Water

Volunteer rule number one was not to drink water from unknown sources.

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A woman I did not know and I could not ask offered me a glass of water. That was the custom. The road being hot and dusty, visitors would be first offered a glass of water before they were to speak.

Cultural rule number zero was only evil spirits would refuse to accept water.

I had taken a tro-tro to a junction and then hiked up an unused road in the hills above Nkurakan. I was headed to a small village nestled up in the hills that I had not been to, well off any beaten track. Stephen had said he had a cousin teaching at the elementary school up there.

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I had made my way to the village and was easily recognized as an outsider, although unusual for foreign visitor I was traveling in my local cloth, not in western clothes.

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The children only stared at me – for the first time in a year in country the children were not singing the “Obruni koko, maakye…” song. I made a mental note to teach the children the song that some foreigners seemed to find annoying. Armed only with a name, I asked the children where I would find the cousin.

Led to a home by the children, I sat and faced the water test. Custom was water before speaking. Had I come for good or evil? I took the water and drank. I always did. After the antibiotic resistant shigella dysentery had knocked me down to 118 pounds my first week in country, I took a rather careless attitude to what I consumed and drank. Local rule zero always bests foreigner rule one.

Although I was not evil, who was I and why was I there? In my best stumbled and broken Akuapem accented Twi I explained I was Kwaku Donkor, son of Clara Donkor, traveling on the recommendation of cousin Stephen from Nkurakan. Smiles and warm hand shakes broke out all around. My identity was defined by to whom I am related and connected. I was family.

Family is always welcome, and always welcome back. Family does not need a pre-arranged invitation to visit. Dinner was fufu and I was given a bedroom to sleep in, undoubtedly displacing other members of the family for the night. I was in no position to refuse the hospitality.

The next day I was invited to give an impromptu science lesson at the elementary school, and I did so.

In country I did not travel much. Other volunteers traveled to distant places. I made short trips usually staying with relatives or friends, and did not usually go where there were no relatives or friends. I would simply show up and find myself welcomed. In turn I welcomed those who visited me. I always tried to keep a healthy supply of coffee for visitors and guests.

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I still keep coffee on hand to welcome family and friends – none of whom need an invitation to visit. I have tried to also raise my children to share in this understanding, although the assessments are still pending on whether or not I will have succeeded.

Addiction

Running is certainly my addiction. And running apparently has a positive role to play in preventing relapse among recovering substance abuse addicts. Running replaces some of the “feel-good” brain chemicals that are lost during substance abuse withdrawal and recovery.

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John Ratey, M.D., has been preaching the lace-‘em-up cure for years. The associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston says that even a little bit of running can make a big difference. “What happens immediately when you begin to run is you get a boost in dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin, just as if you were taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin,” he says.The Runner’s High, Runner’s World.

I know the good feeling of running, and I concur with the author that not running has an effect that while technically not withdrawal, does not make me feel good. I too share his sense of being “sluggish, unfocused, sometimes irritable.” Hardly anything life shattering, but long time runners know that there is a withdrawal.

Yet a recent article in Huffington Post suggests that addiction is socially mediated. The initial cause and possible maintenance of addiction is a result of social isolation, loneliness, and a sense of being disconnected from people. Oddly enough, I run to disconnect. I am one of the 49% of runners who prefer to run alone. Running time is “me time.”

Using running, however, as an approach to reduce relapse rates among substance abuse addicts appears to require a social component. Social isolation delays the positive impact on the healing of the brain by running, according to a 2011 study.  This reinforces the idea that addiction is intimately connected to social support and social connectivity.

As for whether a recovering runner is swapping one addiction for another, I would echo the words of Caleb Daniloff in the Runner’s High article:

I can understand why people think I’ve merely traded one addiction for another. But ultimately I find this thought too narrow. Unlike boozing, running has never filled me with shame or regret, not once turned me into a monster. I have never stolen, lied, or cheated for running. I don’t need more miles to get the same effect. The trade that, literally, took place was sobriety for addiction, a dark central rhythm recast in light.

