Alimou and I have been in Rwanda for almost seven weeks now, and everything is going quite well.  We are working hard to complete the proposed tasks, and at the same time we are having a great time.  Last week we worked with IT club students on building the computer lab.

It’s been a real pleasure working with them, and we are looking forward to our next meeting

 

When I’m not working on our task, I join in my family activities, such as helping out in the farm.  There I had to do something that I imagined I’d never do in my life.  I had to move natural fertilizers with my hands.  It really wasn’t easy in the beginning, but once I got used to it, it wasn’t so bad.  I wish I never have to do them again though.

I changed my hair style to a more local style.  When I go down to the local market, people literally stop their work to stare.  Then some laugh, some give me thumbs-up, and some come over to greet me enthusiastically.

 

Has it been seven weeks already? Wow, it’s incredible how quickly time flys out here. We have been working in a two-phases strategy for DART, the Student Information System (SIS) created by the Bering Strait School District (BSSD).

The first and short term phase is refactoring DART’s code so it can be used by other school districts with similar needs. This will allow us to expand DART community of users beyond BSSD. The second and long term phase is developing a new DART, as a highly extendable SIS, and creating an open source platform that will allow its expansion by adding extensions to it. This new development will require more time than our project extension, but we are working on setting the foundation for this process.

Right now we are now working on both phases, there is a lot to do and not much time. However, not everything is work here in Unalakleet. We have also enjoyed some outdoor time. We’ve gone fishing (well, Bolek fishes and I watch, but I’ve been there) and gone for a drive in a four wheeler. Last week Dorothy, who works at the BSSD, took us boating with her family. The view was amazing (and also the salmon we caught and ate later).

It’s really hard to believe this is our fifth week in Rwanda. Four weeks ago, we went on a Safari at the Akagera National Park. The park is located in the Eastern Province. You can see Tanzania from the highest point in the park. We saw antelopes, giraffes, zebras, etc. There are 600 types of birds at Akagera.

Buffalo

Tanzania on the other side of the lake

Giraffes

Here’s a video of zebras.

 

Hakuna Matata!

Hey everyone! Sorry it took so long for us to finally post, but to make up for it we will post a bunch of pictures and let you all know what we’ve been up to for the past few weeks!

Melissa arrived in Manila on Sunday, and I arrived the following day. Joaquin Palencia picked us up and took us out to a great lunch at the University of the Philippines and then we spent the rest of the day walking around the mall. The next day we met up with Melissa’s uncle Tito Ning, a very talented pool player and bar owner, who took us around to lots of cool places around Manila.

We first went to Dampa seafood place where Tito Ning treated us to one of the best lunches I’ve ever eaten in my life. Here’s the way Dampa seafood works: You first go to the fish market and pick out the freshest seafood of the day. You then bring it to the restaurant next door where they cook it up for you in the most divine sauces you can imagine. Melissa’s uncle picked out fish, squid, mussels, crab and prawns. A massive feast for just the three of us!

Shrimp in a tangy orange sauce, crab in coconut curry, mussels and crunchy calamari. And fresh coconut juice!

After our meal we went to the uncle’s house for several rounds of pool. Needless to say I got my butt kicked badly, but I did learn a lot of new tricks for making better shots. After pool, Tito Ning continued to show us more of the city at night. We went to a church and statue of Rizal, and then to a  fountain / water show that spouted water in sync with lights and pop  music. Celine Dion’s famous ‘My Heart Will Go On’ started playing, and Melissa and I started singing along when all of a sudden a scruffy looking toothless guy walked past us and said, “Hello Jack, Hello Rose!”  …that really cracked us up and left us with a satisfying day full of fun, good eats, and adventure.

The day after we headed out on a bus to Daet – a lengthy 10-hour trip, but we were entertained by the movies playing on a little TV in front of the bus – lots and lots of B-rated 80′s movies like NAVY SEALS and communist Philipino war movies. After arriving in Daet we met Dr. Bong Palencia and Gerry, the Dean of Computer Science students. We then settled into our dorms and walked around the town center.

