1999 News about David Leppik

Tuesday, November 16, 1999

Jordan and I did our charitable donations for the year.  Charity is something my grandfather, John White, takes very seriously and implores his children and grandchildren to take equally seriously.  Jordan and I have been haphazard about donations in the past, so this year we took two evenings to get the process right.

On Monday we (mostly Jordan) did some research on the web to find the sites that she wanted to give to, as well as finding sites that rate charities.  She found three ratings sites:

We considered it important to go with charities listed on these sites (or their local affiliate) to ensure that we don't give to unscrupulous organizations with similar names.

Tuesday is traditionally our cleaning night, and it traditionally starts with take-out or delivery food.  We consumed our favorite pizza from the neighborhood pizza place:  garlic, pineapple, and mushroom.  Then it was down to the basement to look at last year's tax returns to estimate how much we can afford to give this year.  This might have been the most important part of the evening, because it forced us out of our college budgeting and into Dual-Income-No-Kids budgeting.  This corresponds to an order of magnitude increase in giving.

We spent an hour or so at the dining room table writing down the charities we previously gave money to and the categories of charities we feel are important.  After ending up with a hodgepodge of different causes, we organized them into three tiers, depending on their relative importance.

  1. Tier One Issues. Generally, issues with great long-term importance.
    • Environment
      We consider the environment to be of fundamental importance to the survival of our species. Extinction is going on at an unprecedented rate: not even the extinction of the dinosaurs was as dramatic. Adding even more urgency, I recently read an article in Scientific American about the formation of the Sahara Desert, which apparently went from a large desert next to huge grasslands to its current state over the course of years, not decades, once it passed a certain point. The authors also mention computer models which suggest the same could occur due to deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest. Until we can teraform the Sahara, we put our species at risk by tinkering with our environment.
    • Population Stabilization
      This is an important part of limiting our environmental impact. It's also a way to guarantee abundant resources for each person. I think we are a very adaptable species; when gasoline is scarce, we find ways to use less. When food is scarce, we eat less meat. We may even find new ways to produce fresh water. But that's only half the story. If worldwide water resources become scarce, we might not even notice in the US; a few extra cents per gallon are affordable to us. We can ship it in from impoverished nations. Population stabilization is about giving people the elbow room to escape poverty. We're a lot better at keeping people alive these days, and as a result families which used to have 8 children of whom 3 or 4 survived now have 8 children, with 7 or 8 living long enough to have 8 children. That adds up a lot faster than the 2.3 kids in our country. So we're not interested in Zero Population Growth or other such groups; we want to support groups which allow people, especially women, in the developing world to have the education, resources, and hope both have fewer children and to escape poverty.
    • Domestic Opportunity
      This is to help Americans lift themselves out of poverty and stay out. For Americans to be as happy and prosperous as possible, we must replace mundane, boring, low-profit jobs with interesting, creative, high-profit ones and leave the rest of the work to machines or other countries. This is already happening to a large extent, and Jordan and I are reaping the rewards. (At the same time, other countries are doing our manufacturing and building a middle class which demands democracy. Then they move on to higher-end jobs at higher-end factories. I don't know where it will end, but when we run out of impoverished countries we'll have to build more creative, interesting factories.) The downside is that creative jobs demand creative, learned people. Every brain that isn't exercised is a brain with a limited future. Every brain that learns that there's no place for it ends up dead or in jail. We need to give hope to kids and adults without hope. We need to keep them in high school and get them into college or a trade school. They need the resources to plan their lives, not just financially but for their families and personal growth. Otherwise the globalization which keeps Jordan and me employed will keep them unemployable.
  2. Tier Two Issues
    • Emergency Relief
      Natural and unnatural disasters can ruin lives. We're not big on band-aid solutions, but sometimes a band-aid is exactly what is needed.
    • Educational Excellence
      While it's necessary to make sure everyone has access to education, we also want particularly gifted people to have a chance to excell. Jordan and I are fond of the sorts of people who come out of Grinnell College, and really like the way it encourages eccentricity to thrive. It is diversity of thought (and therefore eccentricity) that produces new ideas and defends unpopular compassion. There's also some personal interest here (no, really?): our Grinnell educations were much cheaper because the college chipped in with financial aid and (relatively) inexpensive tuition. We won't stop giving until we've at least given back the difference. It will take many years. My private high school, Blake, also fits here, but more at a tier-three level.
    • Continuing Education
      The idea here is that this modern, global economy requires people to re-train frequently to keep employed. This isn't a problem if you program computers, but if you're a highly trained but moderately paid operator of obsolete equipment, you're out of luck. Jordan's job is (at one level) to use computers to reduce the number of real humans answering telephones. It decreases time wasted on the phone, increasing the standard of living for everyone by a tiny amount, while leaving a tiny number of people unemployed. We want to make sure that in the end they can get a job they'll like more.
  3. Tier Three Issues
    • Unitarian Universalism
      My religion. It's helped me find meaning and be a more mature person, exposing me to ideas that continue to help me grow. It does the same for others. I want to foster that.
    • Very Long Term Goals
      Inhabitation of other worlds. Discovery of extraterrestrials.
    • Biodiversity in Captivity
      Homes for species which are loosing their native homes. Zoos. In particular, the Minnesota Zoo.
    • Things We Use
      Public radio. MPR isn't exactly lacking cash, but I listen to the radio probably four hours a day, so it's worth it to support it.