Add to that the impact on cardio-vascular health, potential impact on obesity, preventative effects in terms of high blood pressure, diabetes, and perhaps heart disease.  This is an addiction with a difference. A very positive difference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye to the cable TV era

I looked around the house the other night. Each and every zombie was staring at a glowing obelisk clutched tightly in their hand. I pointed at the cable TV. “Does that thing even work?” Without looking up, each zombie shrugged their shoulders.

I turned on the television to check the only channel I still check on the cable – ChannelNewsAsia. I was disappointed to find that Russia Today had replaced ChannelNewsAsia. I flipped off the set. “Works, but nothing on that I want to see.” No zombie even looked up.

For twenty years my personal money manager has paid the cable bill bimonthly, fifty dollars. That’s part of the budget cycle that keeps the family operational paycheck to paycheck. And for twenty years the good folks at ICTV have obliged my money manager.

Now ICTV is in receivership, apparently bankrupt, and operating under court appointed management. The interim management must have decided to clean up the books. A team came by the house the very next day and threatened my money manager to pay up for January or get disconnected. I could have predicted the result. Threatening my money manager is not only bad customer relations (perhaps the ICTV team could benefit from the college’s HTM training, there are ways to handle these things) but also will not yield the desired long term result (customer retention and future cash flow). My money manager told the team to go ahead and disconnect the cable.

My money manager called me to tell me what had happened. I paused, thought for a moment, and then realized that was money better spent in other ways. I was the last cable denizen in the house, the rest are netizens. And even I had shifted primarily to online sources of news and information. With the loss of CNA, there was nothing left worth the money.

I later went down and paid off January at the office, but told the clerk to leave us disconnected. Cable had become irrelevant. Like VCR tapes, and now DVDs, a new tech era has supplanted an older technology. Anyone remember BetaMax? NetFlix is killing DVDs and cable programming. Internet video on demand is crowding out cable.

Little wonder cable television is in receivership – I wonder how many other customers have shifted resources to bandwidth and dropped their cable subscription.

I gather FSMTC wants to buy the assets, which makes sense. Not necessarily for distributing cable television. Those cable lines provide a high speed Internet pipe into every home. ADSL on the uplink side, cable coax on the downlink. That has potential future value.

Student success

The call came in at midnight. Medical emergencies often seem to be middle of the night events in life. She’d been transported from the residence hall to the emergency room. Chest pain. Difficulty breathing. Abdominal pain. Lower back pain. Severe pain. Both sides. I knew this was a fourth trip in as many days. Tests were coming back negative or inconclusive. While her condition deteriorated. As if a child of mine were in distress, I was headed out the door.

This time the hospital admitted her and, with one particular test providing a cause, put her on the appropriate medical treatment.

Word was passed along to her instructors that she had been hospitalized and was undergoing treatment. Two faculty members asked about her condition, asked to be kept informed as to how they could help. One of the two asked also whether the student was taking visitors – the faculty member wanted to stop by. Their immediate reaction was for the care and safety of the student. Beyond concern for her immediate condition, they also expressed a desire to help her succeed in their courses when she returns.

The third faculty member said only, “She missed a quiz and test already, she is likely to fail my course.” The faculty member did not ask about her as a person, expressed no concern over the distress the young woman was in. Just stated that she was headed for failure in their class. Cold. That was the only word that came to mind. Cold. No words of comfort. No assurance that the faculty member stood by ready to help the young woman once she had recovered. No commitment to her success as a student. Heck, no sign that the faculty member considered her a human being suffering from pain. No empathy at all.

I suggested as much, that right now her family and those of us who know her are a tad more concerned that she get well and recover than whether or not she took some particular quiz.

A commitment to student success can be an empty slogan. A trite over used cliche. Or one can ignore the chaff that now attends the term student success and, as teachers have done for millennia, show a supportive approach to the individual student as a person. Each student is a bundle of hopes and dreams, some parents’ loved and adored child, someone who, when they are in distress far from home, could use some empathy and care from those entrusted with their education.