That weekend we went on a wonderful outing with the school to a piece of land next to a river the Palencias own. We all went swimming in the refreshing river to escape the extremely hot and humid weather, and Jeremy went cliff jumping further up the river. Some of the staff were kind enough to share shrimp and pork adobo they brought with them for an afternoon snack.

 

It’s been a lot of fun hanging out with teachers from the school. We’ve enjoyed going out for karaoke and drinks with Gerry, Poly, Dario and Eric. Melissa and I both celebrated our birthdays last week and the office here treated us to ice cream and Pansit – noodles sort of like chicken lo-mein.

We’ve also visited the lovely Bagasbas beach, only a 10-minute tricycle ride from our dorms. I’ve been strapping my board to the top of a tricycle and heading down to surf almost every morning, and have already made some friends with the local surf bums.

local surfers Cisco and Allen Jay

The waves here have been pretty small, but I can’t complain when the water temperature is 84 degrees! That’s amazing compared to the frigid wetsuit-only California waters.  Fingers crossed for a big swell this weekend!

This past weekend we took a trip down to Naga, a city 2 hours south of Daet. We went to the CWC – Camarines Sur Wakeboarding complex and had a blast wakeboarding and kneeboarding! I’ll post some videos of our mad wakeboarding skills later.

In terms of work, we’ve been making significant progress assessing the organizational structure and enrollment process of OLLCF (Our Lady Lourdes College Foundation). We’ve held interviews with the registrar, accounting office, deans, and old and new students. The registration process is pretty complicated, and students have to spend about an hour and a half going back and forth between teachers, deans, the registrar and the accounting office to enroll into classes. With the information we’ve collected, Melissa mapped out flow and sequence models to give us a visual representation of the data, which will help us gain a better understanding of the entire process.

Before we can develop any kind of information system, there are a couple things we see that definitely need to be addressed. To begin, both the accounting office and registrar have no internet access, and the entire campus internet bandwidth is extremely slow, so our priority this week is to hold a meeting with the local ISP and get the whole campus online. Another problem we’ve noticed is that most of the registration process is done manually, with stacks and stacks of papers piled up every where. To speed up this process we plan on making a simple database with Microsoft Access so the registrar and accounting can quickly pull up student information. A lot of data is stored on Excel spreadsheets, which can be imported into Access easily.

Whatever we do, we are choosing to stick with a low-tech solution and tackle small problems one at a time – good advice from Professor Randy Weinberg when he visited this past week. From what we see there is not enough infrastructure to support a complex school information system so our goal is to provide a stronger base for future TCinGC teams to expand upon. Providing good internet access and digitizing the paper data seems like a good place to start!

There are still many things for us to see and do – Jeremy plans on joining OLLCF’s soccer team practices and learning Eskrima (or Arnis) – a Philipino martial art using bamboo/wooden sticks for self-defense, and Melissa might try playing with the volleyball team. See you until next time!

 

-Jeremy and Melissa

It is almost two weeks since we arrived to Alaska.  I didn’t even notice when that time passed by. The number of activities we participated in, the places we have been and people which we talked with is uncountable.

We arrived on the 16th of May at Anchorage just before midnight. Since the days get very long in the north, it was still quite bright outside and if I were in Pittsburgh I would easily say it isn’t later than 6pm. Our first night we spent at the “Captain Cook Hotel” which is considered as one of the nicest in town. From our rooms we had in insanely beautiful view on the mountains and ocean.

View from my room at Captain Cook Hotel

 

The next day we had a small trip to Seward. We drove with our partner through incredible Alaskan mountain/fjord sceneries.

Road to Seward

In Seward we met Dr Alex Hills and had some really great time discussing our project organizational issues while exploring Alaskan nature. We also had a chance of trying some of the fantastic Alaskan fresh seafood: Halibut cheeks (Yammy! .. really), shrimps, crab meat etc.

