For me, this point marks the difference between the stayers on E2 and the temporary residents. According to the Prof's statistics, E2 has 10 000 or so active contributors. About 90 percent of these are on levels 1 and 2, leaving only around 1000 at level 3 and above. So from here on up, we are in the top 10 percent of all noders.

I sometimes think of E2 as a mountain, started as a small hillock by some geeks, and placed in front of us to climb. To climb it, we must add to the hill, gradually transforming it into a mountain. There is no reason to climb this mountain, except that it is there. It is a challenge.

Level 3 is base camp, above the hubbub of the clamouring newbies, but not yet high enough to reveal the top-most slopes. Upper base camp, Level 4, is the place where serious assaults on the higher slopes begin. Down here, below the cloud base, we new acolytes have made all the preparations; we have proved that we can climb at least a little, and we have displayed enough perseverance to convince our team leaders that we can attempt the next pitch.

As I write, a new initiate must complete 70 simple exercises in basic climbing technique—before reaching basecamp, here at the top of the foothills. For most of us, getting here has been a challenge. How best to complete those 70 exercises in a way which has never been done before, and yet add to the structure and power of the mountain?

Some take their speciality, and write 70 micro-descriptions of chemicals, or typefaces or different computer games. Some take song lyrics, and place them reverently upon the existing mass of the mountain. Others look at recipes for food or drinks, adding crumbs and sustenance to the living rock. A few look at the chapters from (out of copyright) books, and add each chapter in full to the database, bringing ten, 20, or more write-ups to build a new buttress on these fertile lower slopes.

These are the fast routes to level advancement. Adding facts to the database, like pebbles to a cairn. It has taken me 2 months to reach my base camp. Not so slow, but not so very fast either. I watched as others who started beneath me put on running shoes, sprinted up casting rocks and pebbles about them, drew level and then shot onward, never pausing to pass a backward glance at my wretched struggles and aching limbs. I can just about see them now, looking down from the clouds that I perceive above my head.

Some do not want to rush. They choose to skirt around the lower slopes, admiring the beauty of the mountain. Zen-like, they see an ugly gap, and strive to fill it with a finely crafted piece, aiming for perfection. Perhaps there is an ugly scar where a whole cliff-face is missing. Perhaps a scree-fall has left jagged rocks, unconnected and fragile, needing careful re-building to set them right, make connections and leave the rock fall as a stable foundation for some future building.

This mountain needs all sorts: the fast climbers, adding mass and bulk as quickly as they can, combined with slower souls, removing the rotten and the ugly and the broken, and replacing them with truth and beauty. We all strive to keep this mountain a place where people love to visit and spend their time. It does not take god-like powers to fill an ugly hole with truth. Just time and patience and the ability to see the ugliness for what it is.

By the time our initiate has reached base camp, she knows what she wants to do. By the time the climber reaches level three, he has worked out his style of building. Even if the initiate saw only a big high thing, and taking no notice of its size and proportion, charged upwards, failing to see the quiet gardens of retreat, ignoring the hands held out to help him on his way, oblivious to the tumbling waterfalls and verdant gardens where builders have taken time and spend time. Even if the initiate was blind on the nursery slopes, and threw rubbish into the gardens and desecrated the foothills, by the time he gets to base camp, he has at least a suspicion that the mountain contains hidden treasures.

And indeed the treasures are many. Hidden grottos, buried riches, beautiful gemstones, lie untouched all the way up the slopes. You only have to take the time to look, and the rewards will come. There is no password, no barrier to these riches. All you need is the willingness to see them and the time to appreciate them. There are no laws against picking things up, holding them awhile, letting them show you pleasures and agony, ecstasy, and pain, and, if that is what you want, giving a glimpse into the depth of your soul.

The only rule is that after you have seen what the mountain has to offer, you put it down carefully, ready for the next traveller to find and enjoy. Don't steal from the mass of treasures here. Instead, add to it and go your way in peace.

US based fiber / backbone provider.

Spun out of Peter Kiewit and Sons like several other well know backbone builders.

Ticker: LVLT

Update: 9/2002 - Like most fiber providers Level 3 has been on a bit of a roller coaster ride. With massive debt and ever declining prices many competitors have folded entirely or are currently in Chapter 11 banrkuptcy hoping to shed debt, restructure and continue operating. Level 3 recently received $500 million in financing which received a ton of press attention because $100m of the funds came from famed investor Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway holding company.

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