Archive for July, 2009

Survival of the Most Stubborn

July 31, 2009

VSO vols are falling fast in the Great Kunene Region.

First M and A are off back to Canada from Khorixas for a variety of reasons to do with all sorts of stuff. Although they arrived earlier than me we did our second in-country training together and I’ve seen them a fair few times since when I’ve managed to blag myself down to Khorixas on some tenuous excuse.

They will be sorely missed by their VSO colleagues (as well as, I’m sure, the MoHSS and their patients). One of my abiding memories of ICT2 was drinking the bar dry of Tafel lager with M. Good luck guys! I look forward to crashing on your hospitality in Canada in the future much as I have here 🙂

Secondly H has gone from Opuwo. He was the Regional Occupational Therapist and shared an office with me.

Simply put he, along with one or two others, have been the reason I landed so “softly” here and have been able to cope and enjoy my time.

When I arrived late at night, dazed and confused, at the casualty (less than 6 days in-country at the time) it was he who turned up with my key, welcomed me, settled me in and then gave me my first tour around the next day.

Since then he has been nothing other than an excellent friend helping my feckless self out with everything from finding someone to do my washing to the joys of daytime drinking in the various shebeens (in moderation and only at weekends of course).

He is off to a “proper job” at the Katatura Hospital in the capital. I dropped him down there on Sunday (the place is massive, I mean, seriously, big). Like the others he’ll be sorely missed by me, the ministry and his patients but I wish him the best of luck for the future.

Actually at this precise moment (with the other two vols away on hols) I am the only VSO in Opuwo District. This of course means it is on my shoulders to uphold all the finest traditions of VSO and the United Kingdom generally and conduct myself in an upright and sober manner. So it’s down the bar later then.

Having had my Placement Review yesterday (more on that later, perhaps) I also now know for sure that there is nobody coming up here in the next (September) VSO intake so it’ll be March 2010 at the earliest.

Luckily I am dealing with this relative isolation well by (a) rocking back and forth and (b) encouraging the voices to speak more. Dribble.


This lettuce tastes funny

July 17, 2009

When I told people I’d signed up for VSO in addition to the usual what/why/when/how questions I heard, from numerous sources, something along the lines of “but you will surely die without a Dominos or McDonalds” such was their confidence in my culinary skills.

Fellow vols in Opuwo would I’m sure confirm that my skills certainly haven’t improved in this department but so far I get by on tins of stuff, sandwiches and the generosity of others.

So it was the other day I happened to be at the Ok in a MoHSS vehicle as someone needed to pop into the bank so I ran in to get some shopping. Grabbed some tomatoes, ham, bread and a lettuce.

Imagine my surprise and disappointment to get home and find instead of a lettuce I’d bought a cabbage.

In my defence they are both green and both in the vegetable section of the supermarket. Turns out it’s not quite as nice in a cheese and tomato sandwich though.

From Tiny Acorns

July 14, 2009

A couple of weeks have passed since I mentioned two new projects one of which (VSO Journals) was impeccably timed as just the very next day another VSO blogger wrote a post about social media and NGOs which amongst other points bemoaned a lack of just such a system.

I felt duty bound to comment and before I knew it Steve had emailed me and did a second post on my little project.

In the time since I have had several nice emails from people about the site including one from Mike Sheppard the guy behind Peace Corps Journals. I had always assumed that PCJ was an official site but it turns out not to be the case, you can read about the site history here.

Today I received an email from Alex in VSO’s communications department. When I saw the sender my first thought was “the game is up” and I was about to receive a volunteer placement review for using their name in vein. I shouldn’t have worried though, I had forgotten VSO are a groovy bunch of guys and gals who always know where their towels are.

Apparently VSO are working on something similar in an official capacity and Alex just wanted to say “hi” and give me a list of some other VSO blogs which are now included in the VSO Journals index. Good stuff.

So a big thank you to everyone who has emailed. Please use the site, submit new blogs and let me know if you have any suggestions.


July 13, 2009

The big danger of having no water for a large portion of the time isn’t that you will smell (that is a given and just an inconvenience after a while).

No, the big danger is that you will leave a tap fully open. Over a sink full of washing up (not done as there is no water) which is blocking the plug.

So that when water comes back on while you are at work in the middle of the day, at high pressure naturally, you flood your flat and the entire surrounding area.