Next we went through our list of charities from the day before and assigned numbers to names. We also went on the web to learn more about the charities in light of the goals we had in mind. The result was eye-opening. We've given to the Salvation Army in the past, since we know that it's one of the few organizations that helps those whom others consider beyond help. Then we discovered that, according to their site, "Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination." Preaching first, helping second. Not our priorities.

This is a work in progress. We may not have chosen the best charities for our needs, but we know we've chosen good ones. We'll reevaluate every year, and our choices will improve with time. Below are our choices.

  1. Tier One Issues
    • Environment
      • Nature Conservancy
      • World Wildlife Fund
    • Population Stabilization
      • UU Service Committee. This one was a surprise; I've known vaguely about them for years, but it wasn't until we visited their site that we realized how closely their goals match ours.
      • CARE. This is one we hadn't heard of before, but it also matches our wishes well. We were particularly impressed with the level of detail of its financial reports, which let us see exactly how much of our money would go to which of its many services.
      • Accion. A micro-lender. It loans small amounts of money to people living in poverty who have the will to get ahead but not the funding.
    • Domestic Opportunity
      • Planned Parenthood of MN/SD
      • Boys & Girls Clubs
      • Habitat for Humanity
      • UUSC, as above, but for its domestic programs.
      • National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. There are lots of debilitating illnesses, but the mental ones are often overlooked.
      • Twin Cities Freenet
  2. Tier Two Issues
    • Emergency Relief. An obvious omission is the Red Cross. They're a great organization, but we decided that Doctors Without Borders is more needy. We might give to them next year.
      • CARE, as above, but for their emergency relief programs.
      • Doctors without Borders.
    • Educational Excellence
      • Grinnell College
      • The Blake School
    • Continuing Education. We couldn't find any organizations which fit our goals. We could give to specific schools, but they tend to be funded largely by tuition and/or government subsidies.
  3. Tier Three Issues
    • Unitarian Universalism
      • The Unitarian Universalist Association, possibly through the Prairie Star District. I haven't found a congregation I feel at home in, so I give to the organizations I have found a home in.
      • Chalice Lighters. This is a fund for growth of congregations, often new congregations or new programs, such as funding for young adult programs. That's something near and dear to me.
    • Very Long Term Goals
      • The Planetary Society
    • Biodiversity in Captivity
      • The Minnesota Zoo
    • Things We Use
      • Minnesota Public Radio

Wednesday, July 7, 1999

Last Friday was my last day at Imaginet. I'll be starting a new job at Net Perceptions on Monday. I thought a week off (with a holiday on Monday) would be plenty of time to get bored and finish up all those things I've been putting off forever. I was wrong. One week is just enough to paint the computer room and move the computers into it. I suppose next time I'll go for a month between jobs.