I once had the privilege of attending a talk given by Paulo Freire, who was a Brazilian educator and philosopher. Prior to hearing him talk I had tackled some of his writings, but I found difficulty understanding the philosophical underpinnings of his writing. At the talk Paulo was asked, “In a word, what is education?” Paulo paused and then said, “Love. Education is love.” That I could understand.

 

Of learning and loss

Forces driving the financing of education, especially higher education, increasingly want to see that the education delivered prepares the student for the world of the workplace. Measures such as the number of graduates who succeed in obtaining employment in their field of study are used to gauge the success of a program. How often has someone said, “Education is the key to success” with the implicit meaning that the value of an education is what one does with that education beyond graduation.

Loss

 

In a higher education system increasingly driven by the value of education as a path to employment, what is the value of that education to one who will never become employed? One who is tragically lost to us. Rousseau in Emile first introduced me to the idea that an education should be of value to a child even if that child does not reach adulthood. And value for children is in having fun, enjoying life. An education should be fun. Enjoyable. An experience that is sufficiently wonderful that even if the child were to know that they will not live out the fullness of the years, the child would want to be in school. In elementary school. In high school. In college.

An education should be of value to a child in the here and now, an enriching and exciting experience, an adventure filled with wondrous wonders. Perhaps everyday will not be exciting, but net the experience should be positive.

Higher education at present is especially enamored of student learning outcomes and measuring learning. Learning is measured, assessed, analyzed, reported, and used to attempt to improve learning the next term. Few instructors rate whether their class is fun, exciting, interesting, something that the student would recommend to other students.

This is not a call to instructors to become entertainers, but rather a call to make the subject matter the instructor loves as interesting and exciting for the students as the subject is to themselves. And if an instructor does not love the subject they are teaching, then that instructor should not teach that subject, perhaps consider leaving education altogether.

An education should have value for the child, the student, in the here and now, in the present.

Google PhotoScan

When a Windows 7 rig on my work desk was replaced with an iMac, the Windows driven scanner I used also went on permanent vacation. And with that went efforts to scan old print photographs. Taking pictures of glossy photos from the past yields only a flash point and darkness.

img_20161117_142200187Shrue Dana Gallen Joel photograph

Note that the background border was not black but was actually a maroon colored towel that the photograph was placed on.

Enter Google PhotoScan, an Android app that turns your cell phone into a photo scanner that is as good as your cell phone camera. The app uses an initial reference photo and then has the user move the phone to new locations using white guide dots on the screen. Then Photoscan digitally assembles the five images into a single glare-free image, cropping to the original edge of the image. Note that I took the next photo from the same distance as the photo above, the frame included the maroon towel.

Shrue Dana Gallen Joel Photoscan

Google PhotoScan automatically detected and deleted the maroon towel, retaining the edge of the photograph automatically. The original has water damage at the top as seen in both images. The photo was taken on Yap circa 1999 and includes Shrue, myself, and the family of Gallen Joel. A Motorola Moto G4 Play was used to scan the photograph.

I made the initial mistake of trying to crop out the towel in the cell phone screen. That actually yields poor results. The software is looking for the edge of the photograph, depriving the software of that edge led to at least one distorted image as the software tried to correct perspective without having the edge to work with. The app deleted the maroon towel as part of the processing. The app also included part of the image under the PhotoScan “take picture” button – something that was not obvious to me the first time I used the app.

The app appeared to find the larger span of an eight and half by eleven sheet of paper more challenging, and I found the large movements more challenging as well, but I did capture a reasonable photocopy of the page. Attempts to PhotoScan a whiteboard with notes on the white board proved even more challenging. Here the distances are greater, both from the board and across which one has to scan, and there is no edge of a photograph to work with. Although the scanner claimed to have failed to capture the board, I did find that a glare free image of the white board had been captured.