Sea Lions at the Resurrection Bay

 

Exploring the resurrection bay

That day I learned all the possible species of salmon found in Alaska:

sockeye (red salmon), champ(dog salmon), humpback(pink salmon), chinook(king salmon) and blackmouth(silver salmon)

18th of May

Again we had a chance to see the gorgeous views when riding back to Anchorage. This day was a tough one for us. Since we had to make grocery shopping for our 9 week stay in the “bush” (areas in Alaska that aren’t connected to the national road network – basically extremely remote). As a daily visitor at Giant Eagle in Pittsburgh,  having to buy 25 pounds of meat, numerous bags of pasta, beverages and many more other stuff, it was a hard exam on my estimation skills – see whether made them right ;)

At the end of the day we spent over 2 hours at the post office at the Anchorage airport packing and than waiting in a huge line (some Business Process Modelling would be there) to ship our boxes to Unalakleet – our project destination.

On the road back to Anchorage

Ready to go to the bush

19th of May

Time to go to the wild bush. On a PenAir plane we flew other to Unalakleet. Quite excited we recognized the village from air and successfully landed at the “huge” airport.

Unalakleet from air

Baggage handling system

Unalakleet, kids on skateboards

We are in the bush. Literally, it is mind blowing!!!

20th of May

Director of Educational Technology organized a trip to four remote villages (Saint Michael, Stebbins, White Mountain and Nome) where the Bering Strait School District operates (our client).  We had a chance to talk with principles, teachers and administrators who use the developed by BSSD Student Information System – DART for which we are supposed to make an open source strategy. We also had some marvelous time flying on a smaller aircraft owned by BSSD.

I had an opportunity to sit on the co-pilot seat ... and push buttons!!! :D

 

Our highly experienced pilot with the BSSDs aircraft

All of the schools are an important place for each of the villages. Those schools play a role of a community center. They are incredibly equipped – all teachers have MacBooks, classrooms have SmartBoards and in overall the buildings are really nice.

 

Stebbins

White Mountain School

On our way back to Unalakleet, the plane was so packed with freight,  that I had to jump into it through the front tiny pilot window … only in Alaska :)

I am aware I am a little bit behind schedule with posting you my experiences … I hope to make it up .. in the meantime jumping out to take more photos …

More to come – more about our project, fishing and my first catch, four wheeler tundra driving and picking up skills in fire arms, so keep us tracking ;)

I have been in Rwanda for almost a week, and since this is my first blog post, I think it is the perfect time to give you a backgrounder by introducing myself, the country, and the community partner.

My name is Alimou, and I am a graduate student at the Heinz School of Information Systems & Management. Rwanda is a country located in East Africa. It shares borders with Burundi, Congo, Uganda, and Tanzania. There are 11 million people living in Rwanda. Kigali is the capital and the  largest city. There are three languages spoken here: Kinyarwanda, English, and French. Rwanda is also called the land of a thousand hills because the land is engulfed by hills. I have not seen a plateau yet. There are hills everywhere.

Agahozo–Shalom Youth Village (ASYV) is the community partner. ASYV is located 45 minutes away from Kigali. It is a residential community, and it was founded two years ago with the goal of educating and nurturing young Rwandans who have lived through great hardship (http://goo.gl/OQ265).

Since we arrived, Jin Seop and I have been working enthusiastically with the good folks at Liquidnet and Mike (the ASYV IT Volunteer). Liquidnet has committed its human capital, a portion of its revenues, and expertise to social causes, and ASYV is their signature cause. They are here for just one week. Many tasks have been accomplished. We have been troubleshooting the wireless network, configuring servers, doing IT support, climbing roofs (seriously- see pictures below), and much more…

The real work will start in the next couple of days when Jin Seop and I start addressing the many challenges (we have identified) and the question of sustainability as well. More details about the work, the place, and many other things will be included in subsequent posts, but in the meantime enjoy the pictures below. “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

fixing the nano

fixing the antenna on the roof

Jin Seop on the roof looking for the access point (AP)

Jin Seop and Liquidnet group working on the AP

 

Having "brochettes" for lunch after working on the roof

(What are “brochettes”? Click here to find out.)

