Approaching the end, one more day to go...

Wednesday, 16 Apr:
Today our training topics ranged from preparing to support Windows 8, to Comparisons of Office Productivity Suites (namely MS Office, LibreOffice, and Google Docs), to a course on Power Systems, mostly focused on maintaining battery backup systems which is very important in Africa.

This photo shows the full class.  I'm out of the picture on the right corner, along with three other guys.
I was really blessed that my coworker from Waxhaw, +Rod Davis taught a number of the courses, including this one on Power Systems, which I originally was supposed to teach!  I asked Rod about a week before we came if he could teach this one instead of me, since he taught it at the French IT Connect series which was held a couple of months ago in Francophone Africa.

Tonight we celebrated the end of our training with a party that the guys put together with games and a special dinner, and completion certificates.  We actually have one more day to wrap up the training, but a few of the participants have to leave tomorrow before the end so we celebrated tonight while everyone was still here.  Maybe I will post a couple of photos tomorrow, as many were taken tonight by the guys with professional cameras.

Krista is looking forward to my return home.  Just in case I don't get a chance to post another update tomorrow, we will be flying out of Kenya on Thursday evening (Nairobi is currently 7 hours ahead of US Eastern time, so that would be around 3 PM Eastern time) and we will arrive back in Charlotte on Friday evening, about 24 hours of flight time plus a few layovers of a few hours each.  Thank you for continuing to uphold this training conference in prayer!

Into Our Second Week of IT Training

Tuesday, 15 Apr:
Yesterday we began the second week of our IT Connect training course, held in Kenya.  Thank you for praying for our IT courses and the participants!  The training is going well, covering a lot of topics useful to the IT guys who support field offices which make Bible translation possible.  The 28 participants in the course are strengthening relationships with each other as they get to know one another better and build friendships.  This is an important factor in African culture.  The participants attending the course come from a number of countries in central, south, and eastern Africa, representing SIL and Wycliffe partner organizations.

Starting this week we discussed an important topic which often gets overlooked: planning for disasters.  In Africa things like lightning, fire, extreme temperatures and unstable power conditions are common threats to IT services.  Also civil unrest is quite common in some countries where translation and language development is taking place.  When all expatriate staff have to evacuate from a country, leaving only the national translators there to continue the work, what happens to the support for computer systems, power, and Internet connectivity?

These things don’t just run on their own without ongoing maintenance and tuning from the IT staff.  So it is very important to make sure that planning is done ahead of time to be prepared for such situations.  This is part of why we are conducting this training, and as you can see from the photos a good number of the participants are nationals, working in their own countries.  These guys won’t be the ones evacuating, but will still be there to provide IT services to the translators, making the work more sustainable even in times of unrest.

Over the weekend I completed the development of a course on Cloud Computing which I taught this afternoon.  While the use of the “cloud” - Internet services where data can be stored and accessed - might not be practical in Africa today in many situations, we know that it will become more possible as better Internet access becomes available.  So my goal is to educate the IT guys about what is happening, so that when the people they support come to them asking for a cloud solution, they will know how to provide good advice and avoid some of the common pitfalls.

Our Internet access at the center where our training is taking place is not much better than last week, and is still unstable, but since I have been using a prepaid cellular data service through my Smartphone, I have been able to get to what I need online and it is working quite well.  Krista and I have even been able to connect with each other using video to say hello, which makes it feel like I am closer to home.  Today I even was able to participate in a video conference with my coworkers in the USA for a project status meeting, and the technology worked perfectly!

I am very thankful to have a solution to the problem that was plaguing me last week.  Most people will think, “No problem, who needs the Internet?”  But when it is critical for me to work, it is actually more important than having a bathroom! (The accomodations are very nice here and we have indoor plumbing by the way.)  Thanks again for your continued interest and prayers for this conference!

Below, I uploaded a picture of a cell phone SIM card which I had to cut with scissors to fit into my newer model phone. The newer phones come with "mini" SIM cards, which are smaller than the normal SIM cards which have been used for years. Fortunately it is possible to trim them down on all four sides to make them fit into a mini SIM card phone. That's something I had not done before, and of course if you cut the card wrong you can wreck the card, so it was sort of like doing surgery, being very careful and precise! The card does work fine!

The original SIM card which was in the phone is the small white one near the bottom, and the new card which I purchased in Africa is the darker color one above it.  The small scraps which I cut off are between the SIM cards and the Sharpie pen.

Wrapping up the week

Friday, 11 Apr:
Our training courses today covered some helpful topics for IT managers such as security risks for mobile phone users and risk assessment for field offices (a comprehensive focus covering security of data, equipment, network vulnerabilities, environmental risks, etc.)
The 2014 IT Connect Kenya Conference participants (Bill Mayes, conference leader pictured in front).

I also received a new SIM card for my phone today, which I asked the conference center office staff to purchase for me.  This will allow me to have a different mode of Internet access over the cellular network even if the normal Internet services at the center continue to act up.  There is some important work that I need to get done this weekend which requires Internet access, so I should be in good shape now.  The cost for this data access was less than the cost for cellular data in the USA.  I'm using it right now to post this update and it is SO much better - things actually work like they should!

There are supposed to be about 100 teenage youth at the conference center starting this weekend for a few days, so I am expecting things to get pretty noisy and busy here!  Also I'm looking forward to getting some rest this weekend (I have earplugs!)  I won't be going to any of the shopping or sight seeing events tomorrow, as I need to rest up.  I have been in the training courses all day and then working until at least midnight every day, only getting between 4-6 hours of sleep daily.  So I need to get some rest so that I don't get sick from being worn out.

Thanks for your prayers!  I may not post any updates this weekend, unless I see things of interest with the 100 youth here.

Up again, Down again

Thursday, 11 Apr:
On day three of our IT Connect training course our Internet access has started to improve, but it still has times when it is very slow and unusable.
Course participants line up to receive new equipment.
The training today didn't require a lot of Internet access, unlike the Google training I was doing the last two days, so the courses went very well.

We are starting to make weekend plans, as many of the IT guys who came here from other countries will do some sightseeing in Nairobi on Saturday, and church on Sunday.  For some of them coming from remote places, the opportunity to shop at a real store (similar to Walmart in the USA) is a big deal.  Others want to see the Giraffe park or other wildlife things, like Krista and I have done on past trips.  The group of 27 guys is bonding well, and we have a number of staff here for the first time, so it is their first introduction to the IT Connect training courses, and to meet their IT coworkers from other countries.

This