Thursday, July 2, 2009

D Day (-6) - The pursuit of internet/design challenges

After a day spent in the villages it was back to sorting out our old nemesis, the internet. Stephen has been working on fixing the internet cafe in the hostel over the last couple of days but it looks as if will be Saturday at the earliest before that’s up and running again so we had to determine another source in the meantime. On the tour the morning previosuly Asante had shown us a separate internet café nearby on campus that had a decent connection so that was our first port of call. Jess and I couldn’t believe our luck when we arrived and everything was working perfectly and it seemed that we had solved our problem. Alas, we had not factored in Stephen’s arrival. On an incredible run of bad luck, Stephen arrived at the café and within about thirty seconds the café lost internet completely, much to his chagrin!

Our next best bet was to attempt to find some internet cards to correspond with the campus wireless networks available in our hostel. KNUST’s campus has a number of different residence halls which are currently dormant due to the fact that the Unviersity is out of term but on the tour yesterday, Asante gave me some interesting info about the different halls and their traditions. If you come from Katanga Hall you are known as a fellow, a Mongol if from Republic, a Spartan if from Independence, Unity and a Royal if from Elizabeth Hall. An inexplicably intense rivalry exists between Katanga and Unity Hall and Asante went on to tell me that some of their procession days can get quite ugly and territorial, but on every other day of the year it is not strange to see a Fellow and a walking as friends.

Our group exchange stories about the morning search

We spent the morning going from hall to hall looking for the cards and eventually, in Republic Hall, we stumbled upon an office that sold ‘e-campus’ cards. Our elation was to prove short lived though as it turns out it’s a network that is practically non existent in our dorms! A plethora of fruitless calls to local card dealers was to follow before I decided to cut out the middle. I took out one of the IDDS bikes (Crossman picked four of them up yesterday afternoon) and set out for Aydeuase, a local town not too far outside campus, and getting out of the campus and into the surrounding area was probably the best decision I could have made! I eventually found an FnF internet café, bought as many cards as I could afford and realized just how important learning the local language can be and how useful were the few words of twi I had already picked up. The vast majority of Ghanaian’s I have met so far speak very good English but they really appreciate when you make an effort to converse in the local language, even if it is often just a tokenistic gesture.

E-campus codes - Close, but no cigar

This afternoon Amy left to visit the villages in the Northern Region and Benjamin Linder duly took charge of the design challenges meeting later that evening. Ben arrived yesterday evening and is a faculty member in Design and Mechanical Engineering in Olin College in Boston and has been a key player in IDDS since its inception in 2007. In the meeting Ben filled us in on the potential design challenges and projects that could feature at IDDS 09’. There was a real sense of excitement and energy in the room as Ben listed off the projects and tried to give some description as to what they might entail. Talking about the projects for the first time really made it hit home that the participants will be splitting up into teams and heading out to villages in little over a week!

Tombo in pensive mood at the design challenge meeting

It was extremely helpful to have input at the meeting from Killian, Asante and Amin, three of our Ghanaian participants, as they explained the local context behind a number of the problems the projects concern themselves with. In particular I don’t think we could have grasped so fully the technique of Yam Mounding, a common practice in villages across the country, had we not had their expertise to draw on. This is all so different from MIT last year where we often bemoaned the distance between our committee room and the real life context in which people daily faced the problems we were attempting to solve. The anticipation is building for IDDS, Ghana 09’ …

Killian provides some critical background into yam mounding

Here’s a list of the tentative projects for this year:

1.Bamboo Matchstick Making
2.Forest Health Monitoring
3.Groundnut Threshing
4.Cassava Processing
5.Yam Earth Mounder
6.Destoning Rice
7.Shelf Life Extension of Fresh Foods
8.Shea oil extraction
9.Kid friendly latrine’s
10.latrine emptying
11.Cool Medicine Storage
12.ICT Enabled Baby Monitoring
13.Clorine dosing
14.Super Cap Chlorinator
15.Small Scale Energy Storage
16.Portable Hydro Power Light
17.Recycled Plastic Products
18.Transporting Heavy Clay Loads

Twi phrase of the day:
Me ho yeI’m fine


Derek said...

Re: Shelf life of food.

That's a neat topic. It is easy to forget how economically important the fridge can be... and before that, the tin can. Canned food had a huge impact in the past 2 centuries, and not just for bachelors.

Are you familiar with those silver packets of Indian food that they sell at trader joes? You cook them by dropping them in boiling water... but this is also (I believe) how they are manufactured. Regular food is cooked, sealed in the silver packet, and then boiled until it is pasteurized. A few cents worth of food is suddenly worth $2 at trader joes.

Maybe a type of plastic could be used for reusable "cans," for household food preservation. This might be dangerous, though, if it didn't work right!

Alternatively, perhaps local "mini-canneries" could help farmers covert surplus veggies into packaged food that could be sold in the cities... I remember hearing about something similar in India, except it was for freeze drying surplus tomatoes.


Derek said...

For reference, here is the food storage technology I'm referring to:

"The food is first prepared and then sealed into the retort pouch. The pouch is then heated to 240-250°F (116-121°C) under high pressure. This process reliably kills all commonly occurring microorganisms"

also check out "canning" on wikipedia, if you are interested.