Waiting for the "brochettes"

Working on another antenna

IT Support - Fixing the computer of a faculty member at 8 AM.

 

Kia Orana! I’m Elizabeth, a rising junior majoring in Information Systems and Human-Computer Interaction. I’m one of the three student consultants in the Cook Islands this summer.

Chloe, Amin and I left Pittsburgh on the afternoon of Monday the 16th. After almost 24 hours in the air with stopovers in Charlotte, Los Angeles, and Auckland, New Zealand, we finally arrived in Rarotonga on Tuesday night, Hawaiian-Aleutian time.

Rarotonga is very beautiful. We’re surrounded by blue ocean, green mountains, coconut trees and many nice people. The weather here is lovely compared to Pittsburgh — it’s warm and sunny during the daytime and cool during the night, with the occasional tropical rain.

continue reading…

Beginning is easy – continuing hard

(Japanese Quote)

 

 

First post, first blog, first time in Chicago, first time in Seattle, will be my first time in Alaska. So many first times for only one day and amazing more to come in the next 10 weeks which we (Bolek & Cristina) will spend helping the Bering Strait School District.

Currently we are sitting at the Seattle airport. We already had one stop in Chicago – quite short.
Alaska Airlines are amazing, not only they have a great customer service, they also arrive before time (over ~30min).

Keep track of our posts, photos and many stories which we hope to share in endless amounts in the nearest weeks !!!

Wish us luck!

Bolek

Fourth Post

1 comment

Hi again, thought I’d make a quick post to update everyone on some of the things going on over here! For the most part, on weekdays, we’ve just been going to work at the college and coming back to the dorms afterwards to relax.

Work has been good; I’ve personally been doing a lot of coding. Like I’ve mentioned previously, we’re working with an open-source system that is heavily customized. Looking back, I remember us considering creating our own system from scratch. I think we made the right decision, as I realize now just how much work and how many lines of code have to go into a system in order for it to work properly and fulfill the needs of its users. There are so many situations to account for, I think it was smart to take an existing system and modify it to our needs, as it was open source. Now, we’ve created a system together with the college to make it useful and sustainable once we are gone. We also know that the potential success of fully implementing the system cannot rest solely on our shoulders, so the rest of our time working will primarily be focused on documentation and user training. All along, we have been meeting with stakeholders in the project, and Rana and Stephanie have been doing a lot of documentation, it’s important to be extremely thorough (yet still easy to follow) in our walkthroughs and guides.

Outside of work, I’ve been trying to stay in touch with news and happenings around the world and in the USA. The Internet makes it incredibly easy to keep up with everything and keep in touch with my family and friends. I’ve thought about just how different things would be without this constant connection, especially since the technology really hasn’t been around in popular use for that long, relatively speaking.

We’ve also been able to do more activities on the weekends. We all went back to the restaurant that has live music and sat around, talked, and tried new and delicious food. I was able to hang around with some of the teachers a little more at the other house on the hospital campus that doubles as the rehab facility, watching movies and singing karaoke. Another night, Bryan, a student we’re good friends with, brought over a copy of Slumdog Millionaire and we watched it on the roof area using Gerry’s projector. Abhinav was able to explain some of the story and background in more detail, which was cool. Afterwards, we watched Zoolander since Rana had never seen it, and it was funny. Another day, we also played some more badminton, which was a lot of fun. I’ve also hung out with Von and some of the other students, which is nice to take a break, get a snack, and unwind. Abhinav and I also got to play with Ruthy, who is Richard’s daughter and a very cute little girl. Ruthy is so friendly and fun, but doesn’t speak English that well and it’s interesting to see her not really understand why we won’t ever listen to her! I have good memories of hanging around, just watching boxing with the guys.

