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A hectic month

What might in the Northern Hemisphere be misconstrued as a "Sommerloch" - a summer gap of month long proportions spent idling in comfortable tropical locations - has in fact been the Southern month of hard labour. That is to say, eKhaya ICT has been completing programming projects in the internet, webservices and open source/ Open Office segments at a furious rate. More about this, when we launch the websites to all of these technical projects.

Our favourite projects in rural areas have not been neglected either, you will be glad to know. I have been busy at the University of Fort Hare helping get their ecommerce portal up to speed and taking care of some Sofware Engineering for Paul Tarwireyi and trying to get Tonderai Muchenje MSc concepts straightened out. These student projects are all concerned with different aspects of ecommerce at Dwesa - a deep rural school and community network. Also, i have been in touch with Zwelenqaba and made a nother trip there - photos will follow.

The preparations for the solar computer lab project at Zwelenqaba SSS are intensifying. I am going to have to say more about that later.

Also the Non-Profit company I am trying to set up in Germany to support responsible and sustainable ICT4D is progressing slowly but surely.

On the personal front things have not been still either. The garden of our new home has been double-handedly revamped, and a whole lot of things that happen when one moves have been dealt with including DSL installation! A true relief to be online whenerver I want again! Also assisting family members with their IT woes and Xanadu - a family project - see Xanadu, Chintsa, South Africa. Hosted at Imaginet (FTP, PHP, etc.) for R19.99 per month, a real bargain.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 13th 2007 11:22

A P2P Middleware Design for Rural Digital Access Nodes in Marginalised Rural Areas ...

... is the title of my masters thesis, which I will hand in for external examination at the end of the week.

Thanks to my family for putting up with my midnight writing sessions.

And thanks to my friends, Erika, Ford, Henry and Tanya for proof-reading the sucker.

And thanks to my readership for putting up with the silence... (I'll publish a copy here as soon as it's final.)

Things have been going along at the speed of light at eKhaya ICT in the meanwhile. In December, Thozamile Ngeju our community coordinator has been doing wonders with the two schools that were operational in that time: Benjamin Mahlasela and Nathaniel Nyaluza (both Secondary Schools). This is our first small forray into the Grahamstown township (impoverished peri-urban area), and we look forward to it moving along fantastically during 2010. All signals are on green for this year.

On the ESTIMA Software Factory front, we are hard at work. A large part of the technical input at the start comes from my thesis -- the primary software objective will be to create a distributed middleware for rural digital access centres. Doesn't that sound familiar. We have hired two programmers and I am late in writing an offer to the third. Oops. So I had better go and do that now.

But first a word about innovation possibilities: we had a fab meeting with the East London IDZ last week. Dr. Nkem-abonta has really internalised all the recommendations that issue from the COFISA foresight workshops (http://www.cofisa.org.za, look under documents), and so the Eastern Cape is looking to attract Knowledge Industries, Green Transport, etc. It sounds, that the IDZ is a little behind schedule. As are many things on the African Continent. Like BROADBAND. Still, if they manage to get a green car manufacturer there, at least we'll have a place to peddle our mobile software. I have been talking to the CEO of neofonie Mobile, and he's keen to expand down this way...
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: February 2nd 2010 09:02

Article on German TV (3Sat) with Ron Wertlen

Last weekend, an OLPC TV Article, with eKhaya ICT was shown in Germany.

The following is a translation of that article:

Education by Mouse-Click

"One Laptop per Child" [is also a] project in South Africa

An upcoming problem of African countries and other developing nations, is that they are missing the connection as far as the technological development of digital information. How are computers to operate when there is no electricity and they are unaffordable to start with? Nicolas Negroponte of MIT in Boston had the idea of a visionary initiative called "One Laptop per Child": a laptop for children in developing countries, which costs around 100 US dollars, definitely not exceeding 150 US dollars.

In the Eastern Cape of South Africa, one of the poorest regions of the country, Ron Wertlen tackles pot-holed roads. He too has a great vision: The software developer, Ron, is one of 15 volunteers in South Africa for the campaign "One laptop per child".

Playful Introduction

Wertlen will demonstrate a special computer, which has been designed for children in developing countries. 722 pupils are taught by only 18 teachers here. There is neither electricity nor running water. Most textbooks are outdated. Modern learning is different to what is going on here. The learners have never in their lives seen a laptop - a sensation for them and for the education system. The keyboard and controls are specially tailored for children. Games and music programs will be used to introduce the machines, special learning software should lead to acquisition of knowledge.

Ron Wertlen shows the teachers an important feature of the children's laptops: The screen can be switched from colour to black-and-white mode, and is thus also readable in direct sunlight. Such details make the computer at all suitable for use in "Third World" situations. The Children's laptop was already presented in 2005 at the World Economic Summit in Davos. The then UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, and Internet guru Nicolas Negroponte of the famous technical university MIT in Boston presented the hundred dollar laptop for the first time. "Every technical breakthrough of the next five years, cuts the cost of the laptops," said Nicolas Negroponte, "which in turn benefits the children."

Large thirst for knowledge

The Children's laptop was designed by the company "fuseproject" in San Francisco. It belongs to the Swiss designer Yves Behar. The new wonder computer was designed to be simple, powerful and robust. How often does a designer get the job to connect the "Third World" to the computer-age? As that is what was being asked. "When you open the laptop, you see that every part has a number of functions," says Yves Behar. "Thus the radio antennas help one open the laptop, and simultaneously serve as a cover for the connectors. Another example: It can be used quite traditionally as a laptop or if one turns the screen, as an electronic book, which you can read."

In just one year, Behar and his team have created not only an impressively simple device, but also tackled fundamental problems, such as the electricity supply. "As far as the electricity supply is concerned, we have a dozen possibilities," said Behar. "One could use solar panels to load a number of laptops at once, there are also manual power supplies, such as the Power-yoyo. Using it, one can generate electricity by repeatedly pulling a cord. One minute's pulling power supplies ten minutes of usage. All this is feasible only because the OLPC [ed: called XO] consumes about ten percent of the electricity used by a normal laptop. "

At school in South Africa, the enthusiasm is not flagging. Meanwhile, the children have discovered the integrated camera and noticed that the laptops have automatically networked and that they, the children, can use them to communicate. "I want to learn what this laptop has to offer," says Yandisa Thanda. "I have seen that it has games, music and drawing programs. I want to master everything on it." At the moment the teacher still helps out. The long-term goal of the computer campaign is however that children teach themselves and grow independant. Currently, classical teaching methods are being used in the Eastern Cape. But for how much longer? When the government buys the new computer, it could be the beginning of a revolution - a revolution in education in the "Third World".

[First pass translation by translate.google.com, second pass by eKhaya ICT.]

See also the article previously mentioned in this blog below on Swiss TV (link to video).
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: November 13th 2007 02:13

Behind the scenes: eKhaya ICT and OLPC at Mndwaka

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Summary:

We chose Mndwaka JSS for a film shoot with OLPC, because they are a pro-active school, consistently winning the local singing contest despite the poor conditions there. The OLPC programme is a vital piece of the puzzle because sustainable development of infrastructure in rural African areas can only work if it happens hand in hand with development of the communities' knowledge.

