Archive for October, 2010

Edition (Tuesday, 2010 October 26)

October 26th, 2010

Continuing to work on the backlog of stuff I want to do. Finished filling out report cards today, even the troublesome Premiere class. Here is my most recent edit to OpenStreetMap based on the traces I’ve been taking. Edits as they happen are here. Here is the thing I’m writing for the other teachers about teaching algorithms with Python. I finished the chapter on installation last night and wrote an incoherent email to everyone on the mailing list. Got 7 bounces pretty much immediately. I guess I can’t read Cameroonian.

I wonder if I’m trying to keep busy to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the difficulty of being a teacher.

No power tonight. Still haven’t finished downloading the Lubuntu ISO. Still need to calculate pass-rate statistics for all eight classes. Informatique club tomorrow (and I’m a little terrified).

Today’s title, "Edition", is the name given to the second menu in Microsoft products (what is, in English, called "Edit").


Bulletin (Monday, 2010 October 25)

October 25th, 2010

So hungry. But it’s kind of OK; I finally feel the balance swinging a little bit towards "catching up on things" instead of "falling further behind on things". Specifically:

  1. Tests are all graded. Grades are all calculated, with one or two bizarre exceptions. All that remains is to fill in the bulletins, report cards. Each class takes me 30-60 minutes. I fucked up one in 3m4. Normally you should put white-out but I don’t have any and none was handy, so fuck it. P.S. Still have four classes worth of these fucking things to fill out.
  2. Power is actually for-reals working in the computer lab again! This means we can actually do things on the computers!
  3. Arranged an ordinater, using a Windows XP CD that I created myself thanks to a CD burner courtesy of Jen and Chiz. Thanks a ton, guys! Tried to arrange another one in putting Lubuntu on it, but the boot process is taking forever and I have no goddamned idea why. But I’ve ruled out software, so it’s gotta be hardware. Also checked out the computer of the librarian (P.S. our lycee has a library! Too bad all the books are in English..) and it seems to be working fine, as long as you boot the French Windows XP and not the English one.
  4. Many emails between me and Gus lately due to an argument that seems to be sorted out now. This fight means a lot to me, because it marks a turning point where I stop being a jerk for laughs. Not sure exactly what I will be next, but I hope it is something that really listens. Let’s say a microphone.

Random other stuff going on at this particular moment in my brain: my netbook doesn’t suspend to disk due to the fact that it’s got an encrypted swap partition. I need to look into how to set this up right. Going to Bafoussam tomorrow to help another volunteer do computer shopping. My newest pair of tailored black pants fits really well, but I don’t have enough money to work on the next clothings. It rained a lot this weekend, which was great in that I could wash using rain water instead of dirty stream water, but was not great in that power was out. Currently downloading newest version of Lubuntu; apparently the whole Ubuntu family released in the last couple weeks. Cory Doctorow’s For the Win was great! I started some academic book called Open Source and it’s kind of OK, got some stuff I didn’t know and pointers to stuff I want to look at more.

Gonna whip up some starches now and work on the teach-yourself-Python-in-thirty-appalling-French-chapters. Ta!


Deuil (Thursday, 2010 October 21)

October 21st, 2010

Last Saturday I went to a deuil, which literally means "bereavement, mourning", but is probably best translated here as "wake".

First there was a church service under these tents.

Matching fabrics is a done thing here. I saw a few t-shirts that said "[Name of person], we will never forget you", but I don’t know if that was from another wake.

Fashions on display included one of my favorites, the short-sleeve suit jacket:

Wizard robes were also fairly well-represented:

Naturally, I had just purchased a new set of wizard robes the day before.

I am standing here with someone named Celestin, who is J-C’s nephew (wife’s sister’s son). His shirt says Re-Ject.

At events like this, there are these great big circular dances. Boris has told me that the function of these things is to say a final goodbye to the departed and to tell the departed that now everyone is going to forget them.

It is also traditional at these sort of events to shoot firearms. If you don’t have a firearm, you can buy a shot from vendors who brought their own. I have asked and nobody seems to know the significance of this tradition, if any.

The last dances were populated by people wearing masks and costumes, such as this:

Celestin explained to me that these were various "secret societies", "somewhat like your FBI and CIA". They serve the king of the tribe, and go on intelligence missions. The new king introduces a new secret society, but the old one lives on, and pays tribute to its dead members like this.

Because they are secret, they have to cover their faces in public appearances like this.


Calling all food nerds (Monday, 2010 October 18)

October 18th, 2010

Here is a fruit that I want to know more about:

It grows in these little pockets, and you sort of pinch the pockets to make the things come out.

Inside it looks like this:

The locals call them "cerise" which means "cherry", but it seems to be acknowledged that there is another fruit that is really called "cerise" and the name just got appropriated for this fruit too.

