Wednesday, 4 July 2012

VIdeo from the streets of Ghana

This is video shot from car & bus in the streets of Kumasi, Ghana.  It gives a pretty good sense of what it is like there.

And here is a collage of each of our 12 students with members of their host family.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Sunday June 9, 2012 - My "Mad Genius" Wiring Solution

So my wiring challenge was this: connect a male stereo mini plug into 2 female RCA jacks - in other words I needed a cable from female stereo mini to 2x Male RCA. Simple enough if you can find ANYTHING with a female stereo mini connector on it, but that is not simple in Kumasi, Ghana.  

Here's a shot of one storekeeper giving it his best try:

I ended up getting some stereo RCA patch cables, cutting off one set of the ends and stripping back the wire so I could wrap it around the male stereo mini plug.  The trick was to keep the wires from cross connecting and shorting out, so I used micro-wide strips of black gaffer tape to create ridges along the plug's insulators.  Here is the process in photos.  Amazingly, it actually worked pretty well!

Have Leatherman, will travel…
It also helps to have a VOM in your travel tool kit.

Closer view of the cable ends.
Even though the ends were Red & White, the internal wires were Red & Green.

I'm guessing they never expected anyone (like me) to go re-wiring them.

Creating the first gaff tape separator.

Building the next one.

Outline of finished "troughs".  Notice how I can use the naturally swelling tip of the connector as the top limit for that conductor.

Not-yet-cleaned-up version (only so many hands, guys) of how I wrapped the wires: back under itself to keep it tight and in place.

And I only used one of the ground wires.

Finally, after each contact was tightly wrapped, I put another layer of gaff tape over it to keep it all in place.

Here's what the finished wrap looked like.  

Note the extra ground wire coming out the back and the "Courtesy Tab" on my gaff tape wrap - just in case they need to be openend.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Sunday Jun 10, 2012 - A Plan that Works and Going Home

Heading home - a sweet & sad feeling all rolled into one.

You won't believe what I needed to do to get the workstations finally ready to go.
Despite rigorous testing at the DMC and Groundworks using QT for video capture for years, QT just would not work reliably.

So we had to go to with  "Plan 9 from Outer Space!"

  -- use iMovie to capture the video

  -- connect a second set of audio cables from the VCR to the speakers because we couldn't
     monitor audio during capture in iMovie

  -- FORCE QUIT iMovie immediately after a 2 hour capture so it would not spend
     30+ minutes creating thumbnails we do not want.

Believe it or not, this actually worked perfectly.

We re-name the resulting ".dv" file with the Tape #, and then at the end of each day we compress all of our captures with the H.264 "TURBO Encabulator" using the "iPod" setting, which is 640 x 480; a compromise, yes - but a thoughtful compromise.

I showed the original DV file and the compressed file to our Ghanaian friends, and they could barely tell the difference when played full screen.  But when I showed them that the compressed file was about 1/10th the size of the original, theirs jaws dropped.

The whole re-wiring process is detailed in here, but it took most of the morning to wire and test.
And after a busy morning doing all of that, it was time for lunch - at Jofel, our favorite spot!

That's Stephen on my left, who was one of the folks  at the Palace that is learning what we are doing.

The palava sauce (on the left) became one of my favorites.  Those are plantains (on the right) with the chicken.  When baked like this it is called Ampesi, when fried it is call red-red.

Meanwhile, back at the Palace:

Once I cleaned everything up, this is what the 3 temporary workstations looked like.  You can only see it in this photo, but each of the 4 workstations has a UPS (4th is in the Tape Room, and stays behind).  Turns out we really needed them as the power has been shutting off - briefly - rather often during our stay and the UPS keeps the VCR playing.  Everything else was running on the laptop battery and so was not affected.

So our gear kept right on working, but each time we had to go find the one remote control in the palace to turn the air conditioners back on.  This was not just for our comfort: we needed to keep temperature & humidity stable so the tapes & VCRs would continue to work smoothly.

          Remember, the tapes have all been kept in an air-conditioned room.  
          Think about what happens to a glass of lemonade on a hot day.