An English translation of the show and link to the video

Photo gallery of the film shoot at Mndwaka.

Photo gallery of shots made by the learners themselves using the XO camera.

Background and explanation:

eKhaya ICT recently went on a field trip to demonstrate two older XOs (B-1) to a rural school. The request from the camera team was a rural school with the worst possible conditions and it should be a junior secondary school, as the XO is targetted at ages younger than 15 yrs (although it can be used by anyone, of course!).

It was quite difficult to decide whether to do the project at all. eKhaya ICT has tended to work with more senior schools, with Grades 9 - 12, and we knew if we asked our contacts at the junior schools, they would jump at the idea, although they didn't understand the details of the shoot. We were very careful to say that we could not promise any result, besides the exposure gained through the video. We explained that it was only a short video and that it would be shown overseas. That did not matter to the school principal, Mr. Gqokoza. He explained that they were interested in any cooperation at all with eKhaya ICT. If you are in a situation such as the one experienced by Mndwaka JSS, you will clutch at any opportunity. Mr. Gqokoza convinced us. We went ahead and did the demonstration.

We chose Mndwaka JSS, because despite the poor conditions there, they have consistently won the local school singing contest - they certainly showed us why!

Mndwaka JSS has 2 regular classrooms and about another 4 makeshift ones for 722 children. 18 teachers are responsible for the classes. Many classes take place out doors, which means that bad weather interrupts school. There is no running water and the solar system installed about 7 years ago was stolen in 2005.

The enthusiasm of the school's excellent choir almost put a halt to filming. Their singing accompanied all the shots in the classroom and all the interviews. Sadly, somehow their song does not appear on the final product. Then after the interviews, the school wanted to thank us for coming and put on a show of tribal and modern dancing. Their dancing showed us that these children, these teachers and this community, has no interest in being labelled as rural and archaic - they want to move with the times and are hungry for a connection to the rest of the world. I hope the camera team will have a chance to put together the great footage they got of the learners dancing up a storm, as they promised. It would be a shame to show the teachers at Mndwaka only a 6 minute clip in German for all their trouble!

I am convinced that this connection can be made by a programme such as the OLPC using minimally invasive education to support the classical education. I am sure that such a connection will greatly benefit these rural communities and the whole world in turn. Arguments that computers cannot help where there is no water, no food, no transport and no electricity miss the point. I believe that sustainable development of infrastructure in rural African areas can only work if it happens hand in hand with development of the communities' knowledge. A balanced programme is required to help the communities build their infrastructure themselves so that they become empowered. An empowered community cannot be impoverished.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: November 13th 2007 03:50

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.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: March 12th 2007 09:59

Dell Foundation sponsors Zwelenqaba school project!

Yesterday I heard that the Dell Foundation in South Africa approved the sponsorship of the SELF Solar school project at Zwelenqaba SSS. The application was handed in on behalf of the school by eKhaya ICT.

This is a clear stamp of approval as far as I am concerned. We asked for a donation of half the computer hardware equipment for client workstations and received it. We will be receiving 10 laptops, and knowing Dell, these will have more computing power than the other llow-power machines we install. Most likely, we will be able to install a distributed file-server infrastructure on the laptops.

The use of laptops and low power solutions will greatly lower the cost of the solar power installation and free up power for other uses such as peripherals, multimedia tools and basics such as cell phone charging and lights.

Good news for the year end and a great way to start into the construction phase!
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: December 11th 2007 08:27

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

Dog eat dog.

The Meraka Institute is a development innovator with several innovative projects and concepts and they are very well positioned as concerns up-and-coming projects in Southern Africa. That's why I just had to stop by to visit them and chat about our ideas regarding rural marginalised areas and what one can do with ICTs to improve conditions in these areas.

In this post I want to just talk about one concern that came up, namely the fractured ICT4D landscape. This echoes strongly Jeff's comment last week on my post 27 (see my most frequently commented post), as well as comments in an email I got from Alfredo this morning.

Basically the problem is that most people guard their ideas jealously in order to prevent others from stealing them, while they are busily looking for pots of money to plunder. There are clearly limited amounts of money and one has to compete to get them. Now there are some relatively easy ideas, which have short time scales and involve a lot of "safe" lab work and few projects that really look at applications in the field - the difficult part. Also collaboration complicates projects, lowering the chances of success - because often in the background people are chasing their own research agendas. So it's really not in one's interest to work together with others, if one can avoid it. The result is a fractured landscape with 1001 pilot projects and 1001 wikis and information centres.

This is terrible from the point of view of the persons in marginalised areas living in poverty, who could use some co-operative assistance!

On the other hand, however, ICT4D is a new research field and claims are being staked out by the new miners. The field will settle and the most influential (not necessarily best, but good enough) projects will gain so much influence that they will become de-facto concentrators allowing better use of synergies and forcing more standardisation in the field.

As this process continues, eKhaya ICT will hopefully be able to play the role of intermediary and agent - as not bound to any research goals - trying out new techniques and making real headway for the people who need help the most by making and crossing bridges between research programmes, cultures and sides of the digital divide.

Obviously the competition will also start in the commercial sector, soon (I am not talking about VoIP, I am talking about innovative ICT technologies). But I think we have a head start in terms of technological know-how and quality standards. And if someone else does a better job, we'll try join them - after all the goal is to help.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 25th 2007 09:05

Eastern Cape ICT Summit

Very encouraging words were heard at the EC ICT Summit in Port Elizabeth (Nelson Mandela Bay) this morning from the Hon. Noxolo Kiviet, the province's Premier. Her prime rationale for why the EC government and Premier's Office is so interested in ICT development in this province, is that, "ICT's can mediate the relationship between citizen and state." Technology can "braoden the presence of state" for people especially in rural areas.

This is the enlightened stance that can bridge divides in our province between the impoverished rural areas and the highly developed sectors in cities and rurality. Ms. Kiviet called for an information driven approach to land reform, something that must surely happen as racial lines still distort the reality of the people populating this land.

Ms. Kiviet also told me that she has thrice in the last month been at schools in the Elliotdale area, near where our solar schools project has been realised and is running, and that her interests are aligned with the truly broad base. I believe that Ms. Kiviet will continue the kinds of broad based policies that we have seen from her female predecessor, Nosimo Balindlela. This bodes very well for our province.

Siyabulela!
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 17th 2010 09:12

ECSPIRT Project First Training Session: The sun lighting up the night.

After the successful launch things at the school are settling into a routine. We want to keep an eye on what the schools are doing with the computers and to assist by training the teachers as we have the time and also to encourage them that the facilities are easy to use and beneficial to them. In other words, over time, we want to influence the routine so that the teachers bring the IT component into their teaching and into their school life.

A further aim is the search for potential champions - people who come forward and volunteer their time and services and are enthusiastic.