Another fun night was the Acquaintance Party, which is a party and induction ceremony hosted every year by the Computer Studies department. After a welcome from the dean and some teachers, as well as a guest speaker, the newly elected officers were sworn in. There was a delicious meal provided, and a lot of prizes were given out throughout the night. There were also a few different games. One involved one partner trying to guess a phrase held behind him by asking yes and no questions to his partner, who could see the phrase. Another was a race involving popping a balloon in a chair and answering a riddle. Somehow I ended up playing a game where the first person started by singing part of a song, and the next person had to sing another song that started with the last word of the previous song. It sounds easier than it is – being on-the-spot like that was difficult, even though I lasted a few rounds. The most exciting parts were probably the intermission performances! One group of four students did a choreographed dance to “Down” by Jay Sean, which was really good. Abhinav did a performance of two songs, “I Hate Love Stories” and “Dus Bahane” – both in Hindi – which were also cool. But, the most absurd part of the night was when two first year students came up to perform a song. They were two girls I knew and recognized, since they liked to always call out my name and wave at me every time they saw me, so I was somewhat expecting to be acknowledged in some way during the song. I really wasn’t expecting one of the girls to walk over to me, grab my hand, walk me out to the dance floor, and sing the song “Destiny” by Jim Brickman to me. A very surreal experience!

After that, Stephanie and Rana hung out more with Ryan, an English teacher, while Abhinav and I went out with Gerry, Richard, as well as CS students like Bryan, Shiela, Von, Christine, Gracie, Jessica, Via, and even more. We went to a place right at Bagasbas Beach that had a big table for us and also videoke, where we stayed for much of the night, talking and singing and having a good time.

This past weekend, Abhinav and I also got to go and have lunch and spend some time with the Palencias at the boat dock on the way to Calaguas, which was nice. A few weeks ago, we also experienced Typhoon Basyang, internationally named Conson. The college cancelled class for the second half of the day and there was a lot of heavy rain and strong wind. Luckily, it didn’t affect our lives much more than a few power outages, but recent news articles say that at least 76 people have been confirmed dead. This high number was due to inadequate warning of the path of the tropical storm, expected to hit a different part of the Philippines. So, a large number of people were surprised, including many fishermen, who were out as the storm hit. The Palencias told us that several people from the Calaguas islands were among those fishing at the time (without any radio capabilities on board) and after a part of their boat broke off, several men survived for over three days on a makeshift bamboo raft with no food or water, and sadly some others tried to swim for shore but never made it. It’s a disturbing story and it’s too bad that there wasn’t better forecasting and a higher degree of communication for warnings and alerts.

This weekend coming up is our last one with everyone! I’m sure we’ll all go out for dinner and have a fun night. We’re also set to go to Naga City for the CWC – the Camsur Watersports Complex – for some wakeboarding on Saturday. Friday is also the fourth annual Robotex, which I know Gerry and other CS people are putting a lot of work into. Abhinav is also contributing with a Lego Mindstorms Robot and input on competitions and event details. I’m not looking forward to leaving all my friends here, but I am also really excited to see everyone back home! Until next time, hope everyone stays safe, happy, and healthy!