Below is a photo of one of the 3 temporary workstations.

You can see the re-wired audio cable taped to the UPS (left side of photo) to keep it from being messed with.  ADVC-55 analog-to-DV converter and LaCie buss-powered HDD are on top of the VCR, with USB powered speakers being the black cylinders to left & right.  This is the smaller room we are using, and it can only hold one workstation.

I only had one physical adapter for each station, since everything I brought had Edison plugs and would run on 220.  I just needed enough Edison outlets.

It turned out that with the UPS units we got I did not even need the physical adapter: the plugs on the back of that were universal, as seen in this photo: the orange AC cord is plugged directly into the UPS. We used the physical adapter to plug into the wall, mostly because it had a pilot light that proved useful in troubleshooting but also because it had a 3-pin grounded setup.

Rear view of another workstation.  

Note the two sets of audio output cables: one for the ADVC and one feeding the USB powered speakers (blue cable).

This photo below shows the larger of the 2 temporary rooms assigned to us with 2 workstations in it.  Note that all the AC cabling has been secured with gaff tape to prevent accidental unplugging. 

The orange AC cords are also taped at the bottom of the table legs, keeping the run across the traffic area flat and close to the floor.  UPS boxes are out of the way on the floor agains the walls.

You can see the capture window and Filemaker windows side-by-side on the laptop screen

So that's about all.   I'll be putting some video up on YouTube once I have a decent connection, because that's about the only way to get a feel for some of this stuff. 

Here I am hanging out at the Apple Store in Accra, waiting for my flight home, and finishing my blog.   But I already miss Ghana.


Saturday June 9, 2012

On the way to the TIGO store a few days ago to get a cellular modem (any other internet access is totally unreliable here), I took these shots:

 -- The coconut salesman.  These kind of carts made from the wheels & axles of cars are quite common.

 -- Baboo Bazaar.  I think it speaks for itself: just a typical intersection

Street vendors are everywhere where cars stop at intersections.
Here you see people selling bread, water, fruit, nuts, cell chargers and - yes - even ice cream!
You can literally buy almost anything from your car.
Nut & Bread Sellers
Fruits & water (in plastic bags)

Cell Phone Chargers

Ice Cream bars - these guys come out after it cools down

             ciao for now….

Friday June 8, 2012

First and best news:  I had my meeting with the King on Friday afternoon and presented our project to him!

He thought it was all very good, and he also asked me if I would advise his staff on the best way to update from VHS camcorders to better modern video technology.

Of course I said "You Betcha!", so there may be more visits to Kumasi in my future.  We'll see.

Sorry, no photo of me or Kwasi with the King, but here's one with his top advisors on the front steps of his house right after our meeting.   I sat right next to him with my laptop, as close to the King as I am to these guys.  It was kind of cool.

Fun Fact: This King is the only king in Ghana that is recognized by other world royalty.  There are others that try to call themselves "The King of Ghana", but the story here goes when one went to England and attempted to present himself as such for an audience with the Queen, she asked "Did your King in Kumasi send you?"  When he answered no, he was given a brochure about public tours of Buckingham Palace.  Whether true or just an urban legend, it's still a good story.

Spent most of the day Friday working out the details of using iMovie to capture after all attempts at getting Quicktime to work the way it did in Ann Arbor failed to pan out.

iMovie works pretty much the same as the original plan - you can see the video capture screen and use the database at the same time - but I had to kluge together a way for us to hear audio while capturing.  More on that later.

But our students were busy numbering the 2500+ tapes in the library.  Here's Sam going down the rows from the floor….


And here's Eric working the high ground.

This is a typical yew of what the tape shelves look like.

Note the tape labels (mostly) still affixed to the shelf edges and cassette spines.

Here's a closer shot, showing our number labels as well.

Hasta la vista, baby...

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Thursday June 7, 2012

Today was…well…interesting.  Kind of got a real work day in on getting ready for digitizing.  More on that later.  But first, here's a photo of most of our students and Apeege, the Ghanaian keeper of the video collection, in the tiny room that holds all of the tapes.

