My software project is progressing nicely. My work (for-a-living work) is not going well on the other hand. It is dull and repetitive. I am hopelessly and utterly bored and I have to make the greatest efforts to get anything done at all. I taken a number of steps to try to get more interesting projects, but they are still far from materializing. If you had asked me a month ago, I would have said my intention was to stay probably twelve months or more. At this point, I am actually wondering how long more I can stand designing little Access apps. I like
I explained a portion of my software to my flatmate and she wasn’t at all impressed, it was rather amusing (“Why don’t you just learn to read a map?”). My parents had the same reaction. It is difficult to explain technical progress to people who are not technology minded. I mean, I could travel to work on the back of a donkey as well, the fact is I use a car. My geek friends are quite excited on the other hand. We are looking forward to driving a geekmobile that has a number of high-tech navigation instruments attached to the windshield. The way I look at it is like this. When man stopped having fur, he got cold and invented fire. When he no longer had teeth strong enough to devour an animal carcass, he invented tools (and cooking). Well, for those of us who no longer have the sense of direction: we invent a software for PDA and gps. It is a no brainier.
I ordered myself a nice little PDA. I took the nicest one I could find, one that has a 640x480 resolution display (remember the time, not so long ago, when we were designing web pages for that resolution?), WI-FI and Bluetooth. I will order a windshield mount also. The only thing I would like are a good reference book on VB.Net (might be possible to buy locally) and one on Beginning Math for 3D graphics.
Oh yeah, and there was an explosion on Jalalabad road tonight. I don’t know the details. It is possible that it was close to the ISAF base, but I am just speculating. We have been asked to stay home.
I have been doing some thinking on the routable Map creator program I want to write (I actually already started a bit). The aim of the program is to help me extract the routable information from the map. I think I might end up writing it in C#, because I have better reference material for C# than for VB.Net (even though the later would have my preference).
I wasn’t able to find a map authoring software for Pocket PC that supports routing information. As a result, I re-visited the idea of writing my own. I thought that creating the routing algorithm would be the main challenge. I made a deal with myself that if I was able to write a suitable algorithm, I would buy myself a Pocket PC. The rationale was that if that problem were solved, there is no reason why writing the software would be impossible.
So, it looks like I will be getting myself a Pocket PC. After all, I am learning to program for things. Getting a device costs me a few hundreds, attending a course would cost me several thousands.
My plan for this week-end is to learn enough of VB.NET to program this. I choose VB.NET for the time being because 1)there is support for the Pocket PC platform and 2) there is an VB.NET API that exists to get data from the gps and 3) it is quite easy and VB.NET is now pretty object oriented. Long term though, I don’t know if I will keep it in that language. It would be pretty cool to do it in Java if there is a version of Java Virtual Machine for Pocket PC. Java has a 3D graphic API, You see where this is going? A 3D navigation system, now that… But I am getting way ahead of myself. Gosh, I haven’t been so excited about programming for a very long time.
VB.Net would not be that simple if I did not know some vb and Java. It is just amazing how much they ripped off from Sun’s programming language. Basically VB.Net is a kind of simplified Java with some odd VB syntax here and there. It is not a politically correct thing to say, but I rather like VB.Net and Visual Studio.Net. Perhaps I should try to find a similar IDE for Java. Whatever vi freaks might say, a good intuitive visual IDE (e.g. definitely not vi) makes a difference. Sure I can code with DOS edit or Notepad, but why would I? It is funny because I study Java for some time, but hardly ever practiced it and now, with VB.NET it all starts to really fall into place. At first sight, it sounds neat that you can use a variety of programming language to program for the .Net environment, however, VB.NET and C# are so alike, I don’t know why they bothered.
Many, probably even most people hate programming. This is just a sign that they are healthy and sane. It is intrinsically frustrating, yet, at its best, it is quite an addictive activity. The thing is that, it always looks like you getting so pretty damn close. Just one more try and perhaps…
At last, I did it! It took me an embarrassingly long amount of time, but it works. I got a program that calculates the approximated shortest path between two points based on a map. There is still plenty for me to program: to get the information in a db or file, to write another application to simplify the measuring and georeferencing of Kabul’s image map, to graphically display directions and last but not least to use gps information.I am thinking that perhaps I should be ambitious for once and try to write a software of commercial quality. It is not the first time I work on a project that has a commercial potential, but I have never carried this through, in part, no doubt, because I am not that great a businessman.