So far it's been a productive week. I got DSL service (very fast, always-on Internet access) a few weeks ago, and it was working fine on the Macintosh, but my Linux box was being troublesome. I could have downloaded a new version of dhcpcd (the software that wasn't working) but instead I decided to change the whole operating system from Red Hat Linux 5.2 to Caldera OpenLinux 2.2. (I could have tried Red Hat 6.0, which also would have fixed the problem, but it was more expensive and I wanted to try something new.) It's amazing how much better Linux has gotten in very few months. The install was much simpler, the desktop (KDE) looks more like Windows than Unix (though not too much like Windows). I did get into a few snags, related to the previous Linux partitions. Not as easy as installing MacOS by a long shot, but that's because MacOS does a one-size-fits-all installation and there's less that can go wrong. PCs have a whole lot of unnecessary complexity, and I don't think they will ever be easy to use until they simplify the hardware.

Two cool features of the Caldera Linux installers: first, it asks you what software you want first and installs it in the background while you configure the video, time, and others. Second, if you finish fiddling with the video early, it lets you play Tetris while the installer finishes.

Sunday, June 20, 1999

Celebrated my birthday, along with Peter and Carla's anniversary and mom and dad's anniversary. We had dinner in my parents' gazebo. We had a cake with "Happy Whatever" written on it. I blew out the candles on it. Jordan gave me a great gift: a digital camera. I took several pictures.

Sunday, June 6, 1999

My fifth college reunion. I went to reunion last year too, for a less formal Back Table reunion piggybacking on the official one. It's hard to believe it's been five years already; it doesn't feel that long. It's even more depressing to thingk that my 10th high school reunion will be next year. Still, I have to admit that I am ten years removed from the person I was in high school. Ten years of mostly improvement, though there are some things I miss. The thrill of seeing my world broaded in front of my eyes, of pleasant novelty just behind every unexplored corner. (Of course, this hardly describes my day-to-day life at the time.)

There weren't a lot of Back Table people there, which was fine, since I got to see many of them last year, and this gave me an opportunity to spend more time with people I haven't seen in much longer. I didn't recognize most of the people in my class, which shouldn't shock me too much, since I only recognized them in passing when I was there. There were many people who weren't there whom I would have liked to see. Most friends came in clusters: the Back Table cluster, the Proteus cluster, the Men's Group cluster, the Unitarian cluster, the UC cluster, the Juggler cluster. Though there was much overlap, not one cluster was out in force, which left each interaction incomplete. It was great to see Lowell, but I would have liked to see Barton and Hippie and everyone I think of when I think of him. Memory is perpetually sad, because if it's not reminding you of bad things that happened, it's making you yearn for times and places you can't go back to. Still, yearning is beter than not having anything to strive for. I may yet play Nomic with Eva again or play Scare the Juggler with Lowell or go streaking. The only difference is that I must create these situations rather than let them happen around me. The intensity of college life is gone; I am in the vast depths of the Rest of My Life, where plans are made to last for forty years, not just four, and memorable events happen every once in a while, not every day. The challenge is not how to relive my college days, but how to make these years equally memorable. I must find ways to change as much in the next ten years as I did in the four years of college, but change in ways my college self could yearn for.

Sunday, May 31, 1999

This is the longest day of my life: 32 hours.

This is the return trip from Tallinn, Estonia back to Minneapolis. I have been traveling with Jordan and my parents. My father was born in Estonia but left at a very early age due to Stalin's invasion. I grew up having heard Estonian mainly at Christmas-time. This is my first visit to Estonia, and it answered many questions I never knew I had while raising even more.

To be specific, this was a trip not only to Estonia but also to Amsterdam and Helsinki. We needed to pass through those cities anyway, so dad decided to take full advantage. Jordan and I, having been on only the first few trips of our married life, discussed travel strategies and decided that it is more trouble than it is worth to try to enjoy every place the airplane takes us; A jet-lagged day and a half isn't the right way to see Amsterdam.

On the other hand, the day we spent in Helsinki was an excellent preparation for Estonia. Finland and Estonia have a similar language and history. Whereas English, Latin, German, and most other European languages are in the Indo-European language family (sharing such oddities as prepositional phrases), whereas Finnish and Estonian are in the Finno-Ugric subfamily of Uralic. Finland and Estonia have rarely been independent, and their histories seem to be a constant struggle for control between Russia, Sweden, Denmark, and, in Estonia's case, Germany. Helsinki became a major city because the Swedes decided to put a fortress on a nearby island as a defense against the Russians. Then the Russians took over the fortress, and then the Swedes recaptured it before the Finns finally gained independence.

