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My first Python programme?

I interviewed with a large multi-national who does great projects and has a quirky style. During the interview I was asked to write code in my favourite language. That caught me off guard - I had anticipated just pseudo-code, so I hadn't brushed up on non-IDE programming (yes, yes I used to be quite a manager type).

Suddenly I had to think very fast and hard about what was my favourite programming language. My answer, "I have no favourite programming language - the declarative/OO ones are all the same." That was an honest and considered answer, with 20 years of programming experience and a break of a year to get some distance, what other people have been saying for a while also appeared obvious to me. The interviewer was suspicious. He thought I was dodging the issue and asked for an elaboration. My response was: "Libraries and frameworks are what is steep about the learning curve when you start a new job. Learning a language takes minutes iwth a good book and IDE." And this IS true: if you understand Java and C#, C++ and C-pointers, Prolog backtracking, ASM jumps, stack frames etc. you have enough of an overview of mem management issues and algorithmics to avoid nasty traps in almost any language. You just KNOW where to ask how the language is interpreting your code.

I had to think of that interview recently, when I was under pressure to finish an OpenOffice.org BASIC script. I knew what I was looking for and found an example doing the same thing in Python. I cut and pasted the python code into my basic file - it worked without any further editting and I could go to sleep.

(P.S. I didn't make it into that company - luckily - I don't think I'd have been happy there. The moral of the story: don't challenge the interviewer if you want the job, but stay philosophical if you want to be happy.)
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 3rd 2007 11:17

Creating a Hard-Disk iPhoto Archive

This is one of the pains of iPhoto, you are running out of room on your laptop harddisk, what with Boot Camp partitions, the whole office apparatus doubled (MS Office and now Open Office - coexisting for a while), development environments for XSLT, C++, Java, and the whole website managment and development thing (staging systems and DBs), there just isn't room for countless Gigabytes of photographs (and they do add up quickly).

However, one has several external Hard disks. Now, with iTunes I managed to hack the XML repository to shuffle songs wherever I want local or external, but iPhoto is very sensitive to such movements and has a more complex structure.

The solution is to use the handy burn facility, and then to convert the DVD Image using the disk utility, to a mountable DMG file. Once mounted (by double-clicking) the disk image can be accessed by iPhoto via albums as usual! Original photos, ordering etc. are all there. Further, opening the DMG file (i.e. mounting) starts iphoto automatically, with the stored albums loaded.

Now if only we could burn directly to a harddisk...
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 3rd 2007 09:03

eKhaya ICT crosses 2900 p.i. in April

Great news, it seems that people are starting to get to know us. And to encourage the interest, we are going to continue to report on our experiences with electronic services at our home region, the Eastern Cape.

Thank you very much for the comments. Discussion is not fruitless, please continue to share your thoughts.

2941 p.i.'s, here's the graph:

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Don't know how much of this is bots...
Clearly the most visits were to the blog and the homepage.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 17th 2007 04:58

Diversifying...

I have been speaking to some of the activists on the ICT4D front in Grahamstown, Alfredo Terzoli, Peter Wentworth, Hannah Slay, Caroline Pade and Cheryl Hodgkinson. There are lots more to meet and speak to, but suddenly I am seeing things more an African and less a German way: there is time. Why? Any effort that really wants to make a difference in this field must, of necessity, work with government. And government here is "of necessity" bound up in self-agrandising politicking. Which means that things move slowly. To be fair, there are some politicians and civil servants who care.

So in the meantime, eKhaya ICT has been diversifying into 2 new sectors: health-care and online multimedia. The projects we are working on are interestingly related as they both deal with Java and online web-services, requiring technologies like XSLT, J2EE and JSP, and front-desk data entry kind of environments dealing with non-technical office workers, requiring office technology (what else but OpenOffice).

At the moment, I can't say more than that...

And while I was writing this I just arranged my first official meeting with government.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 16th 2007 08:22

SaaS in Africa

Software as a Service is going to play a big role in the African context. You will be able to reach a significant portion of the population if your solution is mobile as well, as opposed to using traditional models of delivery. Without current (power), desktops and laptops just don't really get going, while mobiles are everywhere, and get powered as and where it is possible. I wonder if there are figures about rural mobile penetration for Sub-Sahran Africa?