With this intention in mind, Ron Wertlen made a trip to the schools on the 14/8 - 16/8. He stayed over at the trading store of Pieter Venter. On this visit it became apparent that the school and community are growing aware of the possibilities and they want to cooperate with each other and make the most of the facilities. For instance:
  • Keenan who works at the trading store is repairing windows at Zwelenqaba after hours as a service to the community. He is being helped by Mcebisi, who also works at the trading store and who was born at Tafalehashi and went to school at Zwelenqaba.

  • Zukiswa Mavonyala (also Zwelenqaba alumnus) and Mcebisi approached Mr. Ziduli to find out under what conditions the community can use the laptops. They both have some computer knowledge and are very keen to complete the Open International Computer Drivers Licence course. They are both potential trainers for the community and we are considering sending them to East London to take part in a trainers' course.
Also it is clear that the routine is already becoming quite healthy:
  • All the schools have been using their computer equipment since the launch. Ron was told this in discussion with the teachers and he independantly verified this by checking logs and seeing the state of the computers.

  • Mr. Yankey has downloaded Geography lecture aids from the Internet and wants to get his students to use them easily. For this purpose, Ron setup a shared area on the server harddisk.

  • All the schools have been logging their electricity usage from the solar panels. All the solar systems are working at full capacity and Voltage levels are high.

Ron held several training workshops.

Workshop: Zwelenqaba
[ The workshop was held in the evening from 5pm till about 7.30pm. Students representing several matric classes were there. as we worked, I was aware that the brightly lit scene in front of me was a direct result of stored solar power - the sun lighting up the night.]

The main aim at Zwelenqaba, was to involve the entire matric class with the computing resource and to familiarise them with the starting and shutdown of the system. Also the learners were sensitized about the different kinds of things they can do with the computers in a Question and answer session. Different rules for the computer lab were discussed.

During the workshop, the learners learnt about the different resources on the VIKO server. The facilities that were explored were:
  • Wikipedia encyclopedia - students looked up topics that they liked
  • VIKO Video lessons - a lot of learners enjoyed these.
  • Typing tutor - several decided they would like to improve their knowledge of the keyboard.
After about an hour of VIKO exploration, several students wanted to express themselves by typing using Open Office Writer.
"There is one thing that I know: every where I go that Jesus love Has never fail me yet up to this far. If I get tired along the way He gives Me power to press on." (Sinazo Sajini)

"What is important in computer is to learn how to type faster and you must practice always when you get into the Lab. When you are able to type very faster I promise you are going to be interested in typing. After typing you can do every thing that will make you interested.

YOU KNOW WHAT? Computer work as stupid thing, that means computer need somebody to operate it , like if you send it to the wall it will hit the wall if you don't control it."(BONGA MAPHIKE)
Teacher Training workshops were held at Kwantshunqe and at Bafazi JSS. Here the teachers' technology-related problems were resolved, mainly problems accessing the network and then there were some questions about the resources available. Several teachers made contributions to the local wikipedia copy.

On Saturday morning, community training took place despite torrential rains. At about 8am my car got stuck in the muddy bog that the road reverts to when it rains. There was not a person in sight anywhere. Then the first pupil for the training course arrived - Zukiswa Mavonyela. Soon the second person Mcebisi Lukozi. I hope to be writing a lot more about these two as time goes on. We started the first chapter of the Open ICDL and discussed the relative sizes of storage media such as DVDs, USB disks and HDDs. It was a very productive session and both showed that they understood and could handle basic computer tasks. Mr. Saiti also arrived on cue at about 9.30. Mr. Saiti is an engaged member of the community who has no idea about computers at all. Zukiswa and Mcebisi practised showing him the basics of the computer.

With the end of the lesson, the clouds parted for a minute and we left the classroom in streaming sunshine. A few passers-by helped push the car out of it's predicament. The wet morning left its mark on me though - I was sick for a couple of days after with an acute flu!

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 24th 2008 11:57

eKhaya crosses 4000 p.i. in May

The trend is strongly upward. this time not quite doubling, but we can't double forever. A truly quadratic exponential trend would see us at 512000 p.i. in December!

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By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 26th 2007 12:55

eKhaya ICT Concentrates on Core Operations

Well regular readers of this column are wondering what has happened: Where are all the blog posts gone?

Don't despair! The period since the beginning of the year has been a very exciting one. eKhaya ICT has shifted business operations towards it's core business - the rural African software challenge. This has been done in several ways:
  • I am doing my Masters in Computer Science at the University of Fort Hare - eating the same stuff I dish up to the students there! It is really great to be at an Institute specialising in "Developmental ECommerce". See my blog there: http://cs.ufh.ac.za/ron/

  • Work is now intensifying on the SELF project at Zwelenqaba. The project is very tangible. The community and schools are very excited at the prospect of soon having their own computer lab.

  • Connections with Rhodes University are being strengthened - I am starting there as a Research Coordinator 2 days a week. It is going to be very good for eKhaya ICT to have me on the inside of the University - we'll hopefully be able to attract some good graduates, not to mention the cooperation possibilities! I'll be doing my best to coordinate activities there, open new doors to European cooperation and relieve the new Head of the Centre of Excellence (Prof. Alfredo Terzoli) of a lot of his strain. A mutually beneficial arrangement.
We are very excited about the changes and looking forward to the slightly more focused work!
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: March 29th 2008 10:25

eKhaya ICT crosses 1000 p.i. in March

Thanks very much to everyone who thought it worthwhile to make us an incoming link! Yes we had 1540 page impressions in March, and as far as bots and real visitors are concerned, it looks like about 80 real people visited our web pages in March.

Here's the chart:

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By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 2nd 2007 07:38

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

eKhaya ICT mentioned in COFISA Newsletter

You can download the August 2009 COFISA newsletter here.  eKhaya ICT is mentioned for participation in the Siyakhula Living Lab.

The COFISA website is at http://www.cofisa.org.za/ but they don't seem to be publishing the newsletters there.


By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 7th 2009 06:18

eKhaya p.i. for the year 2007

eKhaya ICT's marketing efforts had their ups and downs and these are reflected in the diagramme you see below. Still 46778 p.i.'s for the year are not a bad effort, and we are sure that as we bring more interactive and useful resources online, these figures will grow. In fact 2008, is looking very promising with a lot more focus on core business in developing areas and less consulting for European nations.

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By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: January 23rd 2008 03:24

For our German Friends and Partners

eKhaya ICT is going through a period of expansion. Yesterday, we upgraded our website to include a German translation. Also we are looking at applying our own SEO principles to the site.
  • Focused language on each page, and not so much waffling.

  • More incoming links.

  • More press releases...
Since Friday, there is another desk in our offices. It's the workplace of our new junior programmer, Kagiso, who will be starting in October. He is going to hopefully be doing a whole lot of good with the OpenOffice.org package helping our partners get their data under control.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: September 30th 2007 08:52

Gartner's 6 Mobile Architectures

Mobile is very important in the development context. The Shuttleworth Foundation is actively promoting mobile education projects and are looking for new ideas and new pilots that they could support. The SAFIPA conference pushed mobile in a big way. They also made the important point that South Africa and other countries which have a poor (or terribly expensive) broadband infrastructure, have an advantage over wealthy industrialised nations in that they have a head start in conceiving of and developing innovative new mobile technologies and services. Such services would not find a support base in the wealthier countries and are not necessarily needed there, since users can afford high-end devices such as laptops, as well as broadband connectivity. This is why the prepaid mobile phone service was invented in South Africa, and Kenya leads in M-banking take-up.