But right now, I deserve a break. I am not sure how to reward myself. I am going to get some easy to watch DVD and to chill down a bit.
I got myself some movies and some software (various dev. tools including JBuilder Enterprise and Oracle 10g). Unfortunately, when I got home the DVD player died. It is pretty bad because it is not even mine, it is a loaner. I may end up having to buy two dvd players: one for the house and one to replace the loaner that broke. Shit, that’s really expensive. My eyes are too tired to read. I’ll have a nap instead…
I have been sick for the last couple of days and my productivity at work has peeked at 10% of what it usually is. It was nothing too bad, but serious enough for me to use one of my joker cards: a course of large spectrum antibiotic that nukes any bad bacteria in your system in three days.
Meanwhile, being naturally a little obsessive with things, I have pursued my quest for the ultimate navigation system in
Below is a log of my activities (skip if you are not a geek). Email any suggestion you might have.
Now that I found out how to create a custom map for my gps, I can’t help but think What about creating a routable map of Kabul (i.e. maps giving turn by turn directions). Unfortunately, I do not believe this is possible with Magellan GPSes. It is possible on some Garmin units but I think it requires a software that is extremely expensive.
On the way to the software shop I had my first flat tire (a very common occurrence in
Infrastructure is developing in
At work, I presented my idea to use a PDA to simplify the data entry process in the field and it was well received. Depending on the cost, there is a chance that I might get the green light. I have been templted to get a Pocket PC myself, as I really would like to learn how to program for these devices but I don't know if I can really afford it right now.
I do not have the sense of direction. I mean, not at all. It is hard to convey how frustrating it is, humiliating even, especially, if you don’t like to rely on others people. According to my cousin, a psychology professor (who himself could not find his way out of a paper bag), there is a strong genetic component to the ability to orient oneself in space. I take this as meaning that I am screwed no matter how much I try.
From a fairly young age, I have taken the habit of carrying with me a map of the city I am in at all times. I also memorize how to get to places, but the fact that I know how to get somewhere, in no way implies that I will be able to retrace my steps later.
About five years ago, I found the ultimate device for retards such as myself: a gps. In case you don’t know, it is a navigation device, that indicates your position (calculated by satellite) relative to others points of interests and/or a map. I hesitated to bring a GPS with me when leaving for
I decided buy myself a nice gps. One that works for hiking, cycling and for driving and gives turn by turn directions in the
Nothing much to report: last week-end was rather sober by the last few weeks’ standard. Thursday night we had dinner at the Iranian restaurant and we smoked shisha at the DACAAR staff house with our afghan colleagues. On Friday, I went to a Hash. The first part of the walk was painful due to the unbearable stench of open sewers (a common thing in
I haven’t decided what to do with the hash. It is really good for me socially (it is nice to meet new people) and physically (I am out of shape here). However, it also strikes me as so culturally insensitive at times that I don’t know that I want to have any part in it. For instance, Friday’s hike passed through a cemetery. There was a path there, but really cemeteries are a place to honor and mourn the dead, not to do recreational sightseeing. In addition, the hash circle took place in the garden. It is surrounded by tall walls but neighbors can still see and hear from the second floor windows, and I am just not comfortable with singing drinking songs in that context. It is not like people don’t drink here. In fact, I have yet to meet an Afghan who does not drink when given the opportunity, and that includes people who pray five times a day, but that does not mean that drinking takes place in the open. The philosophy here seems to be that whatever takes place inside someone’s home is nobody’s business. My instinct is to leave the hash, but I supposed a more mature attitude would be to discuss my concerns with the group. We’ll see.
Babak, my friend and partner in crime, is leaving today although he will be back in June. His departure will leave a gap here; he is a fun guy to be around.