Researchers are already jumping onto the mobile idea, with English 2nd Language (ESL) courses being tried out in India my Matt Kam at Berkeley [1] and mobile Maths via IM here in South Africa by a cooperation between several institutions including the Meraka Institute [2]. Interestingly enough the mobile Maths idea is run in SA on a commercial service called MXit, which has also attracted a lot of negative press lately, by the rather conservative South African press, so it is good to see a positive aspect demonstrated.

[1] http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~mattkam/millee/
[2] http://mobiled.uiah.fi/
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 14th 2007 05:18

Visiting Zwelenqaba S.S.S.

Last Thursday I went and had a closer look at Zwelenqaba Senior Secondary School.

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It is situated in an area which is very remote, despite it's proximity to Mthatha, the local city. Many teachers live in Mthatha (as is the case for most of the nearby Senior schools), as there are practically no services here. Grid electricity is expected to arrive in 5 years or more, and clinics and schools are using solar energy. That's a pretty good thing! However some of the installations are old and the remoteness inspires neglect. On the part of the authorities and on the part of the locals.

Empowerment!

What a dream: get the local people to involve themselves in changing their own environment for the better in a way that suits them! Everyone I spoke to was dissatisfied with the status quo. But the change that should be initiated is like an unknown path in the mist. As the mists shift, the path seems to branch then go left, no right... Some guidance and knowledge are required.

The biggest problems at the school are thus:
  • Lack of teaching resources.
    1. Books or computerized information sources.
    2. Since the solar installation fell out (it is still in tact, needs maintenance), no use of multimedia.
    3. Chemicals for the science lab.

  • Hungry learners (exhausted by long way to school).

  • In the winter months, lack of water keeps learners away.
[These are basically problems we have seen all over the former Transkei and Ciskei. ]

Empowerment means doing things yourself. Even if you make mistakes.

It is a dream that the affected persons empower themselves and start to address these problems themselves:
  • Lack of teaching resources - how about mobilising local resources to get the solar installation fixed?

  • How about experiments with simple materials like vinegar and sugar?

  • How about a vegetable garden that does not require large-scale ploughing?

  • How about cooking vegetables from the garden for the learners?
All the problems and the environment in general, with its very high unemployment rate, result in a lack of motivation for learners as well as teachers. To break through, one needs to set up a positive spiral, taking small steps to improve conditions so that people involved feel and are in control. But external help is definitely required for the first steps.

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New impetus needs to be provided by networking the schools amongst each other and allowing exchange of ideas, and increasing competitiveness. One of the instruments that seems to work well is the singing contest. I really need to visit one of these singing "show-downs".

One can imagine further competitive events in a virtual space, if a network is installed with wide-area connectivity.

Besides all of that - there is the accesibility to information online. I think we will need to filter what is on the internet, in order not to confuse the learner's, but there are some high quality sources freely available, and one can use these in the classroom to improve knowledge building and ultimately the local living conditions.

The way to improvement means, learning from mistakes (and also the mistakes of others, where possible).

Please note: I am not bashing the DoE. The Education Department is doing what it can to alleviate these problems. A lot of the folks at the department come from here and have family here. South Africa is doing its best to work this thing out (was 20% of the budget allocated to education?). But, then there are huge disasters like the School Feeding Scheme (sorry, I don't have a link here yet as a reference) which this year failed horribly to meet its goals in the Eastern Cape. I'll try to address these issues in another blog about corruption and incompetence.

PS: Here is a link to my Google Earth school locations coordinates. You do need google Earth to look at this stuff.
More Schools at Google Earth
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 7th 2007 09:08

$100 Laptop / XO / OLPC goes Windows... great!

Putting Windows on the XO is a great way forward, especially when you want to raise the price, give Bill a cut, and gain a huge number of new open source programmers.

Been getting my teeth into programming again, and it's amazing how far we have come since 1995, when I was trying to write TCP/IP access for DOS boxes that didn't have Winsock. Whatever you need, you can download. You just have to know the keywords.