Modern Finland has a booming, high-tech economy, the flagship of which is Nokia, best known in the U.S. as a cell phone manufacturer. Cell phones are far more popular in Finland than at home; we saw everyone from old ladies to 10-year-old girls with them. I suspect the situation will be similar here in a few years.

The high-speed ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn took an hour and a half. This physical closeness between the two capitols helps to tie Estonia to the West. In Soviet times there was apparently a secret underwater cable between them. Today there is a strong amount of trade, much of which involves Finnish "tourists" ferrying to Tallinn to buy Finnish booze without Finnish taxes. The arrangement reminds me of how Minnesotans buy fireworks from Wisconsin.

Tallinn is a haven for more traditional tourists as well. The old section of the city dates back nearly a thousand years, and is remarkably well-preserved. International investors have been more than happy to renovate this section to keep the look of a medieval city while adding restaurants and gift shops. Where there is not a fresh coat of paint, there will no doubt be one soon.

We spent most of a day in Tallinn, left for Haapsalu the next morning. After a few days in Haapsalu we spent an afternoon in Tartu (where my dad was born), and spent another full day in Tallinn before flying back home (this time with only a little time in Helsinki and Amsterdam). My father, a neurologist, gave a speech at a neurologist's convention in Haapsalu and the rest of us had dinner at the convention.

Haapsalu is a resort town on the western shore of Estonia. It is a sleepy town best known for its mud baths, visited by Tschikovsky. There are a number of health spas there, the newest of which looks on the inside like a combination resort and fancy modern hospital. It struck us as a quaint, sleepy town. The convention hall, build in the 1980s while Estonia was part of the Soviet Union, is already worn out. Apparently Soviet manufacturing was really bad: even the stairways were chipped an worn, as if they were decades old. On the outskirts of town is the crumbling military airfield, with dozens of fighter-sized hangars. The doors on the hangars were three or four feet thick, hollow, and most of them had fallen down. We were told that Soviet military construction was even worse than the civilian construction.

Having grown up an Estonian American, I had always thought of Estonia as a paradise lost, a homeland and a culture consisting of people in traditional Estonian clothing eating traditional Estonian foods. A land which might go back to the old ways if it were not held prisoner by the USSR. I thought of it in isolation, perhaps sometimes in relation to the other Baltic states but never in relation to Germany or Sweden. When I learned European history in school I never thought that might relate to Estonia. When I think of Estonian food I think of the Christmas dinner Emma ("mother", my grandmother; the kids called her what our parents called her) used to make-- a veritable banquet of roast duck, blood sausage, and many other things I won't even try to spell. Dessert was cookies, fruit cup, and the most incredible rum torte I've ever had. It is only on this trip that I discovered that my grandparents had met in college in Switzerland, where she was studying home economics. That is how she knew how to make that torte. It is hard to imagine someone so fiercely Estonian as her going to Switzerland for school. It's also on this trip that I realized that her frugality was a result of her generation, not just her nationality. Somehow I expected to see those quirks in every ethnic Estonian on the street.

The concept of what it means to be Estonian, or any other nationality, was challenged as I learned more about Estonia. The earliest Estonians, who brought the language, settled there between 2000 and 3000 BC or earlier, having come from central Asia. However, modern Estonians look German or Scandinavian. I don't know what the early Estonians looked like, but I suspect that the genetics and the language don't match, just as my language matches my location rather than my genes. I mentioned this idea to mom, and she mentioned something about Emma having a Swedish ancestor. I wonder what happened to the early Estonians and their genes. Are they spread out evenly across Europe? Did they quietly die out, with their next door neighbors carrying on the language and culture? Did they get so genetically diluted over the centuries that they might as well have died out? It seems likely that modern Lapplanders are closer to the ancient Estonians than modern Estonians. Do I have any original Estonian blood in me at all? Of course, the culture has changed a lot in the last 4000 years. I wonder how much of that is original, and how much is German, Russian, Prussian or Swedish. The language, I'm sure, has been influenced as well. For most of its history, German was the language of the educated, just as French was the language of the educated in early England. Just as we have both Germanic and Romance words for most things (e.g. cat/feline), Estonian must be peppered with German words (though I haven't noticed any in hearing my dad talk).

