Saturday, November 20, 2010

Its not the hardware (tablets)

There has been all this talk about tablets lately (thanks to apple) but I hear so many reasons why tablets haven't taken off (and MS has been pushing tablets for close to ten years); to me its the software. I am typing this out on my HTC TyTN II and it, even though it is mobile is sub optimal in terms of software, I try to just use my fingers for some apps but others I must use a pen, and still others I have to flip out my keyboard... Its the software people, make software where people can effectively us all apps with their fingers, and encourage useful innovative apps on of course reasonable hardware and tablets will be gold. I wouldn't mind having one if I cal run home automation software, home theater/universal remote software, multi-format ebook reader, front mounted camera for video chat and yeah I might splurge... I am really leaning towards some sort of Android Internet tablet as I don't see the need for much storage when I have multiple terrabytes of network accessible storage in my house. There are lots of android tablets out there now but there is talk that the next version of android will have lots of tablet optimizations so as hard as it will be I think I will hang on a bit longer and take a looksee at tablets with this new Android tablet optimized OS when it comes out (sometime next year). Until then I will continue struggling with trying to set my 6.x WinMo phone up as my univ-remote... sigh.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

How Much Sugar in Shakes and Smoothies?

I am always interested in knowing ingredients especially sugar (gut control) but the amounts shown grams ounces etc never quite regisered with me, i am a pretty visual person. I recently came across this website that really shows you how much sugar are in various foods, and damn I had no idea... Seeing stacks of sugar cubes beside these foods really hits it home. How Much Sugar in Shakes and Smoothies?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The other Minority in Georgia

Here in Georgia they have a larger mix of nationalities/ethnicities that you would ever guess from a distance. I am constantly hearing about Armenian disobedience, Azeri cattle business, Samagrelian, Abkhaz (always a taboo topic in Georgia) but I recently heard about a lesser know minority in Georgia, footage of Aliens! Fact?/Fiction? Looks real to me; but hey, you decide!!

Saturday, September 04, 2010

No Dough!

I recently took a job with an agricultural development project in the country of Georgia and it seems pretty interesting, certainly in my line of work (Agriculture) but at the same time it seems to suffer from lack of interest from all sides (except the donor and my organization of course). In my years of working in Agriculture I have come to learn that my line of work is about as unsexy in the development realm as work could be. The problem is that from the beneficiary side they are quite often looking for hand outs and the idea of having to do more than write an agreement saying "I promise I will use these things you gave me for free to better my life" is just not worth the time. On the other side you have government which has little interest in anything that they can't say they helped with, and if you aren't making something then they don't care (unless there are big revenues involved, ie casinos, there are a ton of them around here). In the end, in talking with my predecessor, it looks like it will be worlds easier than Azerbaijan but at the same time not so easy in that they (gov/people) just aren't investing in anything agriculture (I do have to give the gov props for the roads and the un-corrupt police, nice change from Azer).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Got chai?

I was driving to a diner party in another town (in Azerbaijan) and got pulled over. I calmly got all my docs together etc and promptly handed them to the policeman. He unfolded one doc then refolded it, obviously barely glancing at it, and then he asked something about "chai". I don't speak Azeri but I know what chai means literally (tea) and thought he was asking me to have tea. I tried telling him in Russian I was sorry but didn't have time but his Russian was as non-existent as my azeri but he kept asking chai. It quickly became apparent that he was asking for money, while I wanted to get to my diner party I have a manic intolerance of being taken advantage of and this includes bribes. I told him that if he wrote a ticket then I would pay the fine (thus leaving a paper trail); he clearly didn't want a paper trail and I decided to just play dumb. After 10 minutes of this back and forth I suggested I call my embassy friend (who doesn't even exist) and she could translate for us via phone. Well fortunately he didn't call my bluff and hastily said "yo yo yo" (no no no in azeri) and sent me on way. Azerbaijan is extraordinarily corrupt (rates around 140 something out of 180 countries on transparency internationals corruption index). I don't usually have to deal with corruption directly but it is obvious to me that it is just about everywhere in many of the countries I am working in. Anywho, there are some interesting bits on the Planet Money blog about corruption as well.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Government Apathy