Luckily today when the above happened to me my neighbour was still at home, heard the niagra sound, rang me and I ran home… just in time.

Network Networked

July 13, 2009

After four months of plonkering, procastinating, ordering of kit, scawling of diagrams and a couple of false starts I finally managed to start the wired networking project this weekend.

My predecessor had put in a wireless LAN connecting about five computers but, owing to the thickness of the walls and lack of money for more access points this was never going to reach everywhere. This is where cables come into play.

He had managed to get 300m of CAT5 network cable ordered along with 50 RJ-45 end pieces. Another VSO vol who stopped by managed to get them to order another 300m of cable and some trunking (the stuff that the cables go inside).

When I arrived this was all in-place. I then managed to get a 24-port patch panel, 24 RJ-45 wall sockets, 24 3m and 24 1m cables ordered along with the Krone punch tool needed to put it all together.

For non-technical readers this is everything I need to connect all the ‘puters together to each other and the internet in a “nice” (think telecom e.g. sockets on the walls) type of way.

On Saturday I turned up at 9am to find the office had been broken into on Friday night and we were waiting for the police to come and gather evidence. Under no circumstances was I to go inside the office (this came in a phone call once I was already inside the office of course). After waiting for them to do their CSI bit the artisan helping with the cabling had to reinforce the door.

Eventually around 11am we got started on putting up the trunking. It turns out drilling into concrete is hard, hot and dusty work.

By 4pm we had the trunking all done in one direction on one side of the corridor (90% of the target for that day). We then spent the next hour running a solitary CAT5 cable to the furthest point to be used for testing purposes (just so happens that furthest point is my office).

By then it was almost 5 and I was knackered so decided to put off splicing cables as I would no doubt make a schoolboy error. We tidied up as best we could but the place still looked like a dustpocolypse had occured. I planned to blame it on the break in.

This morning (Monday) I got in early to apologise to the cleaners and splice cable number one (port A1) in – my office. Did this, connected the distribution switch and then plugged my laptop into the far end with sweaty hands.

Bingo! LAN and Internet connectivity is go.

Making a mess in the corridor installing trunking

Making a mess in the corridor installing trunking

Subtle expert trunking

Subtle expert trunking

19" rack patch panel you say? No rack you say? Wall mount with a piece of wood!

19" rack patch panel you say? No rack you say? Wall mount with a piece of wood!

Racks? Who needs them when you have a counter

Racks? Who needs them when you have a counter

Link Number One, to my desk natch

Link Number One, to my desk natch

The cabling actually works (shock, horror)

The cabling actually works (shock, horror)

The end result - t'internet at my desk

The end result - t'internet at my desk

Copy Protection Sucks

July 6, 2009

A good friend of mine (and ecommerce expert) very kindly sent me a nice parcel which NamPost has eventually deined to deliver to Opuwo containing various wonders including his amazing screen wipes and a copy of Rainbox Six 3: Raven Shield.

Raven Shield is a game we used to play back in the day on PCs before we all consoled up and was sent in response to my pathetic plea for PC games now my gaming options are somewhat limited.

Abso-fantasmarogical. A bit of nostalgic retro (but still good) anti-terrorist action that would, given its age, play fine on my laptop.

Installed and ready. Like many games it requires you have the original CD in the drive to avoid piracy. The only problem is, even with the original CD in the drive, it still tells me to insert the correct disk. Damn.

A quick bit of googling reveals it (a) doesn’t work on some CD drives and (b) at the very least requires all virtual drive software to be uninstalled (even if it is not running as a virtual drive).

Ok, a quick trawl through my software and I remember I’ve got PowerISO installed so remove it. I’ve also got various CyberLink stuff that came with the laptop and I use every day though I don’t think it’s got a virtual drive function.

No dice.

Right – patch to the latest version. The downloads from UBI are all helpfully 1.0-1.6 or 1.3-1.6 etc. I don’t know what version the installer has installed as I can’t run the flipping game. Eventually plump for and download, very slowly with several breaks in connection, the 1.0 to 1.6 US patch.

Errors on run, corrupted download or some such (no MD5 hash to check, thanks UBI). Various other download options from their site lead to a plethora of pay-to-play download servers. Oh joy.

Then I look on the disk – the 1.0 to 1.6 UK patch is on the flipping CD. Of course the installer didn’t run this, nor is there a big sticker saying RUN PATCH NOW. Anyhow, try this one and… it works. “Patch Completed Successfully”.