What am I to make of my Estonian heritage? My family's history in this country starts with my proud Estonian grandparents. Then my father became a successful American who still spoke Estonian to his parents and had strong ties to his homeland he hadn't seen since he was three. Then comes my generation, half-Estonian, unable to speak the language (it would have been very impractical to try to learn it, with so few Estonians in Minnesota). How can I-- or should I-- cling to these roots in a country I know so little about? What do I have in common with Estonians? Is there anything uniquely Estonian about me? Not the language, not the culture, possibly not even the genes. The next generation will know their heritage, but how many more will? It seems unlikely that three or four generations from now my descendants will be any more likely than their classmates to have heard of Estonia. It will just be a footnote in the family tree, diluted and forgotten.

What am I to make of my Estonian heritage? I can't go back to Estonia. I am just another softening lump in the melting pot. Ethnicity is just another myth one learns at an early age, like the Easter Bunny or Santa Clause, only with visas, passports, letters, and diaries to support it. My grandmother shuddered at the thought of Russians moving into the Baltics under Stalin to Russify the population. If the Soviet Union had collapsed when she was young, she would have wanted to move back and send the Russians home. (Estonia is 60% ethnic Estonian today.) But now many Russians living there were born there, as were their parents. They are more Estonian than I am, having no other home, even if they don't speak Estonian.

When I was growing up, we were the only Estonian American family in the neighborhood. In that way I felt alone. I thought Estonia was unique, distinct, unrelated to anyone else's heritage. My story is far from unique. Every family which came through Ellis Island has the same story; only the ethnic dress and the Christmas foods are different. Some spent a few generations in an ethnic part of town, thereby managing to cling to their roots a little longer. I am like the grandson of the Swede who moved to Estonia looking for a better home a century or two ago. I am the child of the Small World, whose culture is part Hollywood, part Sony. I grew up on Japanese cartoons and Mexican food. I am as Italian as a Chicago-style Hawaiian pizza. I am proud to be Estonian, I am proud to be American, but my loyalty is to Humanity. All of human history is the story of one big melting pot, with flavors combining and forming new ones, then melting away again. Wasn't the most infamous advocate for Aryan purity dark-haired? Why should we cling to our ethnic heritage? What wisdom do we gain from our elders? Do they teach us to be happy, to get along with others? Peace and prosperity have their greatest advocates not in ancient wisdom, but in the pragmatism of McDonald's, whose profits rise when countries stop fighting and join the global economy. Who is to say that my Estonian ancestors have greater wisdom than somebody else's ancestors? We are at the dawn of a global age, when ideas can travel from the Internet kiosk in rural Estonia to a cafe in Thailand without reference to any homeland. The next generation won't think twice about Old Dutch Deli-Style Tostados and will think karma is Californian. In a world where information, knowledge, and even wisdom know no boundaries, who will care what color Jesus was or where French fries came from? Who will care that my father is Estonian?

Should I?

Sunday, March 21

I picked up my new Linux computer today. Seebs built it to my specifications. It's designed to be a Unix workstation as well as do all of the networking stuff we need around the house, such as connecting all the other computers to the Internet. It isn't a fast computer by today's standards, but it's several times faster than it needs to be to feel fast.

I might not have bought it if Apple had released MacOS X Server a few days earlier than they did. That's a Unix that looks like a Mac; I use it at work, and it would do everything I need and then some. And they introduced it at half the price they had announced in January. Still, it's $500, compared with $50 for Linux. Linux won't run Mac programs, it won't run WebObjects, and it's not as easy to use. Of course, Linux does have a larger developer community, and the Linux people are on average more altruistic than Apple.

Once I get an Ethernet hub, which I plan to get in a few days, we can have several computers here connected to the Internet at one time. Then I'll really be itching for a higher speed connection.

Friday, March 19

Our house was burglarized today. Jordan and I were at Seebs' place when the phone rang. It was Nita, who had found Seebs number off the Internet after Gypsy had sent out email to a mailing list. Gypsy had come home to see the back door wide open, She called the police, and they found that the television had been stolen. Two doors had broken windows (apparently the first one was too hard to open). The computers and other valuables were not missing; apparently the burglar was only interested in things that are easy to pawn, such as jewelry and the television. (Good thing we don't have much jewelry.)