But first, here's a photo of most of our students and Apeege, the Ghanaian keeper of the video collection, in the tiny room that holds all of the tapes.

We worked on a "Training the Trainers" program today.  As my time here is growing short, I suggested to Kwasi that we rethink out strategy and that I now spend as much time as possible with just a few students to teach them how to "be me" after I am gone.  That means getting them comfortable with updating the Filemaker database and being able to troubleshoot in general.  We set out to digitize long chunks of tapes but ran into some issues.  Despite the fact that I had tested each laptop setup for digitizing a 2 hour tape before I packed them up for the trip, they were stopping only a few minutes in, and with no indication of a problem.  So we went to Plan B (which I had, of course, packed with everything else) and that seems to be working fine.

I put together a "Work Flow" sheet with my 4 Trainer students and we all feel pretty confident that things will be fine.  We'll see tomorrow when we drop all the other students into the mix and see if it all makes sense to them.

So toward the end of the morning we went to this courtyard inside the palace grounds where there was a crowd of about 4-500 people.

Many chiefs, some very important ones, and those all came by to say hello to us.  I had met many of them last summer and they remembered me and said they were glad to see me again.  It has been my experience that pretty much everyone I met last summer remembers me.  Whether that is simply their nature or whether Kwasi has prepared the way does not matter:  I am grateful and flattered that they say they remember me.  I, of course, remember them, although not all by name: it was a pretty unique experience meeting them all last year but the African names are sometimes too unfamiliar for me to be able to recall them right away.

The King eventually came out and was to preside over a planned funeral ceremony for a Queen Mother, or one of her relatives.  Sorry I'm not clear not hat, but the layers are many, precise, and beyond my clear understanding at this stage.  I hope to get some better information soon.  But to everyone's surprise, after they went through the traditional greeting of the King by the Chiefs, the King suddenly got up and left (with entourage, of course).  Turns out that he had just been informed that one of the male heads of his family had died 3 days earlier, and he went off to deal with that.  not sure why it took three days, or why they chose that moment to tell him, but that's what we were told.

After that we had lunch outside in a pavilion of the palace, delivered from the same Jollof Caterers where we ate the other day.   

There was this amazing speaker cluster sitting in the pavilion.  It had apparently been built to look like a rocket ship.  It did not look like it would work very well at this point, but it was pretty cool.  

I then continued to work with my 4 students while the rest went off to more of the planned funeral service.  I have not seen anyone from that group since they got back yet so I have nothing to report. Maybe tomorrow.

And then there was this thing.  These three wheel motorbikes are all over, and actually make a great deal of sense.

Not sure about this particular use though:  I call it "Kid Tested, OSHA Approved".


Have to work on my presentation so I don't lose my head in the heat of the moment...or after that.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Wednesday June 6, 2012

Wednesday morning - some random shots.

All of us at Elmina Castle.  There are a lot of short students in this group.

OMG! You guys, there's WiFi here!" - waiting for the Chief to arrive at our first palace stop (this is not the one where we are working).

Removing shoes before entering a Chief's Palace

Salima greets the Chief with Courtney looking on.

Students pose with the Chief and his top aide.  Guess who is taking the photo?  
       (Hint:  it's someone that met this chief last summer...)

"Baby on Board" has a 
very different meaning 
in Ghana.

This is a very typical view in urban Ghana.  I took this while we were driving around Kumasi delivering students to their host families.  Traffic was pretty light when I took this.

You see many, many , many buildings painted like the one below, or perhaps some other color and with some other cell phone company on them.  "glo" in one of several companies that will paint your building for free if they can make it advertising for their service.  While at first this is a bit disconcerting, it is actually really good for the economy.  People get hired to do the painting, paint sellers sell paint & supplies, and people get a fresh coat of paint on their building.

But you do end up with a LOT of buildings painted among a choice of 3 or 4 colors that are all one solid color like this one.

Dinner guest, or dinner?

Someone more interesting than me once said that when all of humanity is long gone, all that will be left are cockroaches sitting in these ubiquitous plastic chairs.

