Tag Archives: ict4d

The Mesh Potato

I was reading a copy of Linux Journal sent recently to me in a care package (good luck finding one in Mombasa), and one of the last articles (online link here) was about a prototype device called the Mesh Potato. I liked the concept of the Mesh Potato so much, that I thought I would share it with all of you, along with some thoughts and impressions, because I am a blogger and that is what we do.

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Teaching Small, Thinking Big

It is without a doubt that I am teaching my students ICT in a way that no syllabus in Kenya would have them learn. This is mostly because for the amount of time I see my students (2 hours per class per week), if I taught based on any syllabus I have seen they would learn specific aspects of computing that would never help them. What good is knowing how to make something bold if you can’t even turn the computer on in the first place? My whole goal is to make my students comfortable with computers overall, so that they might someday purchase their own. It helps that they are not examined at the end of the semester and they know full well they aren’t even getting a certificate for work they do in my class (it’s just how the situation is run here) because it means I have a little more freedom in how I teach and they have no expectations. It’s taken a while, but I think my students are starting to trust me that I am really trying to teach them, even if what I am teaching doesn’t match up with pieces of paper they are slipped from friends on the outside who are taking the notorious, “Kenyan Computer Packages,” courses widely available to anyone with 3,000 shillings and a week of time.

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Saturday Reading

I am heading into Mombasa for my weekly (or biweekly in this case) chores trip. Going into the city, I have a few things I need to get done. First off, a haircut. My mane (as it can only be described at this point) is far too hot and needs a complete Mombasa-summer-worthy shave. Second off, I need to pick up a parcel at Posta before it starts accruing late fees. Third, I am hoping to get up to Camara for a couple hours to talk to Wilson about my possibly teaching programming. I also have a lunch date with Paul and his girlfriend ErinRose who is visiting from the States. And finally, need to run to the market for some necessities. I might also pick up another Kikoi or two on Biashara Street depending on the budget. In the meantime, I am providing some links to blogs and whatnot to better inform readers as to the things I think about on a day to day basis. Most of them are pretty tech-oriented, so if you aren’t into tech stuff, don’t bother clicking. If you are curious though, and you do wonder what tech-oriented news looks like, click away and open your minds.

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Linux: KTouch

It is the dream of every open source enthusiast to have a problem of theirs nearly perfectly solved by a pre-existing piece of FOSS software, especially one that sits above the version 1.0 marker and has a degree of polish one would expect from a paid-for, closed source project. As a Peace Corps volunteer teaching basic intro to computers, one of the most important topics to teach is typing skills. There exist many typing programs, but the FOSS world only has a few worth mentioning, and after trying a couple, the one I found to be most complete and conducive to my teaching style is KTouch (easily available in most major Linux Distro repos).

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Linux: Ubuntu In My Lab

This entry is the third in a series covering GNU/Linux, an Operating System consisting of the Linux Kernel and applications from the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) community, with an emphasis on its connections to the developing world. These articles assume at least a moderate understanding of the Linux and FOSS communities. For more information regarding these, I would direct interested parties to Linux.org as well as the Free Software Foundation and finally, for the truly interested, the GNU Manifesto. With all of this knowledge now in hand, I hope you enjoy the series. If you have not already done so, I suggest you go ahead and read the first and second posts in the series: Linux: Not Ready for the Big Time and Linux: It’s Everywhere and Nowhere.

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“We Want A Website!”

I hear it asked a lot, in a few different ways. We have the direct, “We want a website.” Or there is the more casual, “We are interested in a website.” And of course, the more inquisitive, “So, what would it take for us to possibly, maybe, in some way, request a bit of your time, to maybe, sorta, possibly build a website?”

Sometimes the requests come from organizations themselves, or sometimes through various volunteers working with organizations. Most of the time however, they come with a level of ignorance about what a website even is. The same kind of ignorance that many Americans have about what a website really is, but here, there are fewer people able to clear it up, fewer people advertising their services in ways that local NGOs or Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) might be aware of, or, most contributively, fewer people doing it for free.

So I pimp myself out as a web developer, or apparently more appropriately a web consultant.

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More Help Desk Support

I can never seem to escape the duties of the Help Desk, even in Kenya.  If you look up at the top menu, you will now notice a link to the IT Help Desk.  That is a new section of the blog that will be devoted to pages and articles pertaining to IT Help Desk-type issues here in Kenya.  I have moved the, “Laptop Care,” page there as well as the new, “Low Bandwidth Surfing Tips,” page.  The second page is not finished yet, and you can expect the whole IT Help Desk section to grow over time into what I hope will be a useful collection of tips for anyone bringing tech abroad into the developing world.  Asante!

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My Job is To Think

Technically, as a Peace Corps volunteer, I am assigned to the National Youth Services Technical College outside of Mombasa.  Here I am a teacher, specifically teaching an Introduction to Computer Literacy course for the Craft 1 students, all 130 some-odd of them.  However, this only occupies about 12 hours of my week, maybe 14 if you include preparation time, but considering I only have to prepare one lesson a week, prep time is minimal.  At first I thought I could do more preparation time, create more engaging lessons, but I am slowly learning that my students only in fact have two hours a week in and out of class to think about computers, and those two hours are actually in class.  If you did the math correctly, you discovered my students have no time to think about computers outside of class, a point which has been verified from many sources at all levels of this school.  It’s sad, and it also means that even if I did extra prep, it would benefit nobody as far as I can tell. Continue reading

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One Step Further

What if we continue with the web portal idea for web design, and make it bigger, expand it.  The web design portal serves a very specific purpose: it connects people who need to get their information out (the CBOs and NGOs) to the people who can do that (the local web designers and developers), which subsequently gets the CBOs and NGOs connected to the people with the ability to provide funding or volunteers or whatnot.  The web portal will provide a mass hub to enable an e-commerce explosion in the development-support world.

