I’m about 3/4 through the book, hoping to finish in the next week or so. Pinker sets out in this book to explain why language can’t be a fully learned skill, i.e. there must be some innate structures / skills that let us acquire language. There are a few things that are a bit dated, as he goes to explain why audio transcribing software of the time (1995) fails miserably, however the bulk of the book holds up very well a decade later. It many ways it lays out some pretty reasonable explanations of where the hardware / software boundary of our brains lies, which parts are field programmable when it comes to language, and which parts aren’t. I love books like this, as they generate a lot of new random neuron firings, and make you think about all kinds of things in different ways. It’s like mountain biking for your brain.

It’s funny to think that such a fun and interesting book has been staring at me for 10 years, and it takes a week away to actually pick it up. But that’s what vacation is for, to break you out of your routine. 🙂

Poughkeepsie Farm Project

Yesterday, Susan and I went to the Poughkeepsie Farm Project’s annual plant sale. The Poughkeepsie Farm Project started in 1999, leasing a stretch of Vassar College land to create a Community Supported Agriculture program. There are a fixed number of shares to the CSA sold each year, which include a required number of volunteer hours on the farm, and then share holders show up once a week and pick up their bag of fresh vegetables off the farm. This lets the farmer share the risks and rewards of the farm, and allows the farm to run totally organically. If something hits the beans this year, and there aren’t many, that was the risk. If there is a bumper crop of tomatos, those are split equally between all the members. In addition to the CSA, the PFP helps run the farmer’s market in Poughkeepsie, runs programs for bringing Poughkeepsie Youth onto the farm for internships, and gives away 20% of the yield of the farm to local food banks. I first heard about the PFP through one of my classmates in my leadership class last year. She and her husband had been part of the CSA for a few years, and it seemed like a great idea to join up.

At the plant sale the CSA sells starter plants for you garden, each member is mailed a coupon that gets them 2 for free. Given that we had a bit of an aphid explosion on some of our tomatos and peppers, this provided a chance to back fill a few of the plants we lost. After we purchased our plants, we hopped in on a tour of the farm, which spans over 7 acres of fields. They have a 5 year crop rotation model on the farm, which helps replenish the soil, as well as confuse the insects. As soon as some bug figures out a good place to lay eggs for next year, their crop is changed out from under them, so they never establish. At one point we wandered through the asparagus beds, where we were encouraged to reach down and snap of a bit to taste. My god, I don’t think I’ve ever tasted asparagus that fresh, and that delicious, ever. Susan’s eyes lit up incredibly after that. While we’d both been generally into the idea of the CSA, the prospect of the kind of food that we’ll be flush with starting in 2 weeks, and running until November, washed over both of us, and we realized how great of an idea this was.

As we wandered around the farm, we also got the sense of being part of something larger there. The whole PFP mission, with bringing quality food back to the community, is very touching. It will provide a great many opportunities to volunteer beyond just working on the farm, which I’m looking forward to. In an era of styrofoam tasting vegetables delivered via your mega mart from who knows where, the idea that this summer we’re going to get a majority of our vegetables from 5 miles away, grown without chemicals, is very appealing. The promise of huge flats of organic strawberries in a month is something I just can’t wait for. 🙂

Weekend Projects

After three years, the idea that “we should really look at our spices, consolidate, and throw out old ones”, we finally began that project. What looked like an hours worth of work on Saturday, rapidly turned into a more extensive reorganization of the kitchen, which lasted most of the day. Following on the reorganization of our pots and pans a couple weeks ago, we now have a much more sensible placement of spices, baking materials, and our pantry. Perhaps I can even find what I’m looking for in our combined spice collection now. Hopefully this will also add inspiration to making more meals at home, as the kitchen is definitely getting more ergonomic.

Saturday also included “the great skating adventure”, whereby our two intrepid heroes thrust out into the world looking for a reasonable pond, or patch of ice to skate on. It’s been below freezing for a lot of weeks now which means frozen over bodies of water are all around. Even the Hudson is starting to chunk up here in Poughkeepsie. Our first attempt, the pond we took kayaking lessons on last year at the Stringham soccer fields, was crushed by very visible “Do not go on the Ice” signs. While the ice was probably solid enough, that little negative nudge was enough to make us pause. While we were sitting in the car, deciding our next move, I noticed heads bobbing back and forth over the far embankment. Hey… they’re skating, what piece of ice are they on? We pulled back onto Stringham, and found they were using the “Unsupervised Ice Skating Area. 2 Feet Deep”. “They” were 6 or 8 kids (middle school and high school), playing pick up hockey.

Putting on my new comfort hockey skates for the first time, and pushing out onto the ice, made me realize how much I was used to figure skates. For the first 30 minutes, I nearly fell every time I tried to accelerate. Non-existent toe picks made bad balance points. Susan’s first 30 minutes were all about humoring me; her skating skills were even rustier than mine. An hour later, with a game of tag under our belts, she was having a good time, and was able to move around pretty well on the ice.

I also spent a bunch of time optimizing my laptop development environment this weekend. Watching a few folks at work learn emacs for the first time, made me realize I’d never read the manual, and it was far past time to go through my 3 directories of elisp code, and consolidate it into something more sensible for me to manage. A few hours later, I was quite happy with the results, especially my modified two-mode-mode.

That led to the final weekend project, my Ruby on Rails address book, which now has a much nicer interface, and has phonenumbers added to the data model. I need to get a public demo site for that active soon. I’ve really fallen in love with Ruby, as it has made web development fun again.