Black History Month

[This was originally posted on Facebook, but has been copied here and backdated appropriately.]

This month – February – is Black History Month.

This month is not about me, but I hope that you will all bear with me for a moment and forgive me as I use the word “I” more than I should:

I was born in Tennessee – the American South – and despite many of my peers being people of color and various races, I was raised as a product of the white-centric American education system. That means, basically, that my understanding of black history amounted to little more than “we used to be mean to black people and call them names [whispering: and hang a few], but we stopped doing that a long time ago and made them EQUAL, and now they just like to do drugs and riot a lot about what happened in the past”.

I accepted this completely wrong “definition” of Black history (and present), not knowing any better, for a long time. Not because I thought it was right, but because it didn’t materially affect me. As an utterly privileged white male, I never really thought much about it. I accepted that it was normal to occasionally hear denigrating comments towards people of any color or of non-Christian religions – it’s the South, after all! I accepted that some of my family just “didn’t like black people”, and that was normal, right? I accepted that it was all just good fun, and everybody jokes, and jokes are harmless, right? I accepted that it was normal to hear people joke about “ebonics” or to mock religious practices or clothing.

I personally didn’t like it, and I attempted not to participate or encourage it, but I accepted it, and I admit that I certainly did participate on occasion.

I now accept that I was wrong, and that I can do better.

I contributed – even if primarily passively – to racism, to discrimination, to hurting people, and I refuse to do that or accept it from anyone else any longer.

I ignored or looked away or walked away far too often, and I refuse to ignore or look away or walk away any longer.

I ignored Black History Month, because I am not black. That was wrong, too.

Black History Month is not about or for black people celebrating black history – having a beer and toasting Dr. King, as I perhaps previously imagined – it’s for everyone (and especially everyone that’s not black). It’s about recognizing the impacts that everyone has had on black history, and especially how those impacts have molded and shaped what it means to be black in America. Many of those impacts have been negative and uncomfortable for white people like myself. Many of those impacts have been positive (and unfortunately often still uncomfortable for white people!).

This month is about recognition – both the joyous and the solemn kind. This month is also about, after achieving some recognition, offering unguarded praise and optimism for black innovation and advances, offering condolences for black sacrifice, shedding tears for black repression and suffering, and offering your heart to accepting and embracing Black History.

Black History Month is not about making blacks equal to whites somehow by giving them a month and marking it on everyone’s calendars. It’s about having the fortitude and compassion and sense to both accept the ugly past, and commit to making blacks and Black Future BETTER than your own. After all, by embracing each other, acknowledging and embracing our differences, and pushing each other higher, nobody actually gets left behind – we all rise up together.

You are black. I see that you are black. I love your blackness. I am sorry for everything. I love you. I will fight for you.

Power consumption of Dyson Air Multiplier (AM01)

A few weeks ago I got a Dyson Air Multiplier (AM01) for my desk at work. My brother Rob asked me about the power consumption, and I got a chance to measure it. However, since I couldn’t find any real data about it online I figured I’d fix that and write it here rather than in email…

Measured using a Kill-a-watt at 120.5V:

  • Lowest setting: 2-3W
  • Medium setting1: 13-14W
  • Highest setting: 31W
  • Oscillation enabled: +2W

Not bad actually!

1 Since the Dyson is infinitely adjustable, I had to guess at a “medium” position by feel. It’s adjustable in about 1W increments all the way from the lowest to the highest setting.

Kiva: How to make a difference for 1,000 people with only $100 per month

Kiva (also see my lender page) is an amazing and deceptively simple idea: People, mostly in third world countries, need loans to buy food, crops, cows, equipment, education, etc. so they get a loan from a local Kiva partner, and those loans are backed by Kiva users in $25 increments. There is no interest paid to Kiva users, (although the local partners do charge some interest), so it’s not really an investment per se.

I’ve been a user of Kiva for a more than five years now, and have made 350 loans so far for a total of $9,400 loaned. In the first few years I only sporadically made some loans and let repaid money sit around for a long time. In the past couple of years I’ve been using Kiva more consistently, every month re-investing the full repayment amounts as soon as they come in, and usually adding 4-6 loans ($100-$150) of new money.

As I’ve been doing this I noticed an effect that makes perfect sense but I hadn’t considered before: Since the loans are anywhere from 9-24 months, but the repaid amounts are repaid typically monthly, if the repaid amounts are re-invested immediately, the original loan amounts stack on top of each other, allowing the same money to be invested several times over simultaneously.