On the other hand, ultimately users do want rich content, and in perhaps 15 years time, as device prices and connectivity prices continue to plummet, the playing fields will have been levelled and users in developing countries will also adopt the technologies that make consumption and production of information easiest. A lot of these technologies may resemble something of a hybrid between current mobile and notebook technology, however they will also include wet, "embedded" circuitry, for instance allowing viewing via implants to the optic nerve and such. In that milieu, services are going to allow more just-in-time interventions between work and non-work activities, and for some the gap will grow closer. In the meantime, Gartner leaves us with 6 mobile architectures and an idea of when to deploy each. I think they have sliced up the space very interestingly indeed and one can learn from their insights:
  1. Thick client: this is basically a computer in a mobile phone - all data and application code are on the device and can be synchronised. It requires a lot of development resources to write apps for this stand-alone architecture. We are seeing a lot of this on iphones, etc.
  2. Rich Client: is similar to 1, but without the data layer - data is on the network.
  3. Streaming client: use your end device to watch TV.
  4. Thin client: your end device runs a browser and can render content other than video.
  5. Messaging client: SMS, etc. (they also mention e-mail in this category, curiously enough).
  6. "No Client": you only have voice on your end device.
Our partner, the Rhodes CoE, works intensively with IVR and VoiceXML solutions and it was interesting to see the two legacy mobile technologies split apart (point 5 and 6), in a new way. Further the distinction between 3) and 4), where Gartner defines a thin client as being able to render content - the difference to video streaming clients (which also basically just render) is in the bandwidth (i.e. network infrastructure alone). You need better connectivity for 3) than 4). The distinction between 4) and 5) is also a little blurry, because email requires Internet Protocol (IP) technology, whereas SMS uses legacy messaging protocols.

The future is definitely going to be interesting. Today eKhaya ICT cemented plans to be part of an international cooperation involving the HTWB (University of Applied Sciences Berlin and Rhodes) developing using these technologies.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 5th 2009 03:31

Grant Awarded to eKhaya ICT!

The South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Cooperation Framework on Innovation Systems between Finland and South (COFISA) have awarded eKhaya ICT a travel grant for the upcoming trip to Germany, Switzerland and Finland. The purpose of the trip is threefold:
  1. To found the Village Scribe Association which will organise an international support network for the deployment of the awareNet technology;

  2. To meet software innovation organisations to improve innovation production of the awareNet technology;

  3. To research how awareNet and the ECSPIRT project as a whole can be includedin activities with specific living labs in the European Network of Living Labs' (ENoLL) project portfolio.
You can find out more about ECSPIRT and the awareNet at the pages of the Village Scribe Association.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: November 17th 2008 12:28

Hackers, Common Software (Wordpress) and Niche Players (Kapenta)

There seems to be a weakness in older or current wordpress versions, which allows some nasty hackers to put their own advertising in. I noticed a while back that my pages looked wierd, and looking at the source I saw a whole lot of advertisements for viagara and other prescription medication! MY SITE HAD BEEN STEALTHILY HACKED. So I removed the offending texts, and also the entry in my footer HTML. But now the ads are back.

How terrible. I don't really know what to do (no time to fix it). I have found nothing on the Internet about the attack only other compromised sites.

The ads link to a server at yale.edu! So Yale has been hacked as well... http://som-talks.som.yale.edu/forums/images/icons/1/buy-now-online-viagra.html

This kind of thing really undermines confidence in computing and the Internet, and it is also a big plus for niche players like Kapenta. My Mac has no viruses, because it's a niche system and doesn't have the mass appeal to make virus writing for it worth while, it's also pretty well secured but there are always holes. So using Kapenta for blogging etc. could be the way forward, as a niche product, only people with a personal score will want to hack it.


By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 28th 2009 10:22

Hinter den Kulissen: eKhaya ICT und OLPC an der Mndwaka Schule

Übersicht:

eKhaya ICT arbeitete zusammen mit dem Schweitzer Fernsehen an einer Dokumentation über OLPC (Ein Laptop pro Kind-Programm). Wir wählten die Mndwaka Grundschule für diesen Film, weil sie eine sehr ambitionierte Schule ist, die immer wieder den lokalen Gesangswettbewerb gewinnt, obwohl sie sehr arm ist. Das OLPC-Programm fügt sich sehr gut in unsere Strategie der nachhaltigen Entwicklungsarbeit ein, denn eine Entwicklung der Infrastuktur in ländlichen afrikanischen Gebieten ist nur möglich, wenn sie parallel zu einer Entwicklung der Bildung läuft.

Link zum Video auf SF.TV (Dateigröße 130MB)

Webseite zum Film auf 3Sat

Fotogallerie vom Drehtag an der Mndwaka Schule

Gallerie der Fotos, die die Schüler von sich selbst mit Hilfe der Laptop-Kamera machten

Hintergrund:

eKhaya ICT wurde kürzlich von einem schweizer Filmteam kontaktiert, das einen Kulturbeitrag zum Thema OLPC drehen wollte. Deren Auflagen waren eine ländliche Schule mit sehr schlechter Ausstattung und möglichst junge Schüler, da der Laptop vorrangig für Schüler unter 15 Jahren entworfen wurde.

Es war sehr schwierig zu entscheiden, ob wir dieses Projekt überhaupt unterstützen sollten. eKhaya ICT arbeitet z.Z. eher mit Oberschulen. Es war klar, daß jede Grundschule, die wir kontaktieren würden, uns und das Filmteam mit offenen Armen empfangen würde, bevor sie die Möglichkeit hätten zu verstehen, worum es sich bei dem Film handelt. Wir mußten also sehr vorsichtig sein und erklären, daß wir keine weiteren Versprechen, beispielsweise bezüglich einer Laptop-Ausstattung geben könnten. Wir erklärten, daß es sich nur um eine sehr kurze Dokumentation handeln würde, und daß der Film nur in Europa gezeigt wird. Der Schuldirektor, Herr Gqokoza war dennoch damit einverstanden sowie grundsätzlich an jeder Kooperation mit eKhaya ICT interessiert. Wenn man Schuldirektor eine extrem armen Schule ist, dann greift man jede Gelegenheit beim Schopfe, sei es auch “nur” eine Langzeitinvestition. Er überzeugte uns, und wir begannen mit den Filmarbeiten.

Wir wählten die Mndwaka Grundschule aus, weil sie eine sehr ambitionierte Schule ist, die immer wieder den lokalen Gesangswettbewerb gewinnt, obwohl sie sehr arm ist. Für die 722 Schüler stehen nur zwei reguläre Klassenräume und vier weitere provisorische Klassenräume in unfertigen Häusern, z.T. aus Blech, zur Verfügung. Viele Unterrichtsstunden müssen draußen abgehalten werden, was dazu führt, daß der Unterricht oft unterbrochen wird. Es gibt kein fließendes Wasser und die Solaranlage, die vor sieben Jahren installiert wurde, wurde im Jahr 2005 gestohlen. Trotz alledem sind die Schüler voller Energie und Tatkraft, was uns in beeindruckensder Weise während der Gesang- und Tanzvorführungen vor Augen geführt wurde.