I just liked this image:

Some shots of the KNUST Lodge where Kwasi & I are staying:

The Lobby; front entry is on the left (and the right); stairs to rear courtyard in the center

The rear courtyard; Dining Room on the right, doors to the Lobby on the left

The Restaurant/Dining Room is below; door is on the right side of the pano.
And I could get oatmeal for breakfast!

That's all, folks.  See you next time when I tell you about our dinner and show with the former Catholic Archbishop, or as he refers to himself: "Dis-Grace" (as in 'former Your Grace...the guys a natural stand-up comic).

Tuesday June 5, 2012

Tuesday evening & Wednesday morning

Here's a photo from our trip on Monday over the mountains to Kumasi.  I think this rest stop is a breeding ground for big red tour busses, as we saw several of the species in which we were riding.  

We even saw one that is more important than ours:  it's a "V"VIP…

Today (Tuesday) was our first day at the Palace.  

After taking the Palace Museum tour,          (below: students listening to lore of drums in Ghana)

we set up our workstations and began trying them out.

I was also dealing with some new information:  instead of 3 separate rooms for our 3 workstations we only had 2.  One of them can easily accommodate 2 workstations in the physical space, but the point of separate rooms was the acoustic isolation for each working team.  So be it.

Here I am showing the setup while doing my Groucho Marx impression to a stunned audience.
My co-leader Kwasi Ampene is in the background:

I had re-worked the hardware design to have everything buss-powered so we would not need to get UPS's for each workstation, but Kwasi surprised me by going out and buying them locally, so we are using them.  I was impressed, as I tried very hard form the US to find a local source for them.  They are far to heavy to ship.  (turns out later it was a really good idea to have them)

We also have the beautiful overstuffed comfy chairs with carved wooden arm rests that take up most of the floor space instead of smaller desk chairs, but that too we can work with.

After our initial set up and mini training we had a long lunch and debriefed about everyone's first night with their host families.  Most of that was really great, but there were a few outliers, all due to communication barriers and cultural misunderstandings.  The lunch was held at a place called "Jofel Caterers", which is a large restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating.  I remembered eating there last summer with Kelly & Kwasi.

After lunch we returned to the Palace and the students finally got a look at the Archive room with all the tapes.  I just wanted to see all of them in the room at once, and I promise to post a photo ASAP to show you the scene: there was literally just enough space for all of them to get into the room at once. 

Our task of numbering the tapes to give each a unique identifier then began, and will be as finished as we can make it before I leave.

(New Information: turns out that the tapes are not particularly in date order; close but all.  And many tapes that look like edited programs and that are piled on top of the top shelves are in fact original recordings that were just packaged better because they were important.  And completely out of date sequence with all the tapes that have already been numbered.  The good news is that each tape *will* have a unique number and a unique combination of date & name on the spine label.)

As with each step of the process, I emphasized to the students that I am not here to give them the answer on how to do the digitizing and cataloging, but just to help them frame the task and understand the kind of issues they will face once I am gone.  They will be able to communicating with me via email, text or perhaps cell phone, but that is not the same as being there.  I leave in 3 days and then they are on their own.

They are a very smart bunch, and have made excellent suggestions that have already been worked into the plan.  I expect that they will do just fine without me.

As I write this, Kwasi is still out solving our hosting issues (it is now 8:00 pm).  I have just arrived back at the KNUST Engineering Guest House lodge after a 90+ minute ride home.  After a bite to eat - and yes, a cold beer - I'll begin tweaking the database to for our project incorporate suggestions from the students and the new realities of the tape library.

And updating the blog of course.

And finalizing my presentation to the King, which is supposed to be tomorrow.  Apparently there is already going to be a big meeting with many Chiefs, and so they decided why not  have me present to the entire large group.

And did I mention that tradition says that whatever a Chief - let alone the King - decides, no one can question it?  Even beheading someone?  That actually came up in conversation 2 days ago with one of the Chiefs hosting a student.

So:  no pressure. 

I'll do another page of some random shots now.