Humanitarianism

Tanzania day 5: Internet! (ish)

Woken at 4am by mosquitoes – I left the bathroom door open, and the insect screen only works so far.  None of the hotels here have mosquito nets, so I spend an hour listening and swatting before going back to sleep.  I breakfast on scrambled egg and bananas: my substitute for all the bread products I keep being offered.  The team is here: I watch them do a soil type analysis (using a flowchart: seeing if they can form muddy balls from the soil samples, seeing how long a ribbon of mud they can make (1cm? 2? more?) then finally rubbing in their hands to see if it’s “gritty” or not.  Most of the soil we collected is clay or sandy loam.  It rains.  Msofi and I swap British and Kiswahili words for different types of rain (we both have many of these). I watch the team do rapid roadside…

Humanitarianism

Tanzania day 4: Field Trips

We saw a lot of schoolchildren in uniforms yesterday – in the afternoon, they were walking past carrying hoes.  We go shopping for a cable to charge my phone and  camera: I’ve lost one cable and broken the other, so it’s off to the local shops, each of which points us to another one: general store, electronics shop, phone shops, camera/video shops, some in buildings, others in plywood shacks. Finally have two colourful cables with smiley faces on the ends (the powerstrips in the shape of hearts are tempting too). Avery buys fruit from a lady with a huge basket on her head: it takes 2 of us to the lift the basket back up.  We check the cable: it’s the car adapter that’s broken, not the cable: the team lends me an adapter for the ride.  Add to field shopping list: car chargers, and lots of them.  The car…

Humanitarianism

Tanzania day 3: Welcome to the Jungle

Today we go into the field.  Woken by laptop charger fizzling – electricity is available but a bit variable here.  Breakfast with sweet milky tea – the tea in it is grown and picked here in Mafinga.  We drive past tree plantations – pines, for their wood. I ask about the rice; Tanzania is a major rice grower, and much of it comes from Morogoro.  I meet the rest of the team, and explain Ushahidi and my own skills to them, as asked, armed with a notebook, pen and much arm-gesturing.   We drive off to the site; on red mud roads, fast.  The team truck has a snorkel and I worry they might be using it.  Finding routes to the sites is an issue, and the gps units fill up if the team trys to track roads: we talk about roadmapping using their GPS-connected tablets and Funf, and about OpenStreetMap…

Humanitarianism

Tanzania day 2: the Safari Commute

Today I meet the team: we breakfast, talk about the plan for the week (travel, measure, measure, rest, travel) and set off on the road to Iringa.  I’ve now been in 2 of the “big 5” wildlife countries and so far have seen: 1 dog.  I’m hoping we might see something else in the parks.  The road is very quiet – most of the traffic has stopped because of the traffic jams around the flooded bridge, which is great in terms of having the road to ourselves, but no so great in terms of being the only car around for the traffic police to stop.  They stop us and show the radar gun (the most common sensor that I see around here) – speeding.  We stop next to one of the communities making woven baskets – I’m tempted to go shopping but know that would just increase our chance of…

Humanitarianism

Tanzania Day 1: how was your day at the office?

Day 1 – not going well. 5am start in Nairobi – check.  Flight over Kilimanjaro – check. Car waiting at airport – check. Takes credit card as promised – nope. Hack Tanzanian cashpoint to get enough cash to pay.  Buy sim card: simple, but not instant (forms!). And off.. to mall to get cheap camera and supplies.  Cheapest camera = 220000 ksh ($130).  Asked $80000ksh for bugspray and sunblock. Decide to buy supplies in tourist area upcountry.  But first, driver1 has forgotten the car’s id docs – an issue on a road with policement every mile or two. And so we get into the first traffic jam (10 mins): the president’s mother lives nearby, and visits his mother every weekend (even presidents aren’t immune to this).  Everything stops as his cavalcade drives past – except today it’s the vice-president visiting.  Second traffic jam: 10 minutes for a busy traffic junction in…

Sensors

Starting with sensors

[cross-posted from sensornews.com] I’m at the iHub Nairobi today with a bunch of sensors (thanks for the loan, Brck team!), because some of the Kenyan ideas for today’s Space Apps Challenge projects are sensor-based.  Those projects didn’t happen, but I’ve been having some very interesting chats with people about the hardware we have here, about their own use of hardware, and about why coders aren’t including hardware in their projects. Aside from utility (not every project needs sensors, just as not every project needs a web interface), the two big blocks appear to be unfamiliarity and fear.  First, the fear: generally that using hardware will be hard to learn, or that you’ll break equipment irreparably.  And the familiarity: coders are used to software, and hardware can seem very different to software, at first. The fear: I suffered from these fears too, as I got back into hardware.  That combination of “oh grief I’m going to…