Der Enthusiasmus des Schulchors hielt uns fast vom Filmen ab. Es wurde während fast aller Interviews und Drehs in den Klassenräumen gesungen. Leider wurden letzendlich nur Sequenzen ohne Gesang im Fernsehen gezeigt. Nach den Interviews dankte uns die Schule für unser Kommen mit einer Tanzvorführung mit Stammes- und modernen Tänzen. Dieser Aufwand zeigte uns, daß sich die Schüler, die Lehrer und die Gemeinde dagegen wehren, als ländlich und archaisch bezeichnet zu werden. Sie wollen mit der Zeit gehen und lechzen förmlich nach Anbindung an den Rest der Welt. Ich hoffe, daß das Filmteam sein Versprechen wahr macht und aus der Fülle von Filmmaterial eine schöne kleine Dokumentation herausschneiden kann, damit diese wunderbaren Aufnahmen nicht verlorengehen. Es wäre schade, wenn wir den Schülern und Lehrern der Mndwaka Schule nach all dieser Mühe nur einen kleinen 6min Clip auf Deutsch zeigen könnten.

Ich bin überzeugt, daß die Anbindung der Entwicklungsgebiete an die entwickelten Gebiete mit Hilfe eines Programmes wie des OLPC funktionieren kann, in dem minimal invasive Methoden die klassische Art des Lernens unterstützen. Ich bin mir sicher, daß die ländlichen Gebiete von dieser Anbindung profitieren werden, und dadurch auch der Rest der Welt. Wer argumentiert, daß Computer nicht helfen können, wenn nicht genug Wasser, Essen, Elektrizität und Mobilität vorhanden sind, hat etwas grundsätzlich nicht verstanden. Ich glaube, daß eine nachhaltige Entwicklung der Infrastruktur in afrikanischen ländlichen Gebieten nur funktioniert, wenn sie Hand in Hand mit der Bildungsentwicklung der Gemeinden geht. Ein abgestimmtes Programm ist notwendig, das den Gemeinden hilft, ihre Infrastruktur selbst aufzubauen, um Macht über ihr eigenes Tun zu gewinnen. Eine so gestärkte Gemeinde kann folglich nicht mehr verarmen.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: November 18th 2007 09:02

Impressions of a GeekDinner

Met up with Jonathan Endersby and Dave Duarte at the GeekDinner in Cape Town in October to check out that corner of the Open Source IT scene in South Africa. I am happy to report that the amount of enthusiasm and the number of projects being cooked up is great.

Charl Van Niekerk's talk started off with a bit of advertising for Google's Summer of Code programme - a very worthwhile and cool programme if I ever saw one with an altruistic touch befitting of the Google "do good" motto. Interesting to hear about the interest of Joomla to integrate RDF into their mobile apps. Perhaps the semantic web is not as far away as one may think - the hype is over and it is the right time for the technology to consolidate and move into the mainstream.

By the end of the meeting the sponsored wine had created a really happy atmosphere at the meeting - the slideshow karaoke was a hit!

Probably next time I attend one of these things, I will be talking about eKhaya ICT's successes and experiences with Open Source in the field (or doing a 3 minute analysis of my bash shell's history). I hope it'llbe soon Cape Town is fab place to be.

(Thanks to Richard Kilpert for driving and patience with us geeks.)
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: December 9th 2007 07:50

Learning From Experience

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The school of life is full of fantastic lessons, and there is nothing more challenging today than working in the ICT industry as an entrepreneur, and within that industry, there is probably no more challenging space than Africa. Because, although ICT practitioners always have recourse to escape in a virtual world --working and creating virtual products for online customers paying by online transfer -- Africa has a way of impinging on virtuality through its power failures, regulations and sheer earthiness (humidity and/or dust). 

I found a delightful personal blog today by such an African entrepreneur, Joe Botha. He blogs a list of lessons learned that are definitely not stale even after 4 years. Here are my favourites on the lessons he learned at entrepreneur University:
  • Option paralysis and Occam’s razor. The simple answer is usually the right answer, not making a decision is always the wrong answer.
  • Focus.
  • Don't count your chickens.
Those three have to be my favourites, in no particular order. Joe has a long list, with riders and provisos, they're fabulous. 

It shows: a University degree is never stale.


By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 7th 2011 07:38

Moving from SourceForge to GoogleCode

awareNet is currently moving from SourceForge to GoogleCode. The main reason is the speed of the site, but a further problem is the intricate nature of the SourceForge machinery. There are really very many options on all the features, most of which I can only think would be interesting in teams of around or more than 20 programmers.

GoogleCode on the other hand is faster to access, the svn doesn't time out all the time from South Africa and I am interested to see which of the SourceForge features I am going to miss...

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: October 12th 2009 08:46

No comment

This blog has gone a little quiet recently - of course because I have been working hard. I just submitted a paper to the SATNAC conference. It's quite relevant to what eKhaya ICT is doing and will soon appear on the website ready for the perusal of 100 interested readers. For the meantime, you can just get it here on this blog.

ekhayaict4d.pdf
Download this document in Adobe PDF.
[download]



By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 15th 2007 09:32

OLPC with eKhaya ICT on Swiss TV tonight

Tonight at 23:00 CET eKhaya ICT is making a TV debut on the cultural programme of the Swiss Television (Schweizer Fernsehen, http://www.sf.tv). Being shown are interviews with Yves Behar, the designer of the XO (the OLPC laptop) who is a Swiss living in San Francisco, and with Ron Wertlen of eKhaya ICT in Grahamstown. There are also a whole lot of shots of rural learning conditions at Mndwaka JSS near Tafalehashi as well as beautiful pictures of the Wild Coast.

[ed: 2009 May] SF.TV's archive doesn't go back to 2007. I am checking copyright, and would like to post a link to the vid or host it on YouTube.

In the meantime, we can send interested parties a copy, just drop us a line using the form.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: November 8th 2007 07:26

p.i. plateau reached

I guess we won't be hitting 500'000 accesses per month by December. The last few months show a stable 4000+ hits per month.

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How did this come about
  • In July and August eKhaya ICT carried out a number of commercial projects which were only loosely related to the core project.

  • The summer break in Europe put a brake on the number of page impression from there as activity of our NGO there was curtailed.
I am hoping the next phase of the core projects will produce another jump.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: September 4th 2007 07:59

Participation in Local Government through ICT

I am currently working on a study into the Potential to Utilize Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to Promote Inclusion, Public Participation and Accountability in Local Governance in South Africa.