How about another web portal, this time connecting organizations on the ground with software needs, to developers who can build applications to serve those needs.  The techies out there scream, “Not another collab-site.  We have Sourceforge, we have Launchpad, heck even Microsoft has one starting up!”  My response, “None of them focus on the needs of the developing world.”  One of the angles I use when preaching Open Source is that free tools enable communities to build software to suit their own needs, which is completely true, but in reality the development scene is not as nicely innudated with programmers as would be hoped.  Because we cannot bring the programmers to communities (…easily), let’s bring the communities to the programmers.

Create a hub that allows communities to post speicifcations about their software desires, for example, a database application for manning a library.  But at the same time, let them also post their operating system, their computer hardware specifications, and maybe even their level of confidence in their copmuter skills.  Will all of this information be easy to attain from community members?  Well, I am hoping that if there is a computer, there is also someone who knows how to use it.  I have also spent enough time on the ground to know that some of the “knowing how to use it,” would not be enough for this site’s requirements.  Therefore the site will not work with every single community, but what development practice ever does?

Armed with this information, let the developers get cracking at it.  Emphasize turn-key solutions.  Emphasize pushing out a working product quickly, avoiding feature creep at first.  Emphasize readable code, use of industry best practices, and future-expandability (but not at the sacrifice of finishing the product).  Emphasize an attention to detail and actual usability, something we all know the Open Source world lacks. And of course, open source it so everyone can use it and expand upon it.  Build up a web page of continuing projects and also project portfolios.  Give developers a chance to show their chops while taking home the gold-star for [global-]community service.  Show programmers they can help too.  With an emphasis and expectation on simplicity, hopefully projects would be pushed out quickly.

I want to come back to the attention to detail and design.  This does not simply apply to in-application experience, but also to how well does this app integrate into the existing operating system.  Does it require a bevy of external libraries? Does it crash gracefully?  How hard is it to install.  If you go by the Linux community standards for these questions, the whole project will fail.  When I say turn-key solution, I am not talking Windows-simplicit, let’s strive for Mac simplicity, or better.  Maybe the app developer will need to step on the operating system’s toes once in a while, but if it means the application is easier to use and attains broader acceptance than that’s the goal; not POSIX-compliance.  Consider it the development challenge to make applications 100% user friendly while also adhhering to operating system standards.  Good luck!

It’s just another idea.  If someone already knows this is out there, let’s start advertising it to the development community.  Ultimately the goal is to let ICT workers on the ground and in the communities know this solution is there fore them.  If it’s already there use it, if it’s not, build it.  Make it a one-stop software-solution hub to the developing world’s software needs and get more of the global ICT community in on the feel-good factor of development work.  Software Development for Development, haha. ICT4D using SD4D, I copyright that (under Creative Commons of course 😉

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The Developing Web

Below is an idea I posted to the development-ideas website Africa Rural Connect, hosted as part of the Peace Corps Connect program.  If anyone wants to run with it, feel free!  I don’t currently have the time, but would also never want to hinder the development of an idea which I think could help a number of people.  The idea as written here is slightly modified.

The link to the original idea page is here: http://arc.peacecorpsconnect.org/view/960

For the past 10 months that I have lived in Kenya, working in ICT, consulting with individuals and their ICT needs, I have noticed an increasing trend towards the web, something which should be expected and of which this site itself is a product (referring to Africa Rural Connect: http://arc.peacecorpsconnect.org).  However there is still a distinct lack of NGO’s and CBO’s who might benefit from a web presence making proper connections with those who could enable them to have the presence in the first place.

What I propose is a web portal along the lines of Lending Tree (“When banks compete, you win!”).  Freelance Kenyan web designers and studios, of which there are many, would be able to use this portal to pick up contracts, but with a catch.  The portal itself would moderate the pricing and agreement structures to be much more CBO and NGO friendly.  It would also work to simplify the whole process of creating a web presence, such as domain registration, hosting space, etc.

On the other hand, the freelancers and studios would have to agree to accept the lower fees, and agreements would also have to be negotiated with hosting providers to provide less expensive services.  Consider it a corporate-social-responsibility angle to the web development world.

Finally, the portal would also have a preconstructed pack of open source software designed to ease development of e-commerce sites and donation sites.  Both of these can be tricky to implement, especially for new developers, so providing a known and trusted solution available to all contacts on the portal would increase the website’s potential revenue generating abilities.

Admittedly, there is room for expansion in this idea, as with any idea.  Things that come to mind immediately are a sliding pay scale, where let’s say a handicrafts site starts selling really well and making a profit, then the hosting provider might be allowed to slightly increase the rates to compensate for increased traffic.

The desired effects of this idea are many.  First off, I would like to create a single-solution place for fledgling Kenyan web developers to go to sharpen their skills on smaller-scale projects where there will still be some compensation.  Second, NGO’s and CBO’s will finally have a trusted organization easing them into the new and confusing frontier of the world wide web.  Third, a more “development friendly,” pricing system will get more ideas on the web, and if combined with the trusted donations and e-commerce software solutions, potentially become a true income generating activing for a group.

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