You've been an aidworker for too long...
when your kids hide behind your wife's skirt when you finally come home.
Picture courtesy TheGotoMom
I shuttle between Italy and Belgium. I have an iPhone, which I use in Italy, and an old Nokia for Belgium. Yesterday, the Nokia's plastic casing just crumbled to pieces. Don't understand why. Bought it right after the Iraq emergency. That's only six years ago.
Anyway I thought it would just be better to put my Belgian SIM into my iPhone when I arrive in Belgium. Swap SIMs rather than phones. Then I don't have to drag two phones with me. Seems simple enough. From time to time, I use my mobile phone to send a picture. Or to check Twitter. So, I thought "Great, works fine with the iPhone"...
Then I discovered that I don't have access to the Belgian Internet data services, so I enabled Internet access for the SIM. I tested it, it worked fine. Went to sleep. At 6 AM I got an automated SMS from my GSM provider, stating I just used Internet for 6 hours, while I was sleeping. And while the iPhone was connected to my wireless anyway...
I called them, and they could not help me any further. But to suggest to upgrade my subscription to a 2 Gbyte/month package. Paying a monthly fee even when I am only for two months per year in Belgium did not seem reasonable to me.
Did not find a setting to switched off the data access on the iPhone. Only thing I could do, is to enter fake APN (network parameters), so it could not access the Internet.
It intrigued me. Which iPhone application was using the Internet? Maybe there is an application to control the use of Internet on the iPhone. I Googled it but only found parental control applications.
Ah, there was one Enterprise Control application by Apple. Downloaded. Tried to installed. Beh. I needed an update to "Netframe 3.5 SP1". Downloaded that. Took 45 minutes to install. Reboot. Re-ran the Enterprise Control. Installed well. Started it. Gave me cryptic errors indicating I needed something else, and a key to launch it.
Gave up. De-installed the Enterprise Control thingie.
Googled for more Internet access controls. Found some solution: iPhone IOS 4 lets me switch off the . For which I needed the new iTunes version, which came with the new Safari version. 130 Mbytes. Took 45 minutes to download/install (I have a BIG Internet pipe here, but that did not help).
Started iTunes. Which needs to backup my iPhone first. Another 30 minutes. Then it needs to resync my iPhone with my computer. Another 30 minutes.
The only thing I want, is to email an occasional picture from my iPhone while I am on the road.... Is that too much to ask? Our lives are dominated by technology. Our lives become buggy, just like the technology is.
I got up at 6:30 am. It is now 11 am. The sun is shining outside. I'm going out. Foert. Off to the shower.
Although... the mouse on Tine's laptop does not work anymore and Lana's laptop crashed. And Hannah needs a new computer too.
You've been an aidworker for too long if...
Half of garderobe consist of Tshirts from past emergencies.
UN - Afghanistan 2002/Iraq 2003
UNHCR - Goma 1995
UN - Lokichoggio 1996
PS: Top Tshirt was IFRC Angola 1994
This picture from the Aurora Australis, or the "Southern Lights" above Antarctica was taken by an astronaut. While aboard the International Space Station, @Astro_Wheels posted it via Twitter on TwitPic.
I guess he was using wireless. :-)
As the years went by, I collected a large amount of blogs and websites I like. The lists have grown that large, I had to split them off into different posts, which I will continue to update:
● The largest collection of blogs by fellow aidworkers you'll find anywhere
● Resources for aidworkers
● News sites specialized in aid, humanitarian work and nonprofit causes
● Expats, travellers, adventurers and people with their heart in the right place, you can find here
Other interesting blogs to add? Let me know!
Last year, I started a series of posts on The Road, which I called The Snapped Series, "Mobile phone shots from the hip". They evolved from pictures taken with my crappy Nokia mobile phone to shots taken with the iPhone I got for my birthday.
I was amazed of the iPhone picture quality and got hooked on taking shots as I went along "on the road of life".
One thing lead to another, and the phrase "Shot from the Hip" let to the birth of a separate website, where I posted these pictures, soundbytes, short videos. All taken randomly, and posted via Email from my phone. For the nerds amongst you, I explained in this post how to do that.
Anyways, to make a long story short, I will resume posting a selection of these shots here on The Road. I will start with this one, as there is a sweet story connected to it:
A little girl and her dad watched a sunset.
After the sun went down, the girl asked:
"Daddy, can you do that again?"
Since a while, there is free WiFi access in many public parks in and around Rome. All WiFi hotspots are neatly indicated with signs:
Encouraging effort to bridge the digital divide, if any left in Italy. Maybe there are also other divides to be addressed... When accessing the WiFi spot from a mobile phone, you are neatly prompted with a login screen:
Hmmm. Username and password, hey? Boh.. as it says (in Italian): registration is for free, so let's give it a try:
Holy Mo! That is a quite a chunk of data.. You need to give your name, address, mobile phone number, and of course endorse the terms and conditions which are neatly outlined (in Italian):
At that point, I gave up trying to register via my mobile phone.