As a result, we are getting a replacement door and new locks. We're also considering getting an alarm system.

Before then it had been a good day. I'd gotten off work early and took the bus to Seebs' place, where I poked around on the computer he's building for me. Then Jordan showed up and we all went out for dinner, along with Scott and Maurine.

Thursday, March 18

Today Jordan and I went to Theater de la Jeune Lune to see Tartuffe by Moliere. The occasion was that Imaginet designed the theater's web site, and they were kind enough to give everyone tickets. It was a good production. It is a comedy about a hypocritical religious zealot.

Friday, February 19

Today Gage Marketing Group, my employer, announced an agreement to purchase part of Imation Studio, which will be a separate company (Imaginet) at the end of the month. As part of the deal, the Internet/Database department at Gage (including me) becomes part of Imaginet. This is the sort of deal which usually takes months, but we get a week and two weekends to think it over. I honestly can't think of anything but good of this deal, since it puts Imaginet in a position where it can grow, it will help me to focus more on Internet technologies, I will be in a better position to specialize in the things I like (being absorbed by a larger development group), and I may get stock options in a hot company. All this without loosing the coworkers I like. Oh, wait, there are a few negatives. The company isn't guaranteed to take off, I'm unlikely to get that Apple G3 I was a few weeks away from getting on my desk, and there's no guarantee they'll want to use the technologies I enjoy (MacOS X Server and WebObjects). I might even have to switch to Windows NT. Ewww!

Sunday, February 7

I got www.leppik.net online today, which will soon be taking over for my sites on the Freenet and the U of MN. As part of the deal, I (and the rest of my family) get a few new email addresses.

Monday, February 1, 1999

I'm writing today from Peter and Carla's house, where I am helping Carla with the baby while Peter is away. This is the first I've seen of John since his birth. So far I've helped change one diaper and tried to calm him during a crying fit. Carla doesn't look like she's gotten a good night's sleep in a very long time. Probably not since the baby was born.

At home, Jordan was last seen playing with my Lego Mindstorm robotics set, a nifty toy I haven't had time to play with since the first day I got it running. (Mind you, I played with it all day.) Gypsy is slowly recovering the use of her hand. She got her hopes up for employment the other day when she tested her typing skills and found them to be reasonable. Then today she went to the doctor and found out that her recovery is worse than it feels, so she needs to go into therapy every other day.

Monday, January 5, 1999

I spent MLK Weekend at a UU Young Adult conference in Illinois. It has been stressful at home, with all the difficulties Gypsy has had with her hand and, as a result, with finding a job. So I took off to try to recharge spiritually. That and many people had been asking me to come. It helps for me to get away from my usual habits and do something that reminds me how diverse I can be. (I suppose I'm not the only one who's not as well rounded as in high school.) I spend Sunday night with some friends hanging out in a bar and then stayed up until the wee hours talking to my friend Alexander about what meaningful things we are striving for in life. I shared what little wisdom I pretend to have, which I will probably place on this website one day, but not today, and certainly not in a form which can be browsed too easily. Things I consider wise should not be published in a medium which is too accessible; wisdom sounds like a jumble of cliches and speculation when one need not concentrate to hear it. After all, many cliches are wisdom repeated until they seem old, tired, and no longer relevant. I suspect the poetry of ee cummings is cryptic largely to force the reader to concentrate and not take the words for granted.

Thursday, January 7, 1999

I woke up at 8:00 when Gypsy called, saying she would be allowed to leave the hospital in an hour. I would have gotten up earlier, but discovered that the alarm clock was unplugged. We blame the cat. Unbeknownst to me, two hours earlier Carla had given birth, making me an uncle. I found out when I made it to work and read my email, which included a photo. I quickly made a screen saver module of the bouncing baby boy.

That evening Jordan and I went to see the new kid. John Gary Leppik, named after my grandfather. 9 lbs. 21 inches. Cute as a button. Maybe cuter.

Wednesday, January 6, 1999

Gypsy had surgery today. The surgery itself went well, but recovery from anesthesia was ungraceful. She couldn't sit up for long, so she spent the night at the hospital.

Meanwhile, at another hospital 1.3 miles due north, Carla was preparing to give birth.