Dear Reader, please take this survey:

Attitude:
  • What has your municipality done for you today? (Are you aware of the things your municipality is doing for you?)
  • Do you know the name of your ward councillor? (YES/ NO)
  • Does your municipality respond to your queries (written or telephonic), if you have any? (YES/NO)
Planning:
  • If you could easily find out what your municipality is planning for the next 5 years, would you bother to read the documentation? (YES/NO)
  • Would you be more likely to read the plan, if your neighbourhood has its own section in the plan? (YES/NO)
  • Would you be more likely to read a summary of say 5 pages? Or 1 page? (YES/NO)
Governance:
  • Would you like to be mayor for a day? (YES/NO)
  • Do you think that you can help your municipality function better? (YES/NO)
  • Would you like to be able to send SMS to your councillor and actually get a response? (YES/NO)
  • If you use Twitter, would you follow your municipality? (YES/NO)

Your local government needs you, please respond.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: February 17th 2011 07:14

Progress Report - June 2007

This is just a brief blog, to say that despite our recent diversification, our core business of bridging the digital divide is looking healthier and healthier. After a very successful German interlude, setting up potential contacts and used technology supplies there in the form of a non-profit organisation, I have now made contact with three very interesting and helpful projects:
  • LearnThings in Johannesburg / a great training programme based on HTML, Flash and Javascript, they have been in Ghana, Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda, etc. and also have a strong presence in the UK,
  • OLPC - South Africa / this is a very big and very exciting project, owing to the nature of the community behind it, we'll most likely be working together in the Eastern Cape on our schools project,
  • and Rael Lissoos / a man with his hands on all the latest wireless technology, a track record of installation in rural areas and township areas and maker of the VIKO box - a server based education platform offering Video In - Knowledge Out capabilities. http://www.viko.co.za/
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It seems ever more feasible to create a business dealing in software for bridging the digital divide...
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 19th 2007 10:21

Project charged up and ready to go!

It looks like the solar school computer lab is set to do great things. The solar installation is practically finished, the batteries are charged, the laptops are ready and school holidays end on the 13th of July. A lot of hard work over the last couple of weeks is finally bearing fruit.

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Our training programme, mentioned in the last blog posts concerning, has a name - it is the Eastern Cape Schools' Participatory Internet Research and Training Project... ECSPIRT! And it's all about producing a new rank of ecspirts, sorry experts. We have secured funding from SELF and Rhodes University now for the project and are waiting to hear if some other funders would like to add a little to the project. So we are set to begin training a new group of software product managers in August!!
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: July 2nd 2008 09:46

Putting some back

Well things have been very busy at eKhaya ICT. This morning at about 1am I submitted a major revision of the wikipedia article for ICT4D. What was there was just a bit stunted, so I had to do something about it. However, writing an encyclopedia article is really quite tough. I suppose it becomes easier with time, but it is quite different to writing a paper. What you see here represents quite an investment of time and patience... Deep respect to all the Wikipedians who have built that amazing facility.

In the intervening 2 weeks since I last blogged, I have gotten the people on board to start a new German/International non-profit organisation that should support grass-roots ICT4D with the specific aim of introducing Web2.0 technologies to help put Africa on the Internet.

I also spoke to the Free University of Berlin. I am quite hopeful that we will be able to expand the research component which is present thanks to the University of Fort Hare.

So telegrammatically, that's kind of what has been going on. I can't give away too much right now though, so if all this sounds very interesting to you, perhaps you want to email me. eKhaya Contact
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 18th 2007 09:48

Regulating the Internet in South Africa

The new Films and Publications Act, No. 3 which amends Act No. 89 of 1998 has an interesting section which pertains to persons providing Social Media aimed at children. This is stipulated in Section 24C.

I think it is a fairly worded law, questions only arise over implementation, i.e. whether the 60-year old judge presiding over the legal case has ever used Google (let alone understanding the intricacies of GUI design for browsers). All of the items in the Act have been or are being addressed by awareNet, our home-grown social networking software specially for schools...

"Obligations of internet access and service providers

24C. (1) For the purposes of this section, unless the context otherwise indicates-
  • (a) ‘child-oriented service’ means a contact service and includes a content service which is specifically targeted at children;

  • (b) ‘contact service’ means any service intended to enable people previously unacquainted with each other to make initial contact and to communicate with each other;

  • (c) ‘content’ means any sound, text, still picture, moving picture, other audio visual representation or sensory representation and includes any combination of the preceding which is capable of being created, manipulated, stored, retrieved or communicated but excludes content contained in private communications between consumers;

  • (d) ‘content service’ means-
    • (i) the provision of content; or
    • (ii) the exercise of editorial control over the content conveyed via a communications network, as defined in the Electronic Communications Act, 2005 (Act No. 35 of 2005), to the public or sections of the public; and

  • (e) ‘operator’ means any person who provides a child-oriented contact service or content service, including Internet chat-rooms.

(2) Any person who provides child-oriented services, including chatrooms, on or through mobile cellular telephones or the internet, shall-

  • (a) moderate such services and take such reasonable steps as are necessary to ensure that such services are not being used by any person for the purpose of the commission of any offence against children;

  • (b) prominently display reasonable safety messages in a language that will be clearly understood by children, on all advertisements for a child-oriented service, as well as in the medium used to access such child-oriented service including, where appropriate, chat-room safety messages for chat-rooms or similar contact services;

  • (c) provide a mechanism to enable children to report suspicious behaviour by any person in a chat-room to the service or access provider;

  • (d) report details of any information regarding behaviour which is indicative of the commission of any offence by any person against any child to a police official of the South African Police Service; and

  • (e) where technically feasible, provide children and their parents or primary care-givers with information concerning software or other tools which can be used to filter or block access to content services and contact services, where allowing a child to access such content service or contact service would constitute an offence under this Act or which may be considered unsuitable for children, as well as information concerning the use of such software or other tools.
(3) Any person who fails to comply with subsection (2) shall be guilty of an offence and liable, upon conviction, to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both a fine and such imprisonment."

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: September 10th 2009 07:32

SAFIPA and mini-Marshall plans.

SAFIPA - South Africa Finland Knowledge Partnership on ICT Programme

SAFIPA is the sister programme of COFISA - a part of the Finnish South african cCooperation Framework on innovation in South Africa. I think this is a kind of mini-Marshall plan and brilliant. The developed world is helping the developing world come online, which benefits everyone. And that is a reward in itself. In a knowledge based world everyone benefits. This is a huge difference to the imperialistically based models that we have seen previously and perhaps the way of the future. It is definitely the way to a better future.

eKhaya ICT and Rhodes University recently attended a workshop on making a proposal for the programme in East London. eKhaya ICT is definitely looking at shaping a better future, through knowledge.

This links to an article in the Weekly Guardian about Cuba and a new Latin-American rennaissance (despite falling oil costs). Latin America seems to be putting faith in a new kind of socialism, based on education, poverty reduction, controlled nationalisation of resources. African citizens, citizens of arguably the richest region in the world, could take note of these changes and demand some of them from their governments. If only they knew.