And to finish off this post, from the middle of (JAXP rules fever | eclipse kicks XCode | ...), another sage couple of words:

Truly being Open means you let everybody participate. Even if they don't use Debian.

en_us: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,268996,00.html // Thanks H
de_de: http://www.golem.de/0704/51969.html // Danke Uwe

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 30th 2007 08:23

Kat Valley Trip

Beautiful hot sunny weather on the 24th of April accompanied me on a trip up to the Kat Valley. I had heard from Jane Burt, a geographer working in the area, that there are a number of schools without electricity there. The area has a stunning natural beauty, and it is an echo of the Transkei region's poverty. However, the citrus farming in the Valley means that the entire valley is criss-crossed by loads of power lines. In fact, there is a power line within a few metres of every school I visited. However, several schools are not wired up, and one school that was wired also had no electricity because they had failed to pay.

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I visited:
  • Picardy Junior Secondary School (on the old system Grade R to 9)
  • Buxton Primary
  • Nojoli Primary
  • Balfour High School
  • and Maarsdorp Primary School
Please visit the gallery to see photos.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 26th 2007 12:38

Chat with Dave@Bulungula

Western Culture, while producing some fantastic technological, artistic and societal wonders based on a rational scientific approach, is still a culture which has not developed appropriate measures for the human instincts to posess and control. The instinct to procreate while not being reflected in the birth statistics is pandered toward in sexshops and on the internet (some might say that these are appropriate places for it). In this sense then, western culture is no better than any other culture.

In fact one might suggest that it is worse than all other cultures. Its nett effect on the world is that it consumes the majority of the resources in the world and produces by far the most greenhouse gases, and is continuing to do so. Further, it has through its "success" encouraged developing cultures (such as the Chinese) to follow in its footsteps.

Yet, there are experientially rich cultures where consumerism is unknown, and people also lead happy and fulfilled lives. Isn't it time more of this kind of life attitude makes it onto the internet? Can one even reflect such experiential content digitally? YES, of course it's time, and YES, with rich content (multimedia), one can provide a glimpse of the experiences of people in other cultures.

It might also be important to digitise information for purposes of information and preservation of the culture.

Dave plays an excellent devil's advocate suggesting that the western world is the root of all evil. Fortunately, I don't believe in good or evil, as they are very much bound to static perspectives. Rather I argue that the world is to be understood in terms of interacting complex networks which span different dimensions.

A static perspective is something that will definitely prevent you from seeing these dimensions. (See also A challenge for everyone - change your perspective)
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 21st 2007 06:36

Trip 17 April 2007

Another trip behind me. It is always exciting to go into deep rural areas, far from the well-trodden trail. The people are so friendly and every headmaster seems to have pride in his job and to be willing to share a story or two on any topic one wishes to approach. I visited:
  • Twalikhulu JSS

  • Seview SSS (When I was told by a pupil which road I had to take to get there I thought they were playing a prank - a simple guttered track through a rocky field! But that is the road!)

  • Gwebityala SSS

  • Zwelenqaba SSS
and also called at
  • Kwantshunqe JSS

  • Putuma JSS

  • Kotyana JSS
And here is a shot of Gwebityala, with a bit of the surrounding area in low quality...