Recently I’ve been thinking about actually quantifying that effect and figuring out what impact it could have. Since it’s not a very simple calculation, I put together a spreadsheet to calculate the full picture for me.

Assumptions

The following assumptions are made:

  • Amount per loan: $25.00 — This is the standard loan amount on Kiva, so this just assumes you never double up on a single loan (which is not a good idea as it spreads the loss risk poorly).
  • Investment per month: 4 loans, or $100 (and reinvest all repayments) — This is approximately what I’ve been doing, although frequently it’s a bit more than 4.
  • Average loan duration: 15 months — This is the average loan duration for my loan portfolio, and seems about average for Kiva.
  • Loss rate: 2.07% — This is the actual loss rate of my portfolio, which is a bit higher than the average Kiva user at 1.09% because I tend to loan to war-torn and riskier areas.

Results

After 5 years (60 months) of consistent and prompt investment, the results could be:

  • Total investment: $6,000 — This is the actual amount you’ve paid out of pocket.
  • Total loans made: 1,004 — The number of individuals or groups helped. This is the most amazing thing, watching all of these individuals succeed due to your help.
  • Total amount loaned: $25,100 — The amount your $6,000 turns into after re-investment through immediate re-loaning.
  • Total amount lost: $519.57 — Due to a combination of loan defaults and currency exchange loss, not all of your money will be returned.
  • Total amount returned: $5480.43 — If you stopped making loans after the 60 months and started to withdraw your money from Kiva, at the end of it you’d get this much back (investment minus loss).

Check out the full calculator on Google Docs for all the details and per-month amounts.

Conclusion

The really amazing thing with following this plan is that the Kiva borrowers themselves end up—through prompt repayment of their loans—funding each other. For me, the amount being invested each month is quite modest, and through reinvestment of the repayments, the monthly impact is huge. This month, I received almost $400 in repayments, added an additional $100, and made $500 in new loans.

Migrating to WordPress.com hosting

As I get older I realize how much I don’t want my personal life to feel like my work life. I’ve been running my own WordPress.org installation for years, and it’s been easy and not really a problem. However it does also mean maintaining Linux, Apache, PHP, and other supporting infrastructure, and keeping things updated and upgraded all the time. My usage of WordPress is remarkably simplistic, so I really don’t need to do all of that. I decided to migrate to a paid WordPress.com hosted account instead.

As part of this migration I also changed the URL structure a bit, to match WordPress.com’s directory structure and make things simpler (and easier to move in the future if I want to). There is a mod_rewrite redirector in place to keep the old URLs working forever. (I hope.) The changes are:

  • Moving from jcole.us/blog to blog.jcole.us.
  • Removing archives/ from the permalink path structure.
  • Simplifying the theme a bit. It’s pretty generic right now, but I’ll fix it up some more in the future.

Are we really living in the 1700s?

I stumbled upon an interesting theory today, which I hadn’t heard of or researched before: a supposition that the Dark Ages was not dark merely because there was so little political, cultural, archeological, scientific, etc. advancements, but rather that it’s because a period of approximately 300 years (AD 614-911) of the dark ages didn’t exist at all: A theory titled the Phantom time hypothesis.

A paper Did the Early Middle Ages Really Exist? by Dr. Hans-Ulrich Niemitz, lays out the theory (much of it originated from Heribert Illig in the early 1990s). An interesting FAQ written by Jan Beaufort rounds out some the questions. A summary and a few more bits of insight are provided by Gunnar Ries and Ruth Lelarge. The topic is also covered by a DamnInteresting post and thread of comments—some comical and some insightful. Of course any such theory is not without a lot of criticism and counterpoints, as it should have, and Phil John Kneis counters a lot of things nicely. I found the story of The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus as a potential link to possible truth of this story; not that the Seven Sleepers story was at all truth, but that in that time stories (fictions) were made up to relate truths or partial truths quite frequently.

Some of the claims made, often based at least tangentially on well-known reasons for having called them the “Dark Ages” in the first place (and in many cases refuted by others) are:

  • Overall lack of reputable, accurately dated literature and historical documents from the time period.
  • Much of the otherwise supporting evidence in support of the time period depending on Carbon-14 dating, which has had adjustments made in order to line up with perceived history, and which has been calibrated based on dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) which has had known flaws.
  • Architectural development discontinuities; the seemingly complete stoppage of forward progress in architectural style for 300 years, with buildings known to be constructed after the Dark Ages (based on calibration backwards from modern times) compared to buildings known to be constructed before them (based on calibration forwards from ancient times) showing little or no difference.
  • Farming, war, and scientific knowledge making practically no advancement during the period.
  • A huge spate of forgery of official documents and religious texts otherwise before, during, and after the time period.