In my work in Azerbaijan one of the most frustrating parts is government apathy. I am working with a livestock project where we are working with feed companies to help them more effectively sell to poorer farmers who can't access thier products as easily (just driving to a feed shop to by a few hundred kh of feed is no easy task consideirng that many farmers don't even have cars). Anyway, one of the mandates of our donor is working with government trying to get them interested and helping etc. The problem with my project (in the government's opinion) is that we don't give out things, lots of development projects give out "Freebies" but one of the guiding principales of my type of project (M4P) is no free stuff so the government just doesn't care, especially since there is comparatively little money in livestock here.

From what I have heard it is not only a problem here but all around the south caucuses. My project's "sister project" in Armenia is working with the dairy sector. One of the major constraints there is the accessibility of the communities for milk companies. On the one hand the companies only occasionally help in setting up collection stations for milk collection and the government almost never assists (how many voters in a small village?). My organization's regional office is in Georgia (next door) and I am constantly hearing about how little attention the government gives to livestock (the particular issue is giving out vaccinations, they say they will vaccinate all cattle in the country against foot and mouth and a few other things but in reality they vaccinate a few thousand [in a country with hundreds of thousands of cattle] then pat themselves on the back). In the end, I guess there as here there isn't enough money to provide incentive enough to give any meaningful support/investment.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Got Cha'!!!!!!

Ok, so for weeks now there has been at least one uninvited visitor in my house (aka mouse) who has been eating my food, pooping in my shoes (on my desk, around my kitchen, etc) and has been generally annoying. I asked my staff to get the critter and the first thing tried was a humane (though seriously doubt the intention was to be humane) trap that i found totally does not work with small mice (later i found that if i balance the trap itself on something then when it tips the door will close) but regardless, the critter must have eaten 5 times its body weight out of that trap before i gave up on it. Next was the woodchuck trap, ok, not for woodchucks, maybe rats but it could easily have broken my finger (it snapped my sharpie marker in two when i was testing it), so i baited that and tried it... well like the other trap i think it was meant to larger critters (do Azeris just not care about mice?) because i saw the bait i put get smaller and smaller (nibbled away) but no critter. Finally in an act of desperation/irritation (after it got bold enough to start running around while i was in the room) I tried something that i totally didn't think would work, the ole box N stick N string trap. I have lost track of how many times i tried to catch squirrels, birds, and other animate objects using this method (30+ years of trying) and today it paid off!!! I put a box (ok, pot, i wanted something heavy that would fall fast) string and block up with some bread under it and waited, and waited, and waited then he came out, took a dogs age to inch up to the trap then tried making a run for the bread and GOT YA!!!!!

Damn, victory is sweet, even the small ones...


Thursday, March 04, 2010


The president of Azerbaijan, the "benevolent-dictator" İlham Əliyev had originally expressed no interest in being "elected" to take the place of his father. A friend of mine pointed out an article that I was not entirely sure wasn't a photoshop job so I went to google earth myself and found it, pretty easy. So for a guy who didn't want to be president, it looks like he is filling out the shoes of his dead megalomaniacal father (whose face is everywhere) pretty well; and having buildings built in your initials is testament to that. sigh.

Friday, February 05, 2010

OMG U Drank Cold Water?!

This weekend I apparently caught a bug that didn’t go away by Monday so I called in sick but was informed there were a few small things that were really urgent so I went for those small things. Every one of my staff that I told I was going home due to a sore throat asked me “did you drink something cold?” Now there are two things #1 in the CIS it is widely believed that drinking cold drinks will make you sick, and #2 I drink cold stuff all the time; so, the question was not unexpected but still annoying. I have been in this office for more than a year and my staff has seen me quaff glass, after icy glass of iced tea, diet coke, etc and now, the first time in over a year that I get a sore throat, it must have been because I drank something cold (never mind those hundreds of other icy bullets I dodged over the past year). Sigh, as they will never understand my drinking cold stuff, I will never comprehend their belief that drinking cold stuff will make you all manners of ill.

