Monthly Archives: March 2010

The RIK And The Issue of Trust

Last night I was talking with my dad when our phone connection got cut off (as is common). The last question he asked before we lost connection though was a question I have been fielding a lot recently, with the unveiling and roll-out of the Rural Internet Kiosk (RIK) in Ukunda: how do you prevent people from stealing it? This is not an uncommon question regarding many projects Peace Corps volunteers work on here in Kenya, where the concept of trust, though the same as in the West, is at a different level when it comes to perception of ownership than of that in the West.

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You Know You Live In New England When…

I stole this list from a friend’s Facebook page, who herself stole it from Jeff Foxworthy and some of his comments about, “You know you live in New England.” I edited the list from the Facebook page to provide the ones I think are most true about us quirky New Englanders.

The reason this is making my Peace Corps blog is that it has been my experience that apparently New Englanders are easily mocked targets by other volunteers! Who knew!? New Englanders out there, did you know that people in the rest of the country joke about us quite frequently? I didn’t! It’s all in jest of course, but it has certainly been an interesting year hearing all the different perceptions (real or joking) people have about New Englanders. Here is Jeff Foxworthy’s take:

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Hakuna Stima, Kuna Shida

Sorry for no post today. Am backlogged on work, and on top of things we lost power unexpectedly (or expectedly I guess, considering it’s the Mombasa summer), and was unable to do any computerized work (read: all my work) today. I would like to take the time however, and briefly inform my lovely readers of a simple fact:

It is immensely difficult to keep students interested in learning computers when there is no electricity.

End of fact.

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Rural Internet Kiosk Launch

I don’t frequently talk about specific projects because sometimes, other than teaching, projects pop up and disappear and if every Peace Corps volunteer mentioned every project that was initiated regardless of if it completely coalesced, well, we would seem like super people, which we aren’t. The fact of the matter is that in development you throw 100 projects against a filter and half of one will come out and it will be all sorts of disfigured from the initial concept, but it will be the only thing slightly usable so you go with it.

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Early In The Mornin’ Risin’ To My Feet

People are always aghast when I inform them that on any given day, weekends included, I find myself awake and very much alive at around 6 or 6:30am. Even Kenyans that I meet are confused by this, as I have been told by many they are unable to function without their first cup of chai. Well this morning, as I write this entry sitting out on my front porch, I am reminded of such worms us early birds are lucky to catch.

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Linux: Thinking With Fingers

I have yet another perfect example of how Peace Corps is no longer your mom and dad’s Peace Corps. This morning, my most pressing issue at work was getting the biometric fingerprint scanner working in Ubuntu so that I could demonstrate biometric authentication to my students during class today (granted we have power, today being Thursday and all). My ICTT students are learning about Users and Security in their lecture on Operating Systems and we’ve gone over PIN authentication which they understand because their mobile phones use PINs to unlock their SIM Cards; user and password authentication which they understand because they use it every day to log into their computers, but where does that leave me for biometric authentication?

Thankfully, NYS has provided me with fairly advanced computers, and honestly, this is why I loved the Free and Open Source Software world. My computers come with fingerprint scanners built into the keyboards, and with a little Google-ing, sure enough there is an open source driver for this scanner and it integrates perfectly into my pre-existing setup. No crazy applications that change default behavior, no humongous install files that need to be downloaded, no trial software that expires after 30 days unless I crack it. Just a simple, small module that plugs into my pre-existing system and seamlessly integrates fingerprint scanning. Now, I can demonstrate to my students biometric authentication, and they can see it in real life.

If you don’t care much about Linux tech, no need to read further. If you do care about Linux, and particularly getting fingerprint scanning working, this may be of interest to you.

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My Trousers Are Dirty

Today was spent mucking around the Rural Internet Kiosk (RIK) that was installed at the Kwale Public Library in Ukunda last Saturday. We were having issues with one of the terminals not working and also my inability to remotely connect to the computer from any Internet connection. But both problems have been resolved thanks to a little finagling and rearranging of the haphazard wiring job, as well as the 1 Mbps pipe we have through Intersat. I promise I will write more about the RIK in a later post. For now, a shower is necessary.

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KenPoly, Listen Up

Kenya is a toothpick culture. For those who don’t know what that means, it means that culturally it is perfectly socially acceptable for perform the act of tooth-picking at the dinner table. This is great, because many things we eat here, including delicious mangoes and less delicious various stringy green vegetables, get stuck in your teeth. Toothpicks pick these bits from your teeth! Genius.

Now in Kenya, I have only ever seen wooden toothpicks being used. But in a recent care package, my grandma randomly sent me some fancy plastic toothpicks. These aren’t just any toothpicks though, these are engineered for maximum teeth-picking action. One side is a flatish (as opposed to roundish) pick and the other side is a small bristle-brush. Yes, a bristle brush on a toothpick. The bristles are appropriately shaped so as to allow a back-and-forth movement without causing pain. Genius.

I want KenPoly, the local plastic-goods manufacturer, to make these. And sell them. And make money. And become even more wealthy. Because we need good products to be produced locally to demonstrate that it can be done and subsequently motivate more investment. Because Kenyans want to consume their own culture (music, movies, toothpicks), and have proven that it can become marketable to mass produce local culture… stuff, so let’s mass produce these. Nuts to development. It’s lack of accountability is a joke. I am putting my money on Super Toothpicks.

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A New Schedule

I think in an entry a while back I may have informed my readers that one of my primary reasons for sticking with Peace Corps has always been that each and every day brings about a chance for something totally random to happen. Last week, my life took one of those unexpected random turns, and now that the spinning has stopped and I am starting to see straight again, I thought I would write about. Apparently, I am now teaching a full Information and Communication Technology Technician course here at NYS.

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