By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: February 23rd 2009 09:18

SiLLMU - A Budding New Organisation

In Finnish, SiLLMU* means "bud" (as in flower bud). To us it is the Siyakhula Living Lab Management Unit. This is a newly formed organisation set up to provide leadership in matters pertaining to the Siyakhula Living Lab (SLL). The current infrastructure setup between Dwesa, Nqabara and Nkwalini in the Mbashe province of the Eastern Cape is a valuable rural entrepreneurial incubator based on commitment from the communities and the partners working in the living lab. It is a collection of some of the basic information services required to bring rural areas into the knowledge society and a worthy platform to try out new products and techniques. The communities are not apathetic and jaded through research efforts, because of a continuing and paced strategic intervention which works as much with the consciousness of the people as with technology.

The SiLLMU has received funding for one year from COFISA (Finnish South African Cooperation Framework on Innovation in South Africa), and will shortly open its doors to connect the SLL and open it to new possibilities.

Part of the SiLLMU funding will go directly to strengthening community involvement in the SLL. This is a welcome direct assistance for the community members that are spending their time and effort in the project and making things happen.

[* 09-05-25] I have in the meantime been using Google Translate Finnish >> English, and it is great. In Finnish "Silmu" is written with one "L", which I guess sounds the same. It also means "eye". Now I wonder if that is specifically the eye of a potato, for instance, or whether it is also the organ of vision. SiLLMU is definitely tasked as an organ of vision for the SLL!
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 6th 2009 10:17

SiLLMU - Organisational Chart

A previous blog explains what SiLLMU (Siyakhula Living Lab Management Unit) is about and a bit about the background.

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The picture above explains how the SiLLMU will ultimately restructure the parties taking part in the LL. Some Acronyms and Abbreviations: ENoLL (European Network of Living Labs), LLiSA (Living Labs of South Africa), SLL (Siyakhula Living Lab), RU (Rhodes University), UFH (University of Fort Hare).

Bottom are projects, Left are political organisations, and top are stakeholders in the Living Lab, which is depicted in the centre.

The Siyakhula Living Lab is currently well positioned to develop more excellent research and piloting on ICT's in rural areas. I am very excited about the future, especially concerning recent developments around a software factory in Grahamstown involving eKhaya ICT...
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: September 6th 2009 06:50

Sorry Wayan Vota

In the previous post I wrote in an insensitive manner about Wayan Vota's idea of 4P Computing, without really getting to the root of the idea that bothered me so much. In that post, I made an untrue assumption about Wayan's actions and motivations (writing that he had pushed his idea onto wikipedia), which he had not done.

I'd like to apologise for that and will make sure to research my statements better in future, especially where they reflect on someone's character.

In my partial defense (of course, I concede guilty as charged), I was editing ICT4D on wikipedia and the amount of link spam and trash that lands in there (and often its impossible to get rid of) just got me thinking in a unilateral manner.

Humble apologies, Wayan.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 15th 2009 07:25

South Africa's First Solar Powered Computer Lab?

I don't know how they researched it, but the Grocott's mail is calling our "solar powered computer lab"(*) a South African first, and it may very well be. As one adds up all the work we have put into this project, motivating the community for over a year, a careful selection of sub-contractors for some of the work, coordination of needs, interests and publicity, all required to launch the project successfully, I can guess why this has not been done before.

Some more facts about our solar computer lab:
( Since we are using laptops, which are locked away in a safe, there is an installation time. )
  • with the power cables and mice at their stations (as they usually are), it takes one person about 10 minute to take the 25 laptops out of the safe and attach them to their leashes.
  • to ready the classroom from scratch (i.e. power cables and mice are not at their stations) it takes about 30 minutes.
(*) By "solar powered computer lab", we mean a computer installation counting at least 20 computers and peripherals including but not restricted to printers, copiers and projectors, in a dedicated room powered solely by solar power.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 18th 2008 03:48

Speech from Solar Computer Lab Opening

Ron Wertlen held a speech as the solar computer lab project coordinator at the official launch ceremony on the 1st of August 2008. The following conveys the sense of the speech:
"Good day dignitaries and guests, ladies and gentlemen of the community, educators and learners. I am very glad to see you all here! Thank you indeed for coming. We have looked forward to this day together for quite some time.

I will keep the speech short, because this should be a festive occasion and not one of long-winded speeches.

There is an important thing I wish to impress on all of you learners, as you begin to work with the computers that have been brought to your schools. Words that are spoken are like the dust outside on the street [1]. They are ephemeral and blown about by the slightest breeze and can be a nuisance. You cannot build a house with dust. If you however gather that dust and form it into a brick [2], and make several bricks then you can build yourself a house. You can trade bricks and you can help your neighbour build his house by giving him some bricks. The written word is like a brick. You can use it to build a roof over your heads. So remember this when you use the computer - write down your thoughts and share them with others. It will make you a richer person.

Secondly, another important thing: When you work at the laptops, remember to sit up straight. Don't sit at the computer all bent and crooked - you will end up looking like me, and you might get back pains.

Thirdly, the prizes for the drawing competition are being handed over aftewards at the outdoor party. Please all come over.

Thank you very much and enjoy the day!"
Check out photos of the Launch...

Notes:
  1. Tafalehashi at the end of Winter is a very very dusty place. The dust permeates everything and there is no escaping it.

  2. Most of the housing in the area is built with mud bricks. The finest dust that blows around turns into the slickest and best mud when wettened. Just add straw, place in a brck form and cure in the sun.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: September 9th 2008 08:48

The Hawthorn Effect

Showing people you care, lifts morale and makes them work harder and better. It doesn’t really matter whether your long-term intervention is ICT’s health or whatever. The argumentation doesn’t quite hold for short-term relief, as when water is delivered to the thirsty.

This is something that Amartya Sen in his Development as Freedom skirts around. He is an economist, and he is used to writing to audiences which pooh-pooh such soft thinking. But reading between the lines, reading meaning into the examples he uses (often from his native India) one senses the importance of humanity, caring and interest in the actual recipients (not the machines) as highlights.

Fortunately this effect has been given a name – The Hawthorn Effect – and described in scientific terms. Finally a piece of hard science, that even economists can bite into. The cynic will say that marketers and managers can also bite into it – great motivate people to do more work for the same price. But Mr. Cynic, consider this: are the people happier than before? Probably, productive people are happy, intrinsically motivated people are happy. It’s not about the money, it’s about the feeling you take home at the end of the day. Try it out Mr. Cynic…

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: March 22nd 2011 08:00

The Value of Putting People in Touch with Each Other

I just read something which shouted awareNet - quite surprising that the quote comes from 1848 when John Stuart Mill, postulated “it is hardly possible to overrate the value, in this present low state of human improvement, of placing human beings in contact with persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar… Such communication has always been, and is peculiarly in the present age, one of the main sources of progress” (quoted in Hirschman, A. (1982) Rival Interpretations of Market Society: Civilizing, Destructive or Feeble? Journal of Economic Literature XX 1463-1484.)

eKhaya ICT is currently working on awareNet software - open source free social networking software for schools, which we are beta-testing between schools in Africa and Europe, together with the Village Scribe Association.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 16th 2009 01:10

Village Scribe Association Founded!