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I had a very good philsophical discussion with Dave at Bulungula about the merits of the introducation of ICTs in rural areas. I guess that will make a good basis for a post at a later stage... :-)
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 18th 2007 01:00
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Tablet Face Recognition Login
New technologies are solving common denominator problems, so of course they are also applicable in developing countries.  awarenet's picture login [1] is a fairly low security but effective way of allowing school children with low levels of literacy to log in and use the csocial network...
by: Ron Wertlen
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Node.js stays close to its roots: Ultra-fast.
Recently one of the big node.js community stars, creator of the express middleware framework, the jade templating language and koa -- TJ Holowaychuk -- announced that he was no longer going to be using node.js [1]. The main reason that he cited is the reason why we find node.js so compelling...
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Javascript Platforms for Development
Node.js is a new-comer on the Internet Web Server block. It is programmed in Javascript, and it is something worth watching in the ICT4D arena for these reasons: It runs on light-weight hardware, like the Raspberry Pi and requires much fewer hardware resources than traditional systems like apache, ...
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Innovation Made in the Eastern Cape, South Africa
A brand new 2012 CSIR research project into Technologies for Rural Education will make use of awareNet technology. The CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) is South Africa's first and largest technology innovation institution and very active in the development and rural development ...
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eKhaya ICT - Recalibration
eKhaya ICT has unveiled a new direction - as reflected in our current web site changes. What's changing?ICT for development -- our research over the past 5 years shows that this topic belongs firmly in the sociological and anthropological drawer and has nothing to do with software development! ...
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This blog post reports on a meeting with the DoC on the 19 August 2011. The title of the meeting was:"Connecting the ICT Sector for economic empowerment and job creation"Most interestingly, the Vision of the DoC was given as:"South Africa as a global leader in the development and use of Information ...
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Wertlen and Chole at ELA2011 Youth Problems Exposed At eLearning Africa 2011
The Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions (SPIDER) hosted an Umoja session at e-Learning Africa 2011. Sitting around a big round table, young and old Africans gathered to discuss first the problems that face the youth, and then organically, the solutions that that these problems might have. ...
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by: Ron Wertlen
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I have to blog this event, rather than twittering, because there is no open WiFi at the conference, nor can I use the Tanzanian data services on my mobile phone (although SMS and voice work). That's a pity, because I really like the immediacy and connecting power of Twitter.The highlights of the...
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Changing Perspectives
From this height, the Eastern Cape province is a frothy milky white plain, it is a convuluted dark ridged surface, hilly green and olive region bounded by the blue of the ocean, which stretches away to vanish into a wall of tall white clouds - clouds which seem to live here above the warmer waters o...
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Google Tracking User Behaviour, Eliminating Bots and Baddies
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Blogging At Last
Finally eKhaya ICT has a blog. At the moment that's not saying much, but our hopes keep us looking forward. To say that I believe in Africa is to say much more than that I believe in this blog. And I have great hopes for this blog....
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From the 26th of February until the 1st of March, I had the great experience of going to deep rural schools in the OR Thambo district of the Eastern Cape, South Africa, together with Bob Freling. I had planned us a tough schedule, with a lot of driving, and very little buffer time for bad weather et...
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Road to Baleni
Building a road is good thing, people earn money as unskilled labour is employed locally. Once the road is usable (even partially) the lives of those along the road are made much simpler, they become mobile, they have access to goods from outside and their goods can reach the outside world.If we cre...
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A challenge for everyone - change your perspective
This morning I had the good fortune to read an enlightened letter to the editor of the Daily Dispatch. It juxtaposes wonderfully the difference between emotional and rational thinking. We can't feel like others, but we should try to see through their eyes.The challenge Mthethe throws down is that we...
by: Ron Wertlen
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Internet infrastructure for a global democratic community
Darfur is just one of the examples why the digital divide is doubly damaging to Africa. It's not just the lack of incoming information - information that could save lives - it's also the lack of an ability to share one's problem. Imagine having a life-threatening problem which you know will bring de...
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If you have a chance, please have a look at our photos on the eLearning Africa page:The Village Scribe Association submitted 5 images (with very cool descriptions!!) for the eLearning Africa Photo Competition. Please, help us to win the competition by voting for us now online! Some of the photos are...
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Why did we start eKhaya ICT?!
Some people just shake their head when they hear what we are trying to do. I know what they mean I sometimes catch myself thinking similar thoughts: how can this work at all? Poor persons living in so-called developing rural regions don't have enough to eat, clean water to drink, western medical fac...
by: Ron Wertlen
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Web 2.0 for rural communities
The following comes from a mail I recently wrote, I thought it might well illustrate our goals to a wider community.The possibilities that WIMAX and broadband offer are very exciting to me. These technologies also offer significantly different financing concepts. Especially in SA, urban and peri-urb...
by: Ron Wertlen
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eKhaya ICT is an Eastern Cape based software company, specialising in quality solutions and software components of ICT4D.

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