Some news on the work front: lately, work has been rather dull. I am waiting for the management to release the funds necessary for a well-needed system upgrade I have been looking forward to. In the meantime, I am stuck with designing Access applications, which is hardly challenging (there is not much to Access, really). Such is the nature of computer work, for each interesting project, you get five boring ones. I am waiting for a meaty project, but I get tedious ones instead. However, I have been thinking of a way to streamline a terribly cumbersome process that plagues the Water Supply Unit, using pocket PCs hocked up to GPSes. It is not terribly likely that management would go for it, given the financial mess DACAAR is currently in, but I will make a pitch anyway. I would really like to do that. It would give me a change to learn news skills (.Net, designing PowerPC apps, toying with GIS even) and most of all it would be real fun and it is guaranteed to simplify the work of a number of people. In fact, I have been so excited about it, I have started to learn .Net already. I got Visual Studio .Net Enterprise Edition and a CD full of electronic books for a few bucks at a local store.
Some time ago, I mentioned that women may wear a hidjab or even a burka in one context, then take it off later. I thought it was puzzling. Sure, social pressure account in part for women covering themselves in the street but that is not all. My mistake was to think that because women cover their hair, there is a taboo on showing one’s hair in public. If you think, in terms of taboo, then it does not make any sense that the same person sometimes wears it, sometimes doesn’t. I think that it may be better thought of as a matter of decency. What is decent in one context is not in another. There is nothing strange there, you don’t dress the same to go to a club, to hang out with friends or to go to work.
A group of us (two Afghan and three expats) went to Salang today. It was alright, but not the best outing we have made. The drive is scenic. We would have liked to venture off the main road into local villages but the two Afghans we were with were adamant this was not a good idea (in their own words “We cannot guarantee your safety there”). We reluctantly did the right thing and followed their advice.
Today, I was asked for the first time by an Afghan man what my religion was. It came to me as a surprised that it took so long for somebody to ask the question. According to my past experiences in the muslim world, it is usually about the first question one is being asked. I answered honestly (“I am a Jew”) without getting into the specifics (“ethnically and culturally a Jew, atheist as far as religion is concerned”). I have been trying to keep a low profile here, in order not to make myself to appetizing a target. I haven’t forgotten Daniel Perl. I mean, getting shot is one thing, but having one’s head sawed off… that’s just unacceptable! You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.
Seriously though, we are not much in danger here. I talked to somebody today and according to him, there is no way that in
In general, there are no that many beggars in
At first, I was embarrassed and did not know what to do when kids came to me. I feel a little more comfortable dealing with it now. I do give sometimes but the problem is that if you do, you are guaranteed to have an army of dirty kids in rags following you for money. They are really nice kids for the most part but it is difficult to be followed like that.
They are really nice kids for the most part but it is difficult to be followed like that.
The others types of beggars are women, always wearing the burka and often holding a child. They do no only beg, they wail. They are also extraordinary resilient and may follow you for a long time.
The other day an article in the
I went to a party last night. I had been told it was a salsa party and I was looking forward to see how rusty my dancing skills were. Unfortunately, there was no salsa dancing (well, one or two songs perhaps). The good thing however, was that the bar was well provided with rum. I drink little or nothing during the week, but on Thursday nights, I seem to have contracted the habit of drinking most of a bottle of hard liquor. Oddly, it does not even give me a hangover the next day. As I like to say, I have been trained in
I think in part it is the lack of “things to do” in
People were very excited to introduce me to a French speaking Belgian. I don’t have an iota of patriotic fiber in me. I know it came from a good place and I din’t mean to be rude… but who gives a fuck (excuse my language) if he comes from the same depressing puny place as I do? I have been trying to sever my ties to that country for well over a decade, and I have been rather successful at it.
Before the party, we watched a very forgettable movie. The movie (in English) had English subtitles as well. As is often the case, the subtitles were not a straight transcription of the dialogue and in many cases did not make any sense whatsoever (e.g. “
My dad called me as well. It called at a bad time, the connection was very poor and I was rather curt on the phone. The thing is, I haven’t talked to him for a while, and he starts with his fatherly concerns (“what are you going to do next?”). Party pooper! I still am still in
Every year, I try to learn one computer skill or two. I am not sure what I want to learn this year. There are many programming skills that appeal to me, however, most techies jobs in the developing world are for system administrator and network engineer. Perhaps I should try to gain some skills in that area. Either that or I get back on the Oracle certification track.
Either that or I get back on the Oracle certification track.