On the evening of the 3rd of December at "Huis van Rooi" in St-Agatha-Rode, Belgium, the Village Scribe Association was founded. The official registration will follow in January. The association has its home in Boortmeerbeek in Belgium.

Founding honorary members are:
  • Christoph Flügge, The Hague, Lawyer, Judge in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

  • Prof. Robert Tolksdorf, Berlin, IT Specialist, Professor for Computer Science and Head of the Group on Networked Informationsystems, Free University of Berlin

  • Dr. Antonino Gulli', Pisa, IT Specialist, CTO Ask.com Europe and UK
Founding members are:
  • Ronald Wertlen, Grahamstown, IT Specialist, CEO of eKhaya ICT, Centre of Excellence (CoE) Coordinator at the Computer Science Department, Rhodes University

  • Dr. Anna Wertlen, Grahamstown, Biologist, COO of eKhaya ICT

  • Amanda McPhail, Boortmeerbeek (Belgium), Biologist, Research Database Specialist

  • Dr. Jan Baekelandt, Boortmeerbeek (Belgium), Gynaecologic Oncologic Surgeon
We are looking forward to increased cooperation between the cultures of Europe and Africa with the founding of the association.


By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: December 8th 2008 10:57

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-urban societies differ very much from the rural ones predominant in Africa (+-37%) (World rural pop. +-50%)[1], which are the ones I am targeting with eKhaya. On the other hand, the buying power is greater in urban, electrified industrialised areas.

With broadband, one can have a much more interactive experience on the internet, besides VoIP one can better access flash media, get instant responses to posts etc. In short, one has full access to Web 2.0 technology. Without any fancy tricks. Web 2.0 as a hype-term conjurs up images of social networking, multimedia, freedom and democracy, as well as various business models - based on anything from advertising to virtual contributions, which can accumulate and yield a percentage when cashed, etc. (Just to give you my perspective.)

I am sincerely hoping to create a Web 2.0 "portal" for rural villages which has enough impetus to carry itself, whether by traffic alone, or through some other clever means. It must be feasible without Broadband at each node, but perhaps with some kind of WAN connecting nodes. I believe it can work and that now is the right time to start. :-)

I really love the idea that one can test installations in the Eastern Cape under conditions that will probably be similar to ones found even in urban areas in the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa (e.g. 91% of Ghanians have no electricity)[2].

[1] http://www.prb.org/Articles/2004/UrbanizationAnEnvironmentalForcetoBeReckonedWith.aspx
[2] I got this from an engineer who worked on electrification projects there recently.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: March 30th 2007 02:49

Website freshen + change of Address

eKhaya ICT has just moved to Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. It's really crisp in the evenings.

We now have a bigger garage from which to work. We've taken this opportunity to freshen up the look of our website.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: July 4th 2007 02:22

While we weren't looking... Page Impressions for March

Lots of activity at http://ekhayaict.com/ since the end of January: as you will see in the graph for March, eKhaya ICT got 34800 p.i.s. That's quite a lot.

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The reason for the relatively large upswing is not only additional visitors on the home page. It is also traffic on our wiki, which is in pre-release beta testing. Further, we have been busily networking in the first quarter of 2008, so it is fantastic to see the interest in our work and indeed in our web presence.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 10th 2008 10:28

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 facilities - what will Web 2.0 bring them? Is it any use at all in an area that does not have any infrastructure?

The answer to all these questions lies in the following argument:

Poor persons living in such regions do not form a homogenous mass - people can be very different no matter what their culture is! As such, there are members of those societies that can very well benefit from the introduction of new technologies.

Further, recall that new technologies are in themselves an indispensible form of infrastructure. We have set ourselves a mission, because we believe that bringing Web 2.0 and internet to such regions will help the people there. Why do we think this is a realistic goal? Because there are a lot of other organisations out there trying to bring power, connectivity and other forms of technology to such areas. Often these groups are in developed regions far from the areas they intend to help. We are at home here in Africa and enjoy an advantage through this fact.

People who don't understand what we are doing, also often have another problem which cannot be countered logically. They believe cultures other than theirs are inferior and do not even deserve a try. In truth however, all cultures have evolved and are remarkably efficient at dealing with their environment and also resisting fast pased changes. We have a lot to learn from them and their unique perspective and history! In turn, we want to help them realise that their environment has changed. They live next door to the global village, and are free to come and go as they please.

I am very excited by what we are going to learn!
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: March 26th 2007 02:19

WIZZIT Banking

Last week, Siphiwo Msindwana, our community co-ordinator in Nkwalini made the trip up to Grahamstown, so that we could attend a course on WIZZIT banking and being Wizz-kids (the course was in PE). 

imageexpanded|raUID=670284694110678977|size=thumb|  What could be better than this: drive down through some of the prettiest countryside in the Eastern Cape (admiring the wildlife, sunlight and bush), chat and joke about life in the rural areas, and look forward to an interesting day learning about micro-finance the WIZZIT way.  Siphiwo also has such interesting stories to tell about his home. He spoke of problems in his rural local muncipality and the intitiative they just got underway to get kids into school. 

Mbashe must surely be one of the most rural and most dysfunctional local municipalities in South Africa -- at least from the point of view of someone living in the farthest reaches of the municipality!  It is an almost three hour drive from Idutywa, the main city to Nkwalini, and it is in fact much closer to the main cities in neighbouring municipalities.  However, provincial and national government have recently been making strong infrastructural improvements in the area, so there is much to be thankful for.

The Nkwalini Quality Education Forum has been started to ensure that children go to school. The problem is that parents often do not know about their childrens' absence from school, or they are not able to help their children work out why they should go to school and do not care. The forum will in such cases speak to parents and to learners, to explain to them the reasons for going to school as well as legal implications. This forum is definitely as worthwhile as the "neighbourhood watch" concept for security...

We were very impressed by the WIZZIT system and the simplicity it brought to opening bank accounts and gaining a foothold in the financial world. Shortly after opening my account I was able to send Thozi our awareNet coordinator airtime, as my usual FNB platform was down for the day. The system certainly does work!

Siphiwo also connected with the Reed House Systems team of developers and gave his inputs into the new isiXhosa version of the software. He was very impressed by that as well.

Siphiwo wrote the following about his experience:

"
This is a marvelous visit to me, because I've [experienced as much as would normally be] done in a week['s] time.

The very first day on the 11th May 2011 we went for workshop on a WIZZIT consultant in PE and that's where Ron opened the account on WIZZIT, then the following day the 12th May 2011 that's when I opened my account too, it took only 5 minutes. The WIZZIT account will [bring much assistance for the] first time to the people from rural communities -- buying of airtime,electricity,telkom prepaid vouchers etc.

After finishing with that I went to Reed House Systems where there is another program of helping people at the rural communities not to spend a lot when they looking for services.

For me that's great for the people whom I staying with at my community.

Thanks a lot

S. Msindwana
"

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 17th 2011 08:20






eKhaya ICT is an Eastern Cape based software company, specialising in quality solutions and software components of ICT4D.

Contact:
9 Florence Street
Grahamstown
6139
South Africa
Tel: +27 79 4354681
Fax: +27 46 6227507
www: ekhayaict.com
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