Archive for May 2009

5 years of blogging

As it was in August 2004

As it was in August 2004

5 years ago today I wrote my first blog posting and have been looking back through some of my early postings. My blog has changed dramatically in this time, in terms of software used, graphic design and subject matter.

Originally using a blogging application I had written myself using ColdFusion and a MS SQL Server database, the application didn’t even offer RSS feeds or a way for readers to comment. Adding a commenting system (in January 2006) was my first stab at using Ajax. Once these ‘advanced’ features were added the site remained (technically speaking) much the same, only minor changes to the design, until I moved from IET to KMi in August 2006.

I took this change of department as an opportunity to move my blog from running on my custom application to the more sustainable and feature rich WordPress platform, athough I hadn’t yet made the final step of running the blog from my own domain. The move to alexlittle.net didn’t take place until March 2008.

As the site is today (May 2008)

As the site is today (May 2008)

The subject matter of my blog has changed dramatically too over the last 5 years. Originally the blog was just a simple diary for my own benefit whilst working on a JISC project – I knew we’d have to report back on the project, problems, successes etc and recording these in a diary (or blog) made sense at the time. The diary style of the first few months of blog entries is really highlighted by the fact that the titles for each posting are just the days and dates.

Nowadays my blog is a way for me to record and share my experience of living, working and attempting to implement elearning at a university in Ethiopia, a long way, both physically and mentally, from the first blog postings sat in an office in Milton Keynes!

(Image of site from 2004 from the Wayback Machine Internet Archive project)

Can bluetooth be more reliable than a physical cable?

img_0013I’m not generally what you’d call an early adopter, and not usually into gadgets. For example, I only bought myself a GPS device a couple of weeks ago, shortly before the hype about the GPS system failing within the next year or so.

The same is true of mobile phones, for years I’ve only owned a very basic phone which only does phoning and texting, no mp3 player, camera etc.

Well, last week a friend gave me their old Nokia 6230i. The camera seems reasonable and I started thinking about how I get the photos off the camera onto something more useful (such as my laptop). The options were to use a cable, bluetooth or IR, but since my laptop (Asus EeePC) has neither bluetooth nor IR, I bought myself a cable, also thinking that a cable is likely to be the most reliable connection method anyway.

I installed Gammu, but then kept getting the message that “No response in specified timeout. Probably phone not connected.”. Trying a few different settings made no difference. I also installed KMobileTools, which did manage to connect to the phone and retrieve contacts lists, but only has limited functionality for managing or transferring files.

After spending most of an afternoon trying to get this working I gave up, and posted a message on the Ubuntu forums, but no replies as yet.

Whilst searching for a solution, few people seemed to be using a cable connection, far more instructions and help seemed available for those using bluetooth – or maybe they jut have more problems getting it set up?. So my next plan is to get a little bluetooth adapter and see if I have any better luck with that. Unless anyone else has any better suggestions/solution?

I’d be quite surprised if it did work with bluetooth, especially since it’s always had a bit of a reputation as being fiddly to set up correctly. But maybe I’ve an instance where bluetooth can do what a physical cable connection can’t?

My first edits to OpenStreetMap

josmSince I’ve been back in the UK, although I’ve been pretty much tied to the house, with Amazon now back available to me, I’m able to spend money again. One of the items I bought was a GPS. Originally I was going to be borrowing one from someone in Addis to be able to do some mapping of Mekelle, but since I’m in the UK it seemed to make sense to get hold of my own whilst I was here. I eventually opted for the very basic Garmin eTrex H, thinking that it does everything I would want and I’m unlikely to spend money buying maps to download onto it – the main reason for buying it was to contribute to the OpenStreetMap project.

Once it had arrived my first challenge was getting it hooked up to my Asus EeePC (running Ubuntu) and installing the right bits of software.

For up & downloading to the GPS I installed QLandkarte, which only started recognising my device once I’d also installed the gpsbabel package.

Next I needed a desktop program for editing OpenStreetMap – using the online Potlatch application wouldn’t be a great option for me once back in Ethiopia with no decent internet connection.

I started off by installing Merkaartor but quickly ran into problems. When I tried connecting to the OpenStreetMap (OSM) server to download a map to edit, I kept getting “403: Forbidden” messages. The problem was that the particular version of Merkaartor the Ubuntu package manager installs doesn’t work with OSM Protocol v0.6. I think there may be a version of Merkaartor which works with v0.6, but I’m not generally very keen on installing software outside the Ubuntu Add/Remove Applications

I then tried Java OpenStreetMap (JOSM), again installing from the Add/Remove Apps and I was getting similar problems in being unable to connect to the OSM server. Again the problem was the protocol version.

Merkaartor and JOSM appeared to be the only programs available for editing OSM on Ubuntu (please let me know if there are others), so I had to resign myself to manually installing one of them. I opted for JOSM as it was quite easy to run manually and once installed all seems to be working relatively well.

I do however had a few gripes about the user interface, especially on the small screen of the Asus EeePC. For example some of the dialog boxes are fiddly to expand to get the OK/Cancel buttons to appear. Also, the drop down list of “presets” (the different map features, places of interest, amenities etc which can be added) is too long to appear on the screen, but there’s no way of navigating down to the bottom of the list to see which options are available.

Apart from that, I feel like I’ve got the hang of OSM editing (a little at least) and I’ve managed to add a few new roads. Hopefully once I get back to Mekelle, I’ll be much more productive, especially since I’ll be starting on a blank canvas.

Culture Shock

The last week has all been quite strange, last Saturday I was in hospital n Mekelle, then less than a week later I’m back in Winchester. Coming back to the UK at such short notice means I wasn’t really prepared at all. I’ve not been out and about much since I’ve been back (mainly because I’ve been too tired), but it’s odd seeing so much greenery, and for everything to be damp all the time.

Comparing the different medical practices I’ve seen in the last week have been quite interesting. I’ve gone from a small private clinic (with only 2 beds in one room) in Mekelle, where one day the power was off and a generator was occasionally running. Then on to the large (private) Hayat hospital in Addis, where I even had my own room. Finally coming to see my GP in the UK and going up to the hospital for blood tests.

As for how I’m getting on, I’m certainly slowly beginning to feel better, though it’s taking some time to get my strength back. I’m gradually trying to do a bit more exercise and get out of the house more each day. Hopefully in a week or so I should be back to (almost!) normal.

Hoping to be able to get to visit plenty of people before I head back so likely to be coming up to London and Milton Keynes.

Unexpectedly back in UK

After being ill off and on for the last month, I’m now back in the UK for what I will hope will only be a few weeks whilst I get proper diagnosis and get back to being fully fit.

I’d had a bug which kept coming and going, but then finally put me in hospital in Mekelle, on a drip and being given loads of strong antibiotics. After a couple of days I was well enough to travel to Addis, where I then spent another couple of days before returning to the UK. The diagnosis I’d been given in Mekelle was typhoid, but this was based on symptoms rather than a blood (culture) test result, and is also quite unlikely given I’ve been vaccinated and the antibiotics I was given when first ill are the ones use to treat typhoid.

I’ve now been to the doctors in the UK and am awaiting the results of (yet another) blood test. I am beginning to feel much better, but it’s hard to determine whether this is as result of being on the drip, or if it’s the antibiotics – at least I’m eating properly now!

All very strange being back, especially given that it was very unexpected and at short notice.I’m really hoping to be back soon, but need to wait until I have medical clearance from the VSO medical unit.
Now that I’ve been given so much treatment and antibiotics, I may never find out what was actually wrong, and can only hope that it’s not something that is going to recur.

Thanks to everyone who came to visit me whilst I’ve been ill – I’ll bring you some chocolate back!