Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Kwacha shooting star and put it in your pocket

I am down to my last kwacha - the local currency in Malawi. This week I spent 8000K, not including my hotel. It is about 150K to 1$. Where does the money go. Well I spend about 400K a day on internet - because I cannot connect with my computers at UNICEF and so must go to the internet cafe to sync with github, and invariably get caught up in gchat or in fixing some git merging problem. (5K a minute). Then I spend 200K on beer - it is a small price to pay for happiness. And the occasional coke - 150K. And of course dinner at mamma mia (pizza) 1500K or don brioni 1000K or lunch at UNICEF/Market 200-600K. It adds up. A cab around Lilongwe, if you share one, is about 500K. I take one probably twice a week. So there you have it.

I read the Stanley Fish piece in the New York Times today. I sort of think he is a crank,but other than that - one thing struck me. A reader commented on his last piece that he was writing about two topics and it diluted the force of his essay. Fish acknowledged this, and pledged to TRY and keep his writing to one topic.

Let me rail against this for a moment. Why must everything be commoditized and informatized for maximum information processing? This is something that I am thinking about now that I am reading poetry every morning. You cannot speed read poetry or keep to the point with poetry. You must experience poetry. You must roll the words around in your mouth like cold-eze or jello. - hmm jello. You must strike the balance between focus and peripheral awareness. Too much focus and you miss the setting, too much periphery and you miss the details.

Today I banged out the final throws of the User Interface until Adam (please please please) finishes the Flot Graphing class.I really hope I dont have to write the graphing class - I want to go to Lake Malawi this weekend and get Belharzia.

I am enjoying programming in Django. I think that RapidSMS (mainly Adam and Evan) have written some great classes that are an excellent foundation for future rad RapidSMS development. Working in the field, however, you really get a sense of how these applications are used - you can't develop in a vacuum, otherwise you will build something like Chandelier.

Let me take a moment to discuss DoeRaeTweet. DoeRaeTweet is an application I wrote that translates twitter messages into audio and lets people collaborate by adding their own audio - For example, if you tweet: AAAABBBA @drt - DoeRaeTweet will translate this into the musical note A A A A followed by B B B B followed by A. There is more syntax for rests and beats and timbre.I basically have a python script that generates csound files and then run csound. I was trying to use pymedia and then generate opensound (something) files that interface with PD but I could not get pymedia installed because Ubuntu only lets me have one version of GCC installed at a time - blah blah. Anyway I need to upgrade my server to run csound - so stay tuned.

I have a new UNICEF driver. He is AWESOME and he is driving me into the field next week with Benson, my UNICEF coworker. He told me that I should stay overnight in the field all week- I will bring my stash of gnu bars in case there is no candle cafe in the bush. I dont think benson will be into it, but I need a coding break, my mind is totally in the code-i-verse and I am having problems related to reality - like last night when I may or maynot have taken my malarone malaria pill. I am really sick of gnu bars and long for the day when I can eat some seitan jerky.

Tomorrow the Ministry of Health is sending some IT people over and I will train them as webmasters on the RapidSMS system -
I am hoping to reuse some very slick RapidSMS documentation from a Somalia project. If I dont get the SVGs by tomorrow then we are just going to wing it - and I will send documentation later.

My idea was to train a webmaster rather than a programmer, because going forward I really dont see a need for additional programming for the INFSSS system. All that is needed is someone to add data, to answer questions about the user interface, tell people where the anykey is, and to update django and rapidsms when the time comes. This last bit may be a gigantic headache- but I am hoping that it will some how be rolled into the massive malawi hiv/aids post-natal project.

Friday I train the national health workers in the SMS protocol, so I will be coding the SMS backend tomorrow and thursday. Friday I am meeting with a local django developer and then going to a tech meeting for local techies. I have also been working with a great dev, Josiah, at Mzuzu University. He is getting up to speed on RapidSMS and Django and I am hoping to work on some projects with him, and perhaps his wife who is a CS student in AI.

This is my second week in Malawi. Even though I am drinking lots of beer, I dont think I am gaining weight. That is because I am living on gnu bars -as the food here is too expensive - except the local food in the market near UNICEF - but then that is not vegi friendly.

I am attempting to push to git tonight -I had some issues the other night - and gave up in dispair. I may wait till tomorrow.

Started reading Sen again - Development as Freedom, and I am enjoying it. I think the intro is not very engaging, too bad we can't get Susan Sontag to rewrite it - she was the master of the philosophical intro. So the main question is - What should we do in helping developing countries 'Develop' - what what is Development anyway? The typical answer is economic - well lets help people make money/generate income. Sen's idea though is - lets help people develop freedom (political freedom, economic freedom, social freedom) and this will lead to the 'development' of 3rd world economies. The basic idea is that development is dependent upon people's access to acting freely. (So poverty is slavery) For example, if I am starving, all of my actions are governed by my animal desire to satiate my hunger - I am not 'capable' of engaging in economic acts that are traditionally felt to bring people out of poverty. Reminds me of my favorite quote from Rousseau - Man is free but everywhere he is in chains (and as Foucault would add - 'I wish'). Freedom construed in this way is (as Sen writes) is a end, and a means (the more freedoms I develop the more freedoms I can develop. I feel like there is something Kantian here. We are all both subjects and sovereigns in the kingdoms of ends, but are we all sovereigns? Not if we are starving, or die young because of crime or poor healthcare, or are repressed because we have no say in our government practices. And then how are we expected to 'develop.' This also reminds me of the desire in Buddism to live as long as possible so that we can have as much time as possible to develop spirtuallly in our current incarnation. The ability to spirtually progress is dependant upon the biological or physical ability to stay alive. (Apologies for poorly expressing Sen - don't attack me - I am sensitive I'm banging out a blog not crafting a dissertation)

My bathroom is crawling with cockaroches, and the internet cafe I think is closing early due to Ramadan - A sex worker is walking the halls of the Koboko.

I would like to send a special shout out to Paul. Happy birthday Paul - this post is dedicated to you.

Brought to you by vi and carlsberg green beer

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