Third Post

1 comment

Hi everyone. I’m back with another entry. As you may have guessed, we’ve been doing a lot of fun activities here in Daet in the meantime. The week after my last post was actually the week of Daet’s annual Pinyasan Festival! It showcases the Formosa variety of the Queen pineapple and the town held a lot of different events. We got to go to some of them, including Miss Daet 2010, where we got 2nd row seats to watch the pageant. My favorite part was seeing the girls come out in their pineapple-inspired costumes! We also got to watch a Battle of the Bands and see more of the talents of the area. Watching them perform was also interesting, because none the songs they played were in English, which was different from the bands we saw performing new and old American songs at the local restaurants and plazas. With those bands, it’s completely acceptable to write a request on a napkin and have your server hand it up to the band. If they know it and have time, they’ll play it! Another night, we went to the Beer Plaza, which is a block of the main road in downtown Daet that is sectioned off at night during the festival and closed to vehicular traffic, complete with a stage for bands to play and tables lined up from more than 20 local restaurants, who served food and drinks. A funny thing about these events was that they definitely ran on Filipino time, meaning that they started at least 2 hours later than the advertised time. That was something different for me, and after showing up at the time it said on the posters, we learned that the “hard way.”
One of the most impressive things we saw during the festival was the Pinyasan parade and street dancing competition. The floats in the parade actually were made with real pineapples and were really intricate designs! Then, right after that, we saw groups of local kids perform in the street dancing competition, and they were all really good. The costumes, music, dancing, and props all contributed to make the show exciting and just really remarkable. I’m glad we were lucky enough to get to experience the Pinyasan Festival firsthand!
The next weekend was more low-key, we played some basketball, badminton, and the foosball that’s on the rooftop area at the dorms. I also relaxed a little and basically just hung out, visiting blogs, watching some TV episodes, and playing some old video games. One of the nights, Richard and Gerry came and watched a movie with Abhinav and me in our room, which was fun. We also went shopping in downtown Daet again, where I bought two cool Pilipinas basketball jerseys, and even got a chance to shoot some hoops in them. Rana and I also went back to Bagasbas Beach and walked around. It was nice to just walk along the beach and see more of it than I had before.
This past weekend we got to go to the Pineapple Resort, which had a nice, big pool for us to swim in and also had some water slides that we got to go down. Since it was the “low” season here, there was only one other family there, and they were in the kiddy pool the whole time. We went with PJ and Isabel, who were fun to play around with and get to know a little better. I also went out for some food & drinks with Gerry, Abhinav, and Shiela, which was a lot of fun, and we got to go dancing after.
We’ve also eaten out a few times, at places like Leo’s Cuisine, Alvino’s, Shakey’s, Makshaff, and Caroline’s. It’s fun to do, and the food is usually really good. We also see, though, that the food we are eating on a daily basis comes as a really good variety and tastes great as well. Because we eat this way every day, it’s hard to talk about favorites, since it all kind of blends together, but as a whole I am very impressed with the different meals we’ve been having. Like I keep saying, there’s always fish or squid, then some combination of chicken, pork, and/or beef, veggies, rice, and usually fresh mangos. We’ve even had some good burgers and really amazing spaghetti! The Hawaiian pizza from a place around the corner is also one of my favorites, since the pineapple on it is just so good.
Work has been good but there’s a lot of code there and not a lot of time. It’s definitely hard to jump right into a new system without well-commented code, especially not being entirely familiar with PHP. On the bright side, I have gotten a lot more comfortable with it, after trying to figure out where everything goes and how it all fits together. A lot of the functionality is done for us, but doesn’t really fit with the college, so I’ve been changing that around, not just display-wise, but also in the code so it make sense to the CS department who is going to maintain it. Bugs popping up here and there have also made it frustrating and sidetrack a lot more time than I’d originally thought. We’re trying to get things wrapped up to be able to deliver something that we are proud of and that works well for all it does. That way, we can continue to work with the people here and train them on how the system can be used and maintained. Hopefully, we’re able to produce a sustainable solution that meets the needs of the users, and I’m very confident we’ll be able to.
It doesn’t really seem like that long since the last time I made a post, but after typing it all up, I guess it was! I’ve never really kept a journal, so it’s sometimes hard to try and write these blog entries, but I just have to get in the mood to write and send them out, since I know people like to see what I’m up to and how I’m doing. Thanks for understanding! I hope all is well, and that everyone stays safe and healthy!