The app is available in the Google Play store and requires Android 5.0 or higher. Available also on iOS. My thanks to my son for bringing this app to my attention!

Health indicator numbers

My statistics class students are accustomed to my having them make measurements of self and then using that data in the class.

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In the spirit of a share and share-alike, I share my own numbers when I can. With World Diabetes Day being observed today on campus I had a chance to check my weight, height, blood pressure, and blood sugar. At my present 57 years old, I weighed in at 148 pounds, and remain 67″ tall. Not yet shrinking vertically. I passed my blood pressure and random blood sugar tests with a 111/71 blood pressure and three blood sugar tests one of 81 and two others at 87. This on top of a heavy breakfast of gluten free muesli. I wrapped up with a free flu shot.

If one is left wondering why three blood sugar numbers, the reason is simply statistics. The units that measure blood sugar have their own measurement errors. A check from multiple units provides the ability to calculate an average.

A few days later public health was at a 5k run. I had had some gluten free Muesli for breakfast and done some warming up prior to getting my blood pressure and blood sugar checked.

blood pressure pre runblood sugar

Blood pressure 144 over 85 with a heart rate up around 74. A resting heart rate check a couple months ago put me down just under 55 BPM for a resting rate. The above is after a joggling warm-up trot. I told the public health officer I would come directly in for an immediate post run check.

5k time

I then ran the 5k, finishing at the public health station at a full run. At 57 years old I was the first place master’s finisher. I slammed myself down into a chair, public health indulging me and getting my blood pressure immediately and blood sugar within two minutes of finishing.

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Immediately post-run my blood pressure was 152 over 84 with a heart rate of 154. Blood sugar had spiked to 124 as my body dumped glucose into my blood stream to power my running.

 

Halloween 2016

Halloween 2016 fell on a Monday school night evening. This was also a Monday social security day – the end of the month when senior citizens come to Kolonia to collect their social security checks and go shopping. That income is important in many families here, and falling on a Monday meant that the Halloween shopping weekend would likely have been negatively impacted. In local parlance, October 29 and 30 were a “broke weekend.”

Tristan and Kisha Halloween 2016
Tristan and Kisha Halloween 2016

The weather was acceptable, only a brief passing light rain shower in Dolihner, otherwise generally dry conditions.

Perhaps the largest factor was that last year Halloween fell on a Saturday night. A weekend with no school the next day.

Whatever the underlying factors, numbers were down year-on-year. Groups are a very roughly estimated with overestimation more likely than under. That said, the front porch saw a drop from 90 groups in 2015 to 79 groups in 2016. Traffic began around 18:35 but by 20:30 no further trick or treaters arrived on the porch.

Halloween group sizes 2015
Halloween group sizes 2015

Note the nine outlying groups in 2015 – groups with more than roughly 15 candy receivers, including one up near 45 and another above 50. The differential in the number of groups is a drop of only eleven. The lack of large groups, however, meant raw numbers of individual candy takers was down more significantly.

Halloween group sizes 2016
Halloween group sizes 2016

The numbers were down even more significantly. The count of candy receivers in 2015 was 590. In 2016 only 416 showed up on the porch, a drop of 174 trick or treaters. Average group size also dropped, primarily a function of the drop in the number of large groups and the absence of any group larger that 35. The household thought that the choice to block cars from driving up the interior road negatively impacted the large group counts. My sense is that the large trucks used to haul the big groups of kids from other parts of the island may not have been as available as they were on a Saturday night last night.

In 2015 the average group size was 6.56 with a standard deviation of 8.90. In 2016 average group size was 5.27 with a standard deviation of 5.50. The median, however, increased from 3 to 4 year-on-year.

We again used the dual bowl system. One twenty-five dollar bag of better candy and a single 330 count bag of Hershey Kisses. Elterina added in three bags of additional small candies that may have added upwards of 90 candies to the Kisses bowl. We would end the evening with candy on hand.