Out of curiosity I checked on the web, found a myriad of sources saying the temperature of a liquid was not medically significant in catching or curing a cold but i did discover that this cold liquid phobia is equally as pervasive in South America. Strange.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Made in China

I was recently in a "big box store" in Georgia with a Georgian and an Azeri. They were scrutinizing every product and when they saw "made in china" they would wrinkle their noses and put the product back.

In many developing countries there are Chinese products that are straight from china and made to Chinese standards (or more accurately, made to the standards of the optimal price [ie cheap price and cheap quality]) whereas in the USA products are made by America companies to western standards but in China (hence they are better quality). I tried to explain this but the stigma was apparently too ingrained. Oh well.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


In working in various developing countries one of the most difficult parts has been the mediocre Internet access (hey, we all have our "must haves"). Bandwidth is a precious and often expensive commodity in the countries (a megabit connection in Kenya when i was there in 2006 was $500+/month). With these restrictions access to what the west would consider a bandwidth simple site such as Wikipedia is difficult at best. Another thing i have noticed is the lack of written material in native languages, i was noticing at Nangahar university in Jalalabad Afghanistan they have practically no written material and they are getting donations of *English* material (not particularly useful for the majority of the staff and students i am sure). Well Wikipedia is growing and while the entries in languages other than English are minuscule they are there, and something like Farsi (which is widely spoken in Afghanistan) has a few thousand articles (its a start).

The above thoughts lead me to a very very very nifty but simple peice of software, Okawix. It is a program that has an extraordinarily simple interface and "lets you download the whole content of Wikipedia, with or without images, so that you can browse it offline: Okawix is available in 253 languages and includes sister projects of the Wikimedia Foundation (Wikisource, Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks). Okawix is a free software available under GPL licence; sources are available on the SourceForge project. It's featuring the search engine , developed by Linterweb."

A program like this and an old computer could really go a long way towards helping mitigate some of the disadvantages of low bandwidth.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The maturing of Linux… applications.

For years, since I installed (very very painfully) Slackware Linux v2.1 in 1995 I have heard about how Linux is “ready for the masses”, at the time it was totally untrue and now… well it is as ready as windows but… 

To sidetrack for a bit, I was recently ogling over a nice bit of freeware and gave a copy to my colleague who equally appreciated the usefulness of the software and my comment to him was it is nice to have someone around that appreciates a good piece of software (if we were more geek-inclined we would have been ogling over the code) and his response was “most people just use a computer as a glorified typewriter” which is not far from the truth. That is most people still don’t understand computers very well… it seems that nowadays if you can use facebook and an iPhone you are considered a computer savvy person but most of those people would have mental meltdowns if they were asked to do a fresh install of windows or Mac OS X not to mention Linux. I would argue that now Linux’s main weakness is not its usability but more the weakness of its application base. Now mind you, there are some damn good/rock solid Linux software out there but it is not accessible to the masses as there is still a lot of Linux software that requires a healthy dose of comandline kungfu to use (care to even imagine how to edit a video using a command prompt driven piece of software?). I have argued many times that that most people just need a browser, an office suite, and solitaire and they are set… Linux can totally do those things, but I digress.

But now, it seems that Linux applications are coming of age. I was recently looking for a good alternative to Adobe Premiere and found the Wikipedia video editing software comparison page and noticed, most of the free editing packages out there are… Linux only?! I went to many of these sites and without having used the software I can truthfully say these are very capable pieces of software, worlds away from MS Movie Maker for sure. I was floored that there were only 1 or 2 freeware windows video editing programs compared to the 8-10 programs for Linux. This is not a bad thing, as I think I have mentioned in a previous post, my primary reason for using windows is the availability of applications out there, but I am happy to report that gap appears to be narrowing.