Once back at home, I registered from my computer. Well, almost, as after filling in the form, you are prompted to confirm your registration by calling a toll-free number. You have to call it from the cellphone you registered. And you have five minutes.
So going outside, waiting for the mobile coverage to come up, I dialed the number. Which was engaged. Which was engaged again. Which was engaged once more. Which was engaged again. Which kept on being engaged.
Of course the five minutes deadline came sooner than expected, and I had to register again.
At that point I gave up. Maybe free WiFi access is not something for me.
Read more in the Living in Italy series
Here is something you might enjoy: a list of "100 books for humanitarians" worth browsing through. Fiction, fact and some reference material.
"Delicate patterns in the sea breaking on Orange Beach, Alabama".
More than 90 miles from the BP oil spill. (Hires)
Check the latest articles on the Gulf Oil Spill (or read the latest via RSS)
Picture courtesy Guardian UK, Dave Martin/AP. Discovered via @mparent77772 and The Horizon.
I finally had the time to clean up the link lists on the sidebar. I checked if the sites were still active, and updated. I also added a whole queue of new sites.
When browsing through the blogs, I realize what talent people expose in writing, pictures, drawings. I feel fortunate to be in such good company!
Here are my latest finds:
Want more? Check the "Links" section in the side bar!
Picture courtesy Peregrine by Nature
Today, I closed a chapter in my life, and opened another.
After two and a half years working in Rome, and five months in the Dominican, I thought it was time to try something different. Today, this evening, I start my sabbatical, until the end of the year. To begin with.
Sabbaticals are not new to me. I took the first one back in 1993, when I decided to work on an Antarctica project. I took another break in 1997, to go to the Antarctic again. And yet another one in 2006, for 13 months, to sail across the Atlantic, and start writing down some of my past adventures, both for work, and in my free time.
Some questions people ask me:
1. A sabbatical, why?
Life is too short not to enjoy it. I have always done things because I enjoyed them, and enjoyed things I did. I let destiny lead me. I have been fortunate in that respect. It always turned out OK. I always ended up in a place, doing things I wanted to do. Sure I took risks, often giving up "my secure life", for something more risky. But I always landed back on my feet. I am fortunate to have an employer who allows me to do this (even though for my first sabbatical, I had to quit my job), a supportive family and friends who understood my choices.
For all the previous sabbaticals, when the time was right, I made the call. I never thought twice, and never regretted it. Armed with the past experiences, this one was no different: the time was right, it felt right, so I took the decision. Because life is too short not to do what one likes doing.
2. For how long?
Well, this sabbatical will run at least until the end of the year, but is extendable up to two years.
3. What will you be doing?
First of all, I want to spend more time with my family. We lived together in Uganda, but as I started to travel a lot, Tine and the kids moved back to Belgium. Since 1999, we have been a "shuttling family". Up until 2006, I was fortunately to work "two months on, one month off", so I could spend a total of about four months per year at home. After my third sabbatical, I moved to Rome, where I could no longer work "part-time", so I saw the family less frequent. Now is the time to spend more time at home.
On the other hand, since about three years, I engaged quite a bit with social media. It became a hobby. And more than a hobby. I would like to see how far I can stretch the use of social media in the nonprofit sector. Almost like making a job out of my hobby.
Which is not new to me neither. Back in the 80-ies, I graduated as a printing engineer, but engaged in computing as a hobby. While I did my civil service, as a conscientious objector, I worked in an ecology laboratory making computer programs, and started to write for computer magazines. Two years later, I started a job as a systems engineer.
Around that time, I picked up ham radio as a hobby. Later on, in 1993, I quit my IT job, and stepped into the humanitarian aid sector, as a telecoms engineer. Again taking up my hobby as my job.
Now is the time to see if "my social media" hobby can be more than a hobby.
4. Yes, but practically, what will you be doing?
There are a number of projects I have lined up where I will be reporting on certain events, as "a social reporter", registering events or situations, and using that "input" to "broadcast" it on different media: blogs, vlogs, podcasts, and if things work well, pieces for TV or radio. Things are starting to shape up, so stay tuned.
On the other hand, I want to expand my network of blogs, their content and functionality. I definitively want to expand BlogTips to explore the horizon as to what can be done in the nonprofit sector with social media. How to use this new medium to bring the nonprofit sector's message. Be it for advocacy, fundraising, knowledge management or as a way to engage people.
There is also something brewing in the area of technology solutions for nonprofit causes. There are a number of ideas I have been playing around with since a while, as IT projects, where there seems to be a number of people (I call them "the good and the willing") would like to engage on.
For the rest, I have the agreement with my employer to call me in, when there is an emergency. Setting up things, heading a relief effort, that is what I am good at, and where I can contribute the best.
5. Where will you be?
I will be shuttling between Rome and Belgium.