I have been a little disappointed in myself and in the way I live here. I think in part, it comes from my anthropological training. I tend to think of the anthropological fieldwork as the standards by which my way of living in
I am temporary living in the house by myself. The two Danish ladies with whom I shared the house left, and Lyn is temporary staying at a guesthouse to help a friend. I am outmanned by the chawkidars at night.
Today, a shooting took place a few blocks form my office. Over the last ten days, there has been a number of fatal attacks, mostly targeted to the military. The last NGO worker to meet a violent death in Kabul was Steve Mc Queen, exactly one month ago.
There is no such thing as traffic lights, neither is there anything like the right of way. Drivers threat every intersection as a four-way stop with the difference that they do not stop. Occasionally, a policeman is there to help guiding the traffic. Roundabouts exist but cars go around them clockwise and counter-clockwise. The absence of street signs is matched by that of any traffic signal. Signalling is, needless to say, discouraged (it’s nobody’s business where you going). To the best of my knowledge, there is not speed limit though speedbumps, potholes, donkeys, goats (and in the winter: snow and ice) do a good job of slowing cars down. Cars take over on your right and left, and to add to the confusion, the number of lanes (never painted on the asphalt) can vary depending on the inclination of the drivers. Given these conditions, it is quite admirable that there are so few incidents because there really do not appear to be many.
More attacks over the week-end, still on military targets.
On Friday, I took part to a nice hike with Kabul Hash House Harriers. We went to an area closed to where I live where there is a nice adobe fort (I do not know when it was built). The weather was pleasantly warm, and there were plenty of goats and kids playing next to the fort and a few abandoned tanks nearby. The building had a beautiful recently built staircase that on closer inspection appeared to be made entirely out of canon shells.
On Saturday, we went to Baghram. It was nice to get out of the city although there was no much to see there. It is a small town, whose main attraction is the US military base but we could not get in. We did some shopping there and you could tell that we had just been paid because the two IT boys that were with us went on a spending spree.
In the evening, there was a farewell party for Jesper and Babak (but not really for the later because he will be back soon). Party was pleasant but most of all, I had a fun time with Babak, ordering massive amount of food from street vendors.
Sunday: Busy day at work. Another farewell drink, for one of my flatmate this time. She will be back this summer.
I had a very pleasant night smoking shisha (waterpipe) at the DACAAR staffhouse. DACAAR provides subsidized housing to its employees. Many opt for this option, either because they are young and without family, or else because their family is not in Kabul. Either way it enables them to save some money on living expenses. For 20$ per month, charge included, DACAAR provides clean accommodations with basic facilities (four people per room), a cleaner and a guard.
Shisha is not common in Afghanistan. Certainly less so that many places in the Middle East, and even less than in neighboring Pakistan. The only establishment I know where one can smoke shisha in Kabul is an Iranian restaurant. There are also one or two shops selling shishas and accessories (tobacco, special coal and pre-cut sheet of aluminium to put between the tobacco and the coal. I hear that in Pakistan, where shisha has always been smoked (I am not sure how frequently), it is even becoming a little bit of a fad to smoke for young trendies like ourselves (not).
It is a cliché to say that in many muslim countries certain demonstrations of physical affections between men are considered totally acceptable and have nothing to do with being gay. This is very true in Afghanistan. It is not uncommon for men to hold hands (whereas I have yet to see a man and a woman holding hand in public). Last night, I was surprised to see how two of the guys kept holding and touching each other.
Somebody told us that Mazar is renowned for having the best hashish in the world. Now you tell me! Before I was told this, I thought we had had a great trip. It is obvious now, that our drug free visit was an abysmal failure. Apparently, in some part of Kabul, it is not uncommon for stores to sell hashish under the counter apparently.
I actually found some good DVDs. I mean, not just Hollywood mainstream. We are talking Almodovar and Kurosawa here! Of course, some of them have some flaws. Most discs contain five films. Inevitably one or two do not work properly. Also another DVD (special japanese cinema) contained an American series that bore no similarities whatsoever with the advertised content. A friend of mine got a DVD whose subtitles clearly belonged to another movie. Oh yes, I wrote recently that one could buy software releases that do not even exist. You can also purchase movies that do no exist (Star War IV, Toy Story III).