It is sweet and spicy and delicious. How do you google a fruit?

[P.S. They are called "ground cherries". Thanks Gus!]


Déconnecté (Friday, 2010 October 15)

October 16th, 2010

Connection has been shit over the last 36 hours, for reasons that I am pretty sure are not mine. I haven’t even really been able to get online to check mail or anything. So I’ve had to get creative to keep busy.

Here’s a slide rule I made out of cardboard to demonstrate the relevant principles to my Terminale and possibly my Seconde class. Only class ended at 10 AM today due to some stupid "orientation’ thing. I guess that’s good because it means I only have five tests to grade before Monday (instead of eight), but it’s a little annoying. I think S.O.P. is that the tests get moved to the next free hour that I have in common with the class, and I have to do this for each class. Awesome!

Grading has been as expected. One thing I’ve found eases the burden is to break them into piles of 10. You can grade a pile of 10 papers in about half an hour and it feels like you’ve actually made progress. Whereas you can hack away at a whole class for a couple hours and feel like you’re still overwhelmed.

Another prop has been useful in explaining Boolean algebra. Everything is super-clear when you hold up a blue pen and say "I’m holding a red pen" — there’s really only one useful concept in Boolean algebra, and it has to do with treating rationally the falsehoods that are around you. So I think 3e is going pretty well, actually, and fuck the scheme of work.

Speaking of technical difficulties, there’s been a problem with the power in the computer lab. Not exactly sure what happened; it could be "natural causes" (shitty wiring and an ugly power grid), or it could be a short-circuit in some equipment, or it could be that, despite the computer club’s enthusaism, the building is just not rated for 25 computers. Oh, did I mention we got more computers from the prestataire? Pentium 4 class machines. So I’m less interested in sabotaging him than I was, say, two weeks ago. Anyhow, no practical classes until that’s sorted out.

The secretary and her baby (reaching for the beer). On the left is the grizzly old gym teacher. The secretary is probably the only person in the school besides me who is qualified to operate a computer. Nevertheless, something bizarre happened to her machine this past week (possibly related to the failure in the computer lab?) and now the video output is vastly dimmer than it should be. No idea why, but I’m pretty sure it’s not a problem with the screen itself. Anyhow, this was on National Teacher’s Day.

More teachers than you can shake a stick at!


Groceries (Wednesday, 2010 Oct 13)

October 14th, 2010

During a recent trip to Bafoussam, I brought back some goodies:

Depicted; a sausage, an orange juice drink that came in a plastic can, and "gateau" (a kind of white bread that is a little sweet).

Depicted: Pringoooals, some mediocre chocolate cookies, a bar of baking chocolate, and an "alveol" of eggs.

Not depicted: green olives, mustard, black pepper, dried garlic, and flour.

The sausage cost (if memory serves) 2,400 CFA and since I don’t have a fridge, I got to make sure I ate it within two or three days. It was still pretty worth it. Similarly, the baking chocolate was the best chocolate I’ve had here in Cameroon, although most of the chocolate has milk so I haven’t had too much.

I offered green olives to the neighborhood kids. They were not taken with them.

All in all, on that trip to Bafoussam I spent 15,000 CFA, all on processed food.

Parfait poses with the haul from one grocery trip on a Market Day. Prunes: 300 CFA. Carrots: 200 CFA. The potato-y things are some kind of yam, that’s 200 CFA worth of them. 400 CFA worth of salade, or lettuce, in the plastic bag. Jeans that don’t fit me, which I let a lady talk me into buying: 2000 CFA. Total for everything: about 5000 CFA.


English (Tuesday, 2010 October 12)

October 12th, 2010

And then, naturally, they disconnected me. I think I’m in luck though, because I just got re-connected after going to re-buy Internet today. J’ai de la chance!

The people at the Camtel office spoke English to me. Unlike the lady at the bank, who started the conversation with "Bonjour" while working with another client in English, I think this was because they preferred English — but I didn’t ask if they were "anglophones", since that seems like a stupid question on the face of it. Nevertheless, like Eugene who worked at the Camtel office at training, you get the impression that speaking English for him was a political act, since it is (after all) the minority language here.

Whereas the teachers at my school talk to me in English to practice English. For example, with one of the lady teachers:

"I like you because you always eat."

"Because I am always hungry!"

"You don’t cook?"

"I don’t have the time."

"When you go back to your house, you don’t have time?"

"Not really.."

"You should take a woman."

"I have a girlfriend in the United States."

"You can take another for here!"

Yesterday I felt like absolute crap for most of the day, which I attributed at first to just not getting enough sleep, but eventually turned into a feverish sort of headache, which thankfully went away once I finally got home around 7 PM and drank a lot of water and read a little. Then I sacked out. I’m feeling better today, but I’m still not completely over everything, so when I was in Bafoussam I grabbed a box of instant chicken noodle soup.