Still no bloody dice. Will not accept the CD.

So at this point I visit a certain site which shall remain nameless apart from, perhaps, it’s initials might be something like GCW.

On here I find a 1.6 no-cd patch which downloads directly and straight away. Copy it into the game directory and a minute later I’m fragging terrorists (or rather being fragged by terrorists).

My point is this – here I am with a legit copy of the game, unable to play it because of copy protection. Yet when I decided “naff it” and to bypass that copy protection I was able to do so with no technical skill in a couple of minutes.

Had I actually sourced an illegit copy from one of the many methods requiring very little technical skill, it probably would have come pre-patched or at the very least with the patch for me to apply post-install.

UBI soft – a message for you: nobody who is pirating your software is really affected by your ridiculous copy protection, they will just bypass it, easily and in a minute or so. The only people you are annoying (and pushing towards never using your games or having them fall off the back of the internet if they do) are the legitimate users. Having a support forum where you shrug and say “certain CD drives are not supported” is crap and frankly not good enough. Sort it out.

And don’t even get me started on DRM. How glad am I that I didn’t purchase a lot of music via iTunes which now, sans iPhone and iPod, I would be forced to rebuy or (again with a simple google search) crack into an alternative format.

Yes I know I am a fully-fledged FSF and GNU supporting freetard who gives his own software away for free (mainly because of course nobody would buy it) but a legit copy of a game that’s harder to get working than it would be to illegally download? That’s just Microsoft Logic all over.

Right – rant over, I’m off to save the free world and save the hostages! Get some.

Fixing Stuff is Good… Failing to is Bad

July 2, 2009

laptop-microswitch-circuit-vertIn the last few days I’ve experienced both sides of technical repairs, the good (fixed) and the bad (still broken).

To start with I was on fire.

“Dave can you have a look at this fax machine?” (NFPDN); Bang bosh fixed.

“this scanner?” (MoHSS); Zap and cured.

“this network terminal?” (Medicos del Mundo); Badda-bing and seeing the network.

“this un-networked laptop?” (Medicos del Mundo); flailing of wires, swapping of network ports and an “Abracadabra!” later… on the network.

Along with a few other heroic moments (well, vaguely successful moments at least).

Then it all came crashing down.

“Can you have a look at this laptop?” (MoHSS); “Of course”… dribble… unscrew… prod… poke with multimeter… remove battery… “Yep, it’s broken”.

“What about this external hard drive with various bits of important data on that we haven’t backed up, obviously, because we know you like a challenge?”; More dribbling… fighting with screws (having left proper toolkit at the NFDPN office like a fool)… more multi-meterage… “Well the good news is the caddy will probably pull through but, ahem, the actual hard drive with all that data on has gone to a special place in the sky“.

On a slightly more serious note here is an illustration of one of the problems out here in the sticks – the laptop won’t turn on. Having disassembled it I am pretty confident of the problem, the power micro-switch (what the power button actually presses) is broken. This is a teeny-tiny part on a teeny-tiny circuit. On the same circuit board are five other micro-switches which start your email application, turn on wireless (not fitted), start your browser and, erm, whatever “P” does. Murphy’s Law dictates these micro-switches continue to work perfectly.

Circuit in Question - Power Switch on the Right

Circuit in Question - Power Switch on the Right

I am pretty sure this board is the cause of the woe. Sadly, unlike a desktop, the connections are so fiddly that I can’t jury-rig a paperclip or similar in as a temporary replacement to confirm it’s at fault.

Acer Spares UK can get me the board, for ÂŁ25, but will (a) only ship within the EU and (b) not tell me a part number so I’m resigned to emailing SADC suppliers for “you know, that circuit board that sits under the power switch with the micro-switches and LEDs on, here’s a photo”.

In the UK I’d just buy it, not too expensive and certainly better than writing off the laptop. Actually in the UK I would have probably just sent the laptop to a certified Acer repair place and let them worry about the whole thing.

Here, even if I could get the part, ÂŁ25 (N$ 325) is still cheaper than a new laptop but the ordering process is long and tortuous. And what’s the bets even if I find it it’ll be a lot more than ÂŁ25 delivered to my door (“yes mate, past the Etosha game park, third Himba hut on the left”).

So… anyone got a power switch board for an Acer Aspire 1413WLMi?

One Sick Laptop

One Sick Laptop