For those who want to play with the raw data, the data is available in a Google Sheets spreadsheet. Analysis was done using Google Sheets with the above charts prepared using the Google Statistics add-in for Google Sheets.

Strava

Strava running app was the next shiny thing to attract my attention using Amazon Underground. I was nonplussed by Adidas’ Runtastic, and deleted ASICS’ RunKeeper as being redundant to Nike+ running but without the friends. I found no friends in RunKeeper space. 

I tried UnderArmour’s MapMyRun but on install the app demanded to upgrade to a new version. Which failed. And then I could not log in. Deleted. 

Using again the Amazon “Underground” app store for Android cell phones I installed one of the last independent mainstream running apps, Strava. 


Knowing that my phone has limited capabilities, I ran a first test run with no pauses, no pictures. Nothing that might stall Strava. 

I did not see a built in music controller such as Nike+ includes. The run included running under trees and ended in rain. I turned on auto-pause and voice options prior to the run. These options were not obvious as the settings appear only once one selects to start a run. 


I was pleased with the post run data. Well laid out screens, logically located, with all of the data details. I had set voice to half mile notifications and was happy to see half mile split data. Nike+ provided only mile splits. 

The Strava voice was quicker in cadence than Nike+, without the pauses I am familiar with in Nike+. I saw no voice choices, the default is female.​


Elevation is notoriously inaccurate, but fun to see. And the continuous pace chart was noisy but informative. 
​I was impressed with the GPS track. The line was sharp and spot on. 


I was shocked to see my ninety degree turn along the Spanish Wall basketball court. I do not recall any app catching that before.


My phone has limited resources. Nike+ uses 50 Mb while Adidas train and run uses 80 Mb. Thus seeing Strava only using 32 Mb was a pleasant surprise.

Strava, like RunKeeper, successfully posted to FaceBook, but then I did use FB as my log in for both, which I did not do with Nike+.


There are premium features for a subscription, but all of the basic run data is available in the free version.


If I run identical routes, Strava will apparently track the runs as “matched” runs.

I did see a few FaceBook friends listed in my Strava friends list, but nothing like the over one hundred friends I enjoy on Nike+.

Strava is intriguing enough to keep on my LG P715 Android phone for now. Still, Nike+ is where my friends are, and that is a big plus. 

My own sense is that over the longer haul only the apps backed by major corporations will survive – Nike, Adidas, ASICS, UnderArmour. Strava too may one day be acquired, but for now its independence is attractive. 

RunKeeper

Grandpa is a kid in an app candy store at Christmas. Out here in Micronesia the Google Play store has a limited app selection. For running, my LG P715 Android rig has a choice of Nike+ running or Adidas train and run. 

​On a whim I downloaded the Amazon app store for Android phones which Amazon is marketing as “Amazon Underground.” To install one must enable installation of apps from unknown sources in the security settings of the phone. This has security implications and will make the phone vulnerable to malware if you have seven year old handling your phone. Enough said. 

Amazon Underground picked up my Amazon credentials automatically, possibly from my Kindle app. This appears to make me a “registered” user. Using Amazon Underground I was able to download Runtastic, an app not in the Google Play store for Micronesia. Runtastic, however, then wanted to download a separate music app for in-run music. Nonplussed, I found I could download RunKeeper too! Runkeeper has no built in music player, but had a click- through to the Google Player. Good enough for taking RunKeeper out for a test drive. Interesting app. 

First impression? Although minor, I have come to prefer the sequence and cadence of the Nike+ voice. Unlike Adidas train and run, RunKeeper seemed rock solid on hanging on to the GPS or interpolating losses seamlessly. Map was blank, but those sometimes load later. I will explore and see if Strata is an option too. Note RunKeeper is a two tier app, a free app with limited features and a premium pro app with all features on a subscription price basis.

​By the way, my use of the FaceBook Lite app provides me the space to download the many apps I do use on my memory limited LG. 

As I said, a kid in app candy store!