A few of the computers in the lab have now gotten so virus’d (as far as I can tell, just from USB keys) that they’re falling over and dying. I’d like to keep as many XP computers as we conveniently can, but this is ridiculous. Not that I have time to deal with it anyhow — still have to grade two classes’ quizzes, one classes’ test, and create four more tests.

Dreamt I went to a con, or that I was on vacation. People kept asking me, "Aren’t you supposed to be back in Africa yet?" Apparently my vacation had been over for a while, but I just couldn’t bring myself to come back. It made me worry — can I really risk going on vacation? Would I really be strong enough to keep myself from getting stuck? I always doubted that I’d be able to do something like this later in life, figuring I’d get too trapped in the rat race and the flow of everyday life to really do something different. I was fortunate that I got fired from one job, and then hated the job I had next, so I had ample reason to go. But that might not be true if I went home to visit.

Boris the student asked me for some help with English. There were a bunch of exercises about choosing between the present perfect and the past tense. In most of them I was like "Gosh, I could say either." But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m not qualified to teach English; it just means that the English curriculum here is as fucked as that of computer science. Well, one crisis at a time, I guess.

I have a bunch of pictures to upload but I can’t say when I’ll next have time. Hope it will be soon.


Grading, suite (Saturday, 2010 October 9)

October 9th, 2010

Just finished grading my two classes of 3e. I timed the second one; 37 papers, about 1.5 hrs. The first one was 59 papers and it felt like forever.

In my second class I found four pairs of identical or nearly-identical papers. "Identical" in this context means that one student said that they had used "Microsoft Office Excelence", and the other said they had used "Misecroft Ofice Excelence". Two explained in identical words that the variable a was negative, and b was positive, therefore they were neither true nor false. You get the idea. Cameroonian students cheat a lot, but fortunately they are not very good at it. I believe this harkens back to an ongoing theme about critical thinking..?

Additionally, I decided to reuse the little tests for my two classes of 3e, and change it only slightly for 4e. This was intended to catch any effects I could expect to see from one class getting questions or answers from an earlier class. The results were: earlier 3e class average 1.90, later 3e class average 1.54. 4e classes average were 3.10, 3.59, 3.65. So it seems like the two 3e classes don’t communicate, but the 4es might. This might actually make a certain amount of sense, since my two 3e classes are on opposite sides of the quad, but 4es are all in a row. Whether this will motivate me to come up with "different enough" tests for 4e or not remains to be seen.

The papers I have yet to grade are making mysterious crumpling noises. I’m afraid to find out what is causing it, expecting it to be a spider that traps informatique the way others trap flies. For the time being I’m just going to assume it’s a nice, soothing, stress-induced auditory hallucination. Probably means bed would be a good idea..


Agrandir (Saturday, 2010 October 9)

October 9th, 2010

Today is better than yesterday. Some of the shit that, due to my failings as a human being, was fucked yesterday is unfucked today. Additionally I went to Bafoussam and got drunk and hung out with a bunch of the Volunteers of the West region. Additionally I successfully used the word agrandir ("to make bigger") in a sentence (w.r.t. what Monsieur Obama, who is president now, wants to do with the Organization). The only thing that could have been better is if I had managed to get to Camtel to pay for my next month of Internet. But I’m sure they won’t cut my service before, say, Tuesday, right?

Still grading papers. But it’s only 12:55 PM in New York Time, so that means I still have all day! Right?


Grading (Friday, 2010 October 8)

October 8th, 2010

I have approximately four and a half classes worth of papers left to go through. I am not enjoying it. This was just the warm-up; next week is the real test for the sequence, which means each paper will be four times as long.

Today is a bad day. I’m not sure if it is related to grading papers or not. I am feeling demotivated. I think part of the problem is that when my 4e class (for example) does well, that makes me think they cheated, whereas when my 3e class does not do well, that makes me think they tried to cheat, but none of them actually could have been bothered to learn the material. I need to take a much firmer grip on classroom conversation next time, but it’s hard because I know it’s impossible to read my handwriting and I can’t write on the board and also penalize students at the same time.

I also gave a horrible lesson to my terminales. The saving grace is that I finished with this stupid "history of informatique" crap with them.

I’m gradually coming to the conclusion that I am not a good teacher and that I do not really have a desire to become a good teacher. I think I said this during model school too, though. This weekend I just want to spend 12-24 hours being a nerd and playing with cool software, or even mediocre software (at this point I’m not picky). But instead I have to come up with approximately 100 questions, possibly more if I want to be decent and not re-use tests for my three classes of 4e or my two classes of 3e, and grade papers approximately as fast as the students create them. Ugh.


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