Lie's Truths

Issue 02 -- News, My Work, and a Free Holiday "Lie's Snapshots" DVD Mailed To You!

 (Note: you can click on images below to see larger versions...)
“I want more pictures!” “Don't overwhelm me with e-mail!”
 

These were by far the two most common requests from those of you who graciously replied to my last posting about my adventures as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) here in The Gambia, West Africa, and I have happily obliged on both accounts. It wasn't my intention to wait a year since my last posting, but I definitely have not overwhelmed anyone with e-mail.

 

Lies-Snapshots_IntroScreen.jpgAs for pictures, since my last mailing I've managed to put together a full-length DVD movie I call “Lie's Snapshots vol. II” which has tons of pictures choreographed to a killer soundtrack visually documenting the first three months of my “in-country pre-service training (PST)” out here. I'd like to send you one as a free holiday gift and as thanks for reading my ramblings, so if you e-mail me a US Postal Mail address I'll have my awesome friend in San Francisco who volunteered to make and mail copies mail a copy to you. (Let me know if you want to volunteer to help distribute copies – and mucho thanks to Dr. C for doing this for all of you!!!)

 

A far distant third in the question ranking was "What do you do, exactly?" Good question!

 
 

Peace Corps, The Gambia has just over 100 PCVs in-country at any given time split roughly evenly into three groups: Education, Health, and Environment (aka Agro/Forestry aka AgFo). I'm in Education, which is split into Math/Science teachers, PTTs (aka teacher-trainers), and ICT (information communication technology, aka geeks). The *vast* majority of volunteers are placed up-country, i.e. outside of the slowly-urbanizing area around Banjul, the Capital (aka Kombo). I'm one of the rare few that are down-country here in the main suburban area of the capital and I'm an ICT geek.

 
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In addition to a host of small odd-jobs (fixing peoples' computers, burn CDs/DVDs of pics from digital cameras, installing electrical wirings/batteries/generators/inverters/ups's/solar panels, etc…), last year I taught the third (and final) year Electronics students an introduction to Digital Logic at GTTI, The Gambia Technical Training Institute, an institution similar to DeVry in the U.S. After the term ended the students took the UK-based "City and Guilds Electronics Servicing II" standardized assessment and most of them got “credit” and passed -- yey!!!

 

Last year I also taught five classes at the University of the The Gambia (UTG). While teaching I also designed and lobbied for the creation of a new Computer Science major and minor for the Bachelor's Degree program offered at this nascent, 6-year-old University. It was formally approved in September, and I now am teaching the first seven classes of the major: Computer History, ICT, and Programming for first and second year students starting the program, and an intense four-class block of Theory I, Logic and Discrete Structures, Data Structures, and Architecture. There is money to pay three more lecturers, and I think it'd would be VERY cool if the students during the first few years were taught by visiting lecturers coming in for just a semester or two.

UTG-FrontSign-258x194.JPG UTG-Building-258x194.JPG UTG-TeachingClass-258x194.JPG
 

So please, please, please if you know anyone with technology background and a Master's or PhD and is interested in a semester-long teaching adventure in a warm, ocean-side tropical paradise, let me know. In the meantime, I have decided to extend my commitment to serve here for another year to insure this program will be sustainable after I leave, that kids can continue to graduate with degrees in CS, and to get a taste of up-country, rural, village life.

 

I'm often asked what aptitude and informational uptake times are indicative of my students. As you'd guess, it varies widely between the vocational schools and the university. However, it is very hard to tell what the difference is between the students here and those you'd find at any American university. As an example, *every* *single* *one* of my Intro to ICT students last semester -- including those who had never used a keyboard or mouse before coming to my class -- were able to work in pairs at a single computer for 90 minutes for their final exam and successfully take World Bank ICT data and create a memo in Microsoft Word (compete with different fonts, lists, tables, headers, footers, and page numbers) along with an Excel spreadsheet with both static and dynamic references and a chart which they then coped into a a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation they created from scratch complete with colorful designs and custom animation. There is clearly an incredible amount of untapped talent here.

 

Short and long descriptions of the major, course content, all my previous assignments/tests from all the courses I've taught, and some other random goodies are all available online here:

http://www.KismetWorldWide.com/Lie/work/

 

The primary distractors from successful technology education here are not unique in the world to The Gambia, but happen with such extent that they are generally overwhelming. These include:

  • terrible electrical infrastructure (I've lost MANY, MANY classes because NAWEC – the national electrical monopoly – turned off power unexpectedly and the decades-old generator wouldn't run due to everything from blown wiring to lack of foil (fuel+oil) to a missing ignition battery that had been repeatedly taken for months to run an automobile);
  • sudden unexpected and unannounced public holidays (they get announced the night before on the radio)
  • access to working, correctly configured computing hardware
  • lack of accountability which leads to lecturers frequently being late or altogether missing classes.
 

02-DrumMakingAnimated-258x194.gifAnd finally, in my free time I have a number of “secondary projects” including: editing and producing a book on the history and culture of a local village here (let me know if you'd like to buy a copy when they're printed in February 2007); teaching myself how to cook tasty diversity with limited local ingredients; helping Peace Corps administration with various administrative stuff; training and mentoring new volunteers; building, stress-testing, and teaching others using a network of surge protectors, voltage stabilizers, batteries, chargers, and inverters in my room along with do-it-myself wiring throughout my apartment to provide scalable, durable, continuous electricity from the government monopoly provider of terrible, intermittent power; occasionally DJ'ing for various local parties; and building from scratch two Djembe drums from two meters of Demba (aka “bush mango”) tree trunk, two goat hides, some custom-welded metal rings, and a whole lot of rope with a lots of help and instruction from my Senegalese drum teacher. 

 

I'd love to hear from you! I like to hear news and happenings and questions from your side of the world. I've answered most of the questions I've been asked in my FAQ here:

http://www.KismetWorldWide.com/Lie/Lies_FAQ.html

 

I hope this finds you, your family, and your friends happy, healthy, and enjoying life. I wish you the happiest of holidays, and a great New Year!

 

Peace,
    +Lie


P.S. This issue of Lie's Truths was created almost exclusively with the free to use Open Source tools found at http://PortableApps.com

The PotableApps project is amazing!  I am now convinced that soon everyone will at all times carry around their applications along with their preferences, bookmarks, and configurations. I do this already -- all my browsing complete with bookmarks with FirefoxPortable and e-mail in minutes with address books is done through and ThuderbirdPortable off of my USB key at the nearest early-modem-speed-Internet-enabled computer that would take me hours to check and compose e-mail online. I have now switched to using OpenOfficePortable as my primary office suite which allows me to effortlessly carry my spell-check dictionaries around with me from computer to computer instead of using Microsoft Office with all of its Validation and Verification and Genuine Advantage hassles. All images (including the animated .gif) on this site were quickly and easily processed using GIMP Portable. NVU Portable was used for HTML layout. I tested my site locally using Apache web server, MySQL database and PHP server-side scripting engine which are all available as part of the XAMPP Portable application suite.  And finally I used FileZilla Portable to push all the files to my website hosting server.

All of this fits easily on a single 512MB USB key that I back up using a simple copy command.

What does this all mean? It means I have now decoupled my data from my computer, and can now jump from computer to computer without worry since my applications are now installed on my portable USB key, not on any one computer's hard drive. It is an amazing sense of freedom knowing that if any machine I'm using crashes, getting back up to working speed is as simple as plugging my USB key into any other machine and clicking on the PortableAppsMenu launcher. I don't ever need to re-install another application on every machine I use again. Well done PortableApps.com team!!!


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