Product placement

Practical product placement at our local drugstore. I’m curious to see if they offer a crossover deal, such as “Buy one vibrator with lubricant and get a free pregnancy kit”.

Product placement

End of the Non-aligned Movement

First HDR photo using a tripod, which means no more caffeine-induced wobbly hands and blurred photo merging.

What do you think?


Spanjardstraat (HDR image)

Content still counts

Graph illustrating the Law of diminishing content
The law of diminishing content

First off, a disclaimer: I love discovering and using new Web 2.0 technology and tricks. However, it sometimes seems that the people I would most like to share with are the least likely to use the technology; worse still, the people who tend to dominate new media are the least interesting to me.

Take twitter, for example. I find that I use it almost exclusively to get immediate alerts of breaking news (Another reactor blows in Fukushima!), although most of my incoming tweets are from colleagues who seem to think that they should share every thought that occurs to them, from the most interesting work developments to their most personal experiences. I resent that they are unable to filter their stream of consciousness to separate different content for different audiences. I do not find it normal to include a link in your email signature that takes me to photos of your children in the bath, for example.

Even after making a distinction between public and private information, there remain a number of colleagues who flood my tweetdeck with impressive-sounding messages about seminars led, students coached or bridges built. But it is soon apparent that these are nothing more than descriptions of routine duties dressed up as new initiatives. Not surprisingly, these kinds of tweets come from people specialized in marketing, communication or life coaching — all pseudo-academic subjects that are sustained only through their own self-promotion.

These same people, the audience myopics and fluff meisters, are always present at the coffee and cake gatherings, or at the meet-and-greet lunches, always looking for ways to increase their network, although between their frenetic tweeting and hobnobbing, one wonders when they actually do any real work. I rarely attend these social gatherings, not because I’m a misanthrope (OK, not completely), but because I’m busy producing content: solid course material that draws on Web 2.0 eLearning possibilities as a means for student-centred, collaborative, flexible learning.

When my contract comes up for renewal at the end of the academic year, I’ll have an impressive portfolio of innovative training material to back me up … and not one tweet will be included. In a wider context, whether content will win out over appearance is hard to guess; however, in my case, contract renewal will come down to a place being vacated by a retiring colleague, and will have nothing to do with my own contribution (despite management and HR protestations to the contrary).

Maybe I should just go eat more cake.

DIY slum

It might come as a shocking fact to learn that in the Netherlands hundreds of children, some as young as five years old, are living in the most primitive conditions, sheltering from the rain in makeshift huts made from disused wooden pallets and scraps of cloth they managed to scavenge from the piles of trash on the outskirts of town. Their junior slum sits in a muddy field by the edge of the new highway, without any electricity, running water or sanitation, apart from two porta-loos on the edge of the field. Twice a day, adult volunteers come round with large plastic kegs of pale squash for the children to rehydrate after working for hours heaving and hammering their wooden huts together. The children possess little else than a plastic cup and a hammer.

And guess what? They love it! Once a week every year, in villages all over the country, children get together to build their own hut, decorate it, customize it as much as they like — they never stop tweaking it — until the last day, when all the huts are torn down, stacked into piles and symbolically burned in a bonfire.

I went along for the first time this year with my two oldest kids and one of their friends. I had only intended to drop them off, but quickly realized that they were quite incapable of dragging the heavy wooden pallets across the field. So I stayed most of the morning, trying to stockpile enough wood before everyone else had grabbed it. It was clear that experience made a difference; some groups had ten people working together, throwing up three-storey structures within a couple of hours. It almost seemed as if it was a competition between fathers to impress the rest, and I suspect some had prepared the whole thing with autoCAD.

I came across two of our T-boy’s classmates pushing nails disconsolately into the mud, having been left by their parents to fend for themselves, so I adopted them and our team swelled to six. It didn’t make a big difference, however, because none of them could hammer very well (“Swing it from your waist! Don’t tap it in front of your face!”); they quickly got distracted and drifted off to pick wild flowers and make hooks to hang their jackets.

After three hours, we realized our grandiose design was doomed to failure through a lack of wood, so we did a quick redesign and managed to use the remaining pallets for a sloping roof. Inside, the children made a shelf for their cups and hooks for their hammers, and a hanging vase for the flowers. It’s these details that count, not the walls.

Scenes from the slums (click to view)

Girrrl power!
Girls at work

DIY housebuilding for children
DIY junior slum

Babylon burnin'
Babylon burnin'

Deep in it

Just heard that our stuff, including essential babyware and car, will now be leaving Dakar around the date it was supposed to arrive in the Netherlands. Apparently the delay is due to congestion in the port. The whole coast of Africa must be gridlocked if it takes two weeks to clear the way to port. I reckon the more likely causes are either incompetence or corruption — either our agent has no backup plan for these types of situation, or he forgot to pay off a key bureaucrat in the chain of exporting goods.

I’ll be glad when I don’t have to deal with this sort of crap. It was the same in Jamaica, by the way, trying to store and ship our stuff. Sure it got done in the end, but only after hours of emailing and skypeing every few days, wheedling and conniving, trying to explain what should have been understood from the start. It’s exhausting.

There really is a difference in culture that is almost insurmountable. And the difference comes in the education, both at home and at school, between the traditional style (“because I say so!” “don’t hit your sister” WhAcK! “Memorize these unrelated data”) and a more modern style (“… otherwise you’ll get your shoes wet”, “tell me why you hit her”, “do a project with your group”). You get the drift. And the results do come through in adulthood. The former culture is submissive, non-collaborative, always seeking an angle to promote or at least protect their own position, lacking initiative; the latter is reasonable, can handle negativity, can empathize with the customer and behave in such a way as to maximize the customer’s position, etc.

But for me, the best thing about being here is sleeping through the night. I don’t know why, but in Dakar I rarely slept the night through, usually waking at five am, worrying about one or more of the problems that needed to be dealt with.

Here, I sleep through … I may still be exhausted but it’s my alarm that wakes me, not my worries.

Edit at 9 am next day: Strike through “I sleep through”.
Reason: Sitting up with baby JuJu from 12:30 to 2:30 am. Choking in snot. beurrggh.

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