It’s not easy to believe one way or the other, but I personally find it not that hard to believe that three hundred years may have been accidentally or intentionally inserted into the calendar for whatever reason. Remember that calendars are man-invented tools, not scientific absolutes, and particularly the points of reference used in them are almost entirely arbitrary. It wouldn’t change our daily lives1 in any way if the actual number of years having passed since the Roman empire was closer to 1700 than 2000. We’ve made a lot of adjustments to the calendar, and even switched points of reference and entire ways of counting several times during man’s history. Even today, not everyone uses the same calendar or agrees on the calendar.2

It’s easy to misinterpret the meaning of “missing years”, and it seems like many comment authors on the various articles have made the mistake of thinking that Illig and Niemitz are suggesting that the years themselves didn’t exist, which of course is nonsense. The only claim being made is that three centuries of already-sketchy history may have just been fabricated entirely, an offset to the calendar was introduced intentionally or not, and as a result of that, we’ve been mis-numbering years for the 1100 years following that.

If true, there would be no need to correct the current calendar date, just to note in history books, elapsed-time calculations involving the past and including those years, and other places that there is a gap. There are already other gaps in the Gregorian calendar, this would just be the largest.

What do you think? Do you find it plausible? Should I be signing this post January 2, 1714? If true, I guess that gives us an extra 298 years before we the Mayan-predicted end-times in 2012, so that’s a bonus!

1 With the possible exception that some churches, and some acts of various churches, may be on slightly shakier footings, especially if it could be proven that they had been maliciously involved in the fabrication of the calendar.

2 See Wikipedia’s List of calendars and Calendar pages for a few points of study. In addition to our Gregorian calendar, at least the Hebrew and Chinese calendars are still in widespread use.

Skipping the MySQL Conference and Expo 2009

I have been silent on the topic of this year’s MySQL conference, and really, silent in nearly all ways anyway. Today, as the MySQL Users Conference Conference and Expo 2009 starts up, some people will be wondering where I am, so I ought to at least answer that: I am skipping the conference this year.

As my wife can tell you, this is not a decision I’ve taken lightly, and I’ve gone back and forth on it for months and then down to the final days leading up to now. I’ve decided after much internal and external debate just to skip it all this year, including the side conferences and other stuff. Why? The reasons are basically:

  • It’s my opinion that the “state of the art” with MySQL has not changed, so I am not really missing much technical content to further myself. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on with Percona and Google’s work, but I largely follow that through blogs and mailing lists and personal contacts already.
  • I strongly disagree with the speaker selection process used in this and the previous couple of years’ conferences. I feel that they actively discourage any speakers who refuse to stay on script—those willing to tell users the reality of the situation. I can’t and/or won’t do that, so I didn’t submit anything this year—my initial effort, months ago, to disengage from the conference. I watched from the sidelines this year and listened to everyone else’s complaints about not being selected. I don’t care to hear about the process, the details, the counter-arguments, etc., but really, any selection process which ends up leaving out Percona, for any reason, is just broken. I know they got some consolation slots in the end, but that doesn’t change my opinion.
  • The previous years’ conferences, while they have been fun in various ways, have been declining in actual technical content and increasing in politics, marketing hype, PR stuff, and whatnot. This does not have value to me (see above).
  • I am tired of explaining MySQL Enterprise vs. MySQL Community, InnoDB/Oracle vs. MySQL Inc., where the patches have gone, why the foreign key implementation in MySQL sucks, why the triggers implementation sucks, the problems with replication, etc., ad infinitum. Nothing has changed, it’s all basically as broken as it was last year, the year before that, etc.

OK, many people know the above about me already. So why not go to the Percona Performance Conference or hang out and chat with people, or…

  • The most important reason: I am making a concerted effort to stay out of the politics of the whole conference this year. While I feel that I add nominally value to the conference by analyzing and reporting on the happenings, and asking uncomfortable questions, I just can’t do it this year. I need a break.

I debated potentially taking this entire week as vacation and really disappearing for the entire week, disconnected, but I really value the friendship of all of my friends that come out to California from the far reaches of the Earth for the conference. I will be in the Bay Area (as usual every week), and I would very much enjoy having a politics-free drama-free dinner if you’re up for it. Contact me!

Administrative Note: I have disabled comments on this entry, as I don’t want the debate and politics to shift over here. I apologize in advance for my anti-blog-like behavior in that regard. I welcome any and all notes and comments at jeremy@jcole.us.