Monthly Archives: May 2010

Use Patterns

I must admit, one of the more fun aspects of teaching has nothing to do with instructing, but has everything to do with observing. I particularly enjoy watching the patterns that develop amongst my students when using software. In some instances the patterns are based upon mimicry (actually, I bet all of them are, but I don’t always see the original inspiration), where I demonstrate something, and then everybody executes the task the same way. This occurs during lessons when I am teaching.

The real fun begins when people are put in front of new software with no instruction, but with self-motivation. The self-motivation is what propels the exploration of software through the hardships and failures which will occur frequently during the process. In these particular cases, the self-motivation comes from the want to play. My students are exploring all of the games on the computer.

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One Weird Dream

I had a weird dream where I was secretly part of the North Korea/South Korea/America Peace Alliance Military, basically a sham agreement to maintain the illusion of collaboration and peace between the nations, but I was undercover in North Korea and they couldn’t find out.

I never knew what my mission was, except that I had a rucksack. When I got in country I got another rucksack that had the logo of the military, which would immediately blow my cover if somebody saw. Now I had two rucksacks. This was a big deal in the dream.

When leaving the country through border patrol, the North Koreans had to scan my hard drives and computers, which contained secret data and were running KDE netbook edition. However, the North Koreas never got my information because they were too stupid to read the EXT4 filesystem.

Of course, the "North Korean," who told me I was cleared to leave was actually a small Irish-American who looked an awful lot like Mr. Lynch, my high school Latin teacher.

I got off the hallucinatory anti-malaria drugs a year agao, what the heck?!

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Signs of Cultural Adaptaion…

…or lack there of.

When I get home at the end of the day, I typically empty my pockets onto my desk so that I might pick the contents up and pocket them again for the next morning. Since coming to Kenya I have noticed that my pockets are oftentimes filled with trash. That’s right, honest to goodness trash. Ok, maybe not honest to goodness, seeings how I am not carrying around used baby diapers (they are called pampers here, fyi), but instead the trash takes the form of plastic bottle cap wrappers, Safaricom cell phone credit top up cards, and candy wrappers (ok, maybe there were candy wrappers back in the States as well…).

I take this as a sign of a lack of cultural adaption on my part. Walking around the city, it is not uncommon to just see people throw things in the street… or out the bus window… or on the ground walking through the park…. or at your face (ok, it was a soccer ball, once, in the back of the head, but still!). I just can’t do it. For the longest time I had a huge collection of plastic water bottles. I searched and searched the Internet, asked my friends in development, and the best re-use of plastic water bottles included: using them again as a bottle of sorts (holy crap, genius!), using them to aerate plants (NYS does this when it plants trees), and possibly hang them from a string and use them as bird feeders (I am not feeding birds, as that might convince them that i want them around; stupid hornbills).

The reason why I can’t dispose of my trash? In the cities, very few places have rubbish bins to just toss things out. Luckily in Mombasa Safaricom sponsored rubbish bins along Digo Rd, which is nice, although they are also a one stop source of food for the street people at night :/, and they are few compared to the size of the city. At NYS, there is only one trash bin that I know of, and it’s the little wicker paper-trash basket in my computer lab. Otherwise, everything just gets burned.

I put things in my pocket thinking that if I bring it home I can do something about. But I can’t. We just burn things here too. Trying to educate people that burning plastic can be bad for their health, to which they agree and understand, is a futile effort because convincing people of the need for centralized trash disposal simply raises the inevitable, "so you will pay for it?"

It’s a tough call. I would love to do some research into the history of landfills in the USA and see what prompted our obsession with trash collection. Maybe there are some hints there at what could possibly catalyze a cultural attitude change towards the whole situations.

Of course, to single this out as a Kenyan thing would be to err greatly on my part. We find inappropriate ways to dispose of our trash in the States (and the West) as well, it just happens at a different level of abstraction. In our case, toxic chemicals and e-waste.

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The Power of The Mind, Relatively Speaking That Is

The power of the mind never ceases to amaze me, particularly in regards to the relative outlook on everything us Homo sapiens have. What brings such a notion to mind is of course the weather and my recent, bizarre, behavior modifications regarding it. Just this morning I wore a hoodie to work. It was about 75 degrees out and overcast. I wore a hoodie. Somebody call Medical.

It would seem that my mind has adapted to my climate, though that doesn’t change the fact that I was sweating a bit on the 4 minute walk from my house to the lab. It’s not that I don’t sweat, or shiver, those being the fixed bodily responses to hyperthermia or hypothermia. Instead, it’s that my mind no longer registers them as discomforts. My first, “autumn,” (that’s what I nostalgically call March through May) in Mombasa, I chuckled every time I saw one of my students wearing their NYS-issued sweaters, shoulder patches and all. It was 75 degrees out and they were cold. Now I understand it.

Yes, there is such a thing as a specific, measurable temperature. But simply because it is measurable does not mean all of us will react the same and in fact, as we adjust our lives in such a way that reaction is no longer necessary based on our old behavior model, we simply adjust our behavior. It seems that the absoluteness in existence resides not in the reaction itself, but more the need to react.

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Using Sudoku In The Classroom

I needed a warm-up for my students. I told them that the most important muscles for them to exercise were their fingers and brain. I had KTouch to help them warm-up their fingers, but what to use for their brains? Sudoku of course.

Every class period, especially the early morning periods, my students will do 20 minutes worth of Sudoku puzzles. I have incentivized the time by offering points on their final grade for every puzzle completed during this, “official Sudoku,” time period. This is only the second day of trying it, but as we speak, my students in their free time are playing Sudoku and not even for points.

I picked Sudoku for a few reasons. First off, it is part of the default Ubuntu distribution, which means no need to maintain yet another piece of software on my computer images. Second, the game allows for multiple solutions to achieve one goal. I immediately drew the comparison between fixing computer problems and playing Sudoku: there are many ways to go about achieving the same thing. This of course being part of my continued battle against the rigid form of thinking enforced within the Kenyan education system. And finally, the application itself has many forms of interaction (mouse, keyboard, etc), allowing for my students to develop not only their own method of solving Sudoku puzzles, but also their own use-patterns with the application. The end hope is for them to passively develop efficiency in application interaction.

We’ll see how it all turns out.

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Whistle While You Work

I am a whistler. Anyone who has been around me for more than say, five minutes, knows that I am a whistler (much to their annoyance or amusement or both I am not sure). I like to whistle in my free time, when I am alone, when I have friends around, when I am walking to work, when I am programming. Heck, I just like to whistle.

That is why it has been my great pleasure to discover that students at NYS love to whistle as well. I hear them whistling when walking, I hear them whistling when working. Some of them will even whistle in class if I start to do so. At some points, I have been whistling and from across the field a student will pick up on it and continue whistling in tune with my own whistling! It’s amazing!

My life is one big, happy, whistle-fest!

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