6. How do you have ends meet, financially?
Since I started working, my family and I always made choices to live the moment. We have not invested a lot in fixed costs, like a house - we don't own a house, or any property -. When we earned money, we set it aside. When the time was right to spend it, we spent it. Money was never an issue. Maybe we were fortunate, although, there were many times where we could barely 'make it'.
During my 20 months of civil service, I earned US$150/month. Tine was still studying. There were times we did not have enough to eat. I think there have been four or five times, where we spent pretty much whatever we had. Each time, we 'started from scratch' again, but we never felt that as a burden. We always enjoyed what we did.
Picture courtesy Shot From the Hip
One of the attractions of Brussels airport is a long series of computer screens showing a real time temperature scan of the people passing by on the rolling carpet. Publicity for one of the electricity companies of our united state.
Unfortunately, computers will always remain... computers:
They call it a "Captcha", a short for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart" (I bet even the nerds amongst you did not know that one, did ya?).
Captcha's are used in places where users can leave "fast input", like in blog comments. To avoid automated SPAM-comments, you have to type in the letters/numbers before the blog accepts your comment.
Normally, the letters/numbers are random, but I just came across a blog where the input was "Ikea"... I wonder if it was a coincidence, or if Ikea would have been innovative enough to think of this as a new publicity outlet.
Maybe the next generation Captcha's will help us discover the real values in life. How about these future Captcha's?
BTW, the Ikea thing reminds me of a picture I've had for years, but never found the opportunity to publish. Think it is hilarious. Can't remember where I got it from.
BlogTips, my blog for tips on social media and blogging for nonprofit causes, got a new look. Much more plain vanilla than the previous look, so it puts more emphasize on the content.
I am still putting in some extra "schpank" in it (a proper logo and a favicon), but am already happy as it is now
Meanwhile, Humanitarian News continues to grow, so the site became slower and slower. That should be solved now (for the nerds: more aggressive caching was enabled on the site, and I avoided multiple DNS-lookups).
This evening, I also solved a nasty bug in the "search" function: since about a month, the search no longer showed the most recent articles first. Consequently, all the RSS feeds on the searches no longer worked properly (you remember that one of the main features of Humanitarian News was the ability to make customized RSS feeds based on your searches, right?)
Last month, we retrieved a record of 31,050 articles from 890 different sources on Humanitarian News...
Regional Trash company "Forze Ragione Regione"
Member of National Trash company "Forza Italia"
Dear Mister Armeni,
Thank you for soliciting feedback on the services of your trash company. I would like to tell you how much I appreciate you must be owning a lot of wastage, and as part of the national trash conglomerate "Forza Italia", I am sure it must be a real challenge to daily hide garbage from the public eye.
Still, I would like to tell you that despite your best efforts, garbage seems to pile up more and more since you took over the company.
I hope you will soon deal with the situation, or speed up selling out your company to the well-known South Italian alliance specializing in the disposal of (radio active) trash (in the Mediterranean). I heard that company is already part of the National Trash company "Forza Italia" anyways...
Looking forward to see progress in your national programme "Trash Italy Fast"!
There is not much to say about most aeroplane journeys. Anything remarkable must be disastrous, so you define a good flight by negatives: you didn't get hijacked, you didn't crash, you didn't throw up, you weren't late, you weren't nauseated by the food. So you are grateful.
The gratitude brings such relief your mind goes blank, which is appropriate, for the aeroplane passenger is a time-traveller. He crawls into a carpeted tube that is reeking of disinfectant; he strapped in to go home, or away. Time is truncated, or in any case warped. (..) And from the moment he departs, his mind is focused on arrival.
Paul Therouxin "The old Patagonian Express"
Sir Ken Robinson criticizes our education systems as being "fast food", where conformity cuts down on creativity, individualism, and thus became a limiting rather than an enabling factor in our lives.
I hated school. I did not like university, when I studied psychology. Professors explaining the way people function as if it were an exact science. When I studied to become a graphical engineer, I skipped school whenever I could. I'd rather work on my thesis because I could create something rather than falling asleep in class. If I picked up anything during 18 years at school, it would be that originality is rarily awarded or stimulated. Conformity is the law.
I have been lucky to find my way professionally, ending up in a work environment where I could be original. Not many people are that fortunate. Not many take their chances neither in being original. Not only tall trees catch a lot of wind. Also those standing outside of the rows of trees.
Enjoy the video.
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Check out the videos clips that inspired me over the past years: Videos about aid work and advocacy.|
Music always was a main source of inspiration for me. This is a list of my all time favourites.|
Here is a selection of my favourite books, or browse through my library. I frequently comment on books I read.|
|Travelling makes me wiser. All the pictures I collect along the Road of Life, I store in my Flickr library.|
|I collect, scan, read, browse, absorb, digest and discuss news topics to learn, understand and broaden my views.|
|Peter. Flemish, European, aid worker, expeditioner, sailor, traveller, husband, father, friend, nutcase. Not necessarily in that order.|