Category Archives: A Category Other Than Uncategorized

I really don’t like the default name for a category, so I’ve changed it.

Live Lingua

Though this blog is no longer actively updated, it still receives a fair bit of traffic from peace corps related searches. Therefore, I would like to add this post for any new individuals stopping by. Please head over to http://www.livelingua.com and check out a project being run by RPCV Ray Blakney. It offers all peace corps and Foreign Service language learning documents for free download (as it should be). So head on over and let Ray know what you think.

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An End

This post is not the end to the blog some of my readers are hoping to have. This is not some sweeping review and shared introspection of the time I spent in Kenya. Nor is it be a critique or criticism of Peace Corps as an organization. I just don’t have the energy to write that, nor would such a finite number of words ever be able adequately to do those two years justice. People would read it feeling it lacking, others scathing, others too positive (ok, maybe not this last one…). I am not a professional writer; I am someone who has come to the personal realization that my opinions fluctuate too much to commit them to any finale.

However, don’t perceive this action as a cop out. Rather I act out of what I believe to be the true spirit of blogging. Blogging is a serial endeavor, requiring attention towards, patience for and commitment to, the author. Like a television series, it feeds as much upon in-the-moment truths as it does upon a shared reality built up between the writer and the reader. A complete opinion or thought is not expressed in a single blog post, it is simply in that one post that the idea may break the surface, a iceberg of deeper value lying just beneath.

As such, I am taking this last post of this blog (which shall remain active for as long as WordPress allows) to point you to my more permanent blogging home: Two Laptops. At Two Laptops, I will continue to blog about my life, as seen now through the dual lenses of a professional software consultant and a non-profit volunteer working in ICT for development, all while living in Singpaore (and wherever my future travels take me). If you have enjoyed the material in this blog, I encourage you to join me over at Two Laptops, which will keep the same trend of cultural observations, technology news and other assorted bits.

I want to thank all my readers, who were the only reason I continued to blog. It is encouraging to know that no matter how many or how few, people would consistently and regularly return (hopefully) to enjoy my latest post. Thank you again, and now come join me over at Two Laptops.

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The Beginning Of The End

I know that this blog has recently shifted to an awfully tech-focused tone as of late, but it’s primary purpose has always been to help me convey my experiences serving as Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya. This experience is rapidly coming to an end however, and this past weekend was the beginning of that end.

Sure, teaching ended over a week ago, and school has closed. Sure, way back in September we had our official Close f Service (COS) conference to tie up administrative loose ends. Sure, since January I have been occasionally ticking off “last” experiences I would be having, including mango seasons, school holidays, etc. But today, I started saying goodbyes, when the next I might meet my friend is clouded in the obscurity called “life”.

The volunteers who are remaining in my training group (57% will officially close service within the allowed time frame to constitute a “full service”) got together at Diani Beach and rented out a great little place called Vindingo Cottages, basically taking it over and using the weekend to relax, unwind and reminisce about our two years of service here in Kenya. Of course, once we figured out our situation, we invited other volunteers to join from different training groups, because, well, all volunteers become part of your Peace Corps family very quickly.

I am so used to seeing volunteers in and out of Mombasa just by being around, that I was shocked this morning when a friend of mine came up and said, “Well, this is goodbye.” Sure, I think to myself, goodbye for now, but I’ll just see you around town.

No. I won’t.

December is a busy month: we have two training sites operating, needing constant volunteer participation; we have teachers on holiday and using it get out of site; we have others who are preparing for special holiday-season travels. Our routine is broken, including mine. I am around Mombasa for the next week, then off to Nairobi. Even I won’t be “just around”.

Next thing I knew, I was saying goodbye to everyone who was at the cottages. A few people will be in Nairobi with me as we prep to return to the States, but a vast majority will not. My fellow volunteers will continue on as varied paths leaving Peace Corps as we first walked down before our serving. Some will be staying in Kenya, having gotten jobs with organizations here, or looking to do so. Others will be traveling around East Africa, and even the world before continuing into the who-knows-what. Some, like me, are heading straight home, but again, to uncertain futures. Grad school? Work? Unemployment…?

Our time is up, and this weekend was the first time it hit me, with that first hug goodbye.

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Corona: Hata Siafu


Hata Siafu translates literally as, “Even safari ants,” from Kiswahili. Hata (even) is used quite frequently in Kiswahili and subsequently in Kenyan English and it seems many of Kenyan English’s idiosyncrasies are derived from literally translated Kiswahili. The intention of the phrase is to imply that safari ants like Corona as well myself. It’s perfectly logical, but a less used construct in American English.

One of the tricks I have learned in order to speak more colloquial Swahili is to listen to some of the English phraseology produced by Kenyans. Having lived in Australia, I have been able to use my Austral-English experience to differentiate between idiosyncrasies that are derived from British English and those which are not. When I hear something that is neither American or British English, I may ask for a translation into Swahili and then listen for that phrase in during Kiswahili conversations. It helps.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the ant movie and this little language lesson!

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Ant Existentialism

I got bored yesterday and whipped up some cartoons for a friend. Thought I would share them today. The friend likes ants, hence the ant theme. We were also arguing about whether or not ants “think” which is why the first one seems a little, particular. Hopefully they make you chuckle. Click each comic for the full size.

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While My Students Take Exams…

…I sit and work on my computer. The KASNEB invigilators (Kenyan English for ‘proctors’), are watching my students while they take their exams, so I don’t really have anything to do. But they want me here. So I am just working away at my personal website and thought it would be hilarious to whip up a favicon. I present, The Jon Monster!!

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Black Hawks and Black Storks: Misadventures With Animals

Last Thursday, there were some odd happenings going on here at NYS Mombasa.  I woke up to the sounds of Black Hawk helicopters running laps around my base.  It was weird, especially considering, according to public information, the Kenyan Armed Forces do not possess any Black Hawks.  I am pretty sure I got their profile matched correctly, and they looked like Black Hawks. Continue reading

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Google Docs Has A Big Gaping Security Hole

One of my final projects here as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya has been to implement a temporary information sharing platform for volunteers while we wait for a more permanent solution from the angels on high. Due to its speed, stability and bevy of features, we have decided to use the popular collaboration tool Google Docs. I have used it personally, but never on the scale of a Peace Corps program (around 150 users).

This morning, I was reverse engineering the invitation-based security model of Docs with a ICT RPCV friend of mine (whom I thank profusely for his patience), when I noticed a big, gaping, security hole: no matter what email address the invitation is sent to, if there is any Google account active in your browser’s session, then when you click the invitation link, it will link the Docs account to the active Google account, whether you authorize it or not.

This is great if you are clicking the link from a Google account. It just authorizes the account that the email was sent to in the first place. Works like a champ. But what if you use a Yahoo account or non-Google email…

The security concern scenario: A Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) is sitting in a cyber cafe. The person at the computer before the volunteer forgets to log out of his Google account. The PCV subsequently gets on the computer and checks his Yahoo account, clicking the Google Docs invitation link. That’s all it takes. The owner of the logged-in Google account now has access to the Google Docs.

It’s not a particularly malicious hole. All it takes is for the admin of the Google Docs share to de-authorize the illegitimate Google account, but at the same time, no warning flags would be raised until the illegitimate account attempted to upload a file, which would subsequently be attributed to his Gmail account, and hopefully, catch someone’s eye. In the meantime, the illegitimate account has full access to the share and its information.

A solution to this would be a simple authorization confirmation step, where a dialog is brought up ensuring that, in fact, the user does want to link the currently logged-in Google account to the Docs application. Sadly, I don’t feel like this is really a large issue for Google because how frequently does a situation like this, where we have multiple users running on the same browser session, occur in the West?

N.B. I never ran a check to see if someone else has already discussed this topic, so sorry if this is a repeat.

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Gone Fishin’

wood sign with words gone fishin

Image says it all peeps. Life has been really busy these past few weeks. My students have received textbooks for their computer courses, and though each doesn’t have their own set (far too expensive), they have been working hard at absorbing through text everything I have taught them over the past year. They have their national examinations for their first year certification in December. Needless to say, they are a little stressed.

On top of that, I was recalled to Nairobi for Close of Service (COS) medical examinations this past week and next week I will be hosting the ICT session for the new Peace Corps trainees at both training sites. That’s right, our program has grown, and we now train in both Loitokitok and Machakos. I have never been to Machakos, so it will be nice to see a new town. As always, it will also be good to go “home” to Loitokitok, even if only for a couple nights.

In the meantime, I find myself in the village Mitheru, just outside the town of Chuka. I am here helping a volunteer out with some resource creation, as well as using the abundant electricity and lack of distractions to get a lot of other little projects done for various people: a logo here, some consultation there, and some programming to finish it off. Busy indeed. So please, bear with me and my dearth of blog posts, as I have “gone fishin.'”

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A Day At The Baraza: First Impressions of Google Baraza

Baraza – n. – A Kiswahili term. An attempt at translation would be, “a meeting,” but usually it connotes a meeting with a specific goal, usually solving a problem or answering questions, led by a village committee or village elders.

I thought I would take some time and share my first impressions with a new Google service specifically targeting Africa: Google Baraza. Last week I was lucky enough to be individually selected amongst a group of handpicked candidates to help pilot this amazing new program.

Actually, that’s a lie. I requested a beta invite, and got one.

But the first version makes me seem so much more important! I’m not important, and in fact, here’s the link so that you might sign up for the service yourself if you so choose.  Mind you, it is heavily Africa-oriented, so join only if you have specific local knowledge about various parts of Africa (with a heavy focus on Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria at the moment).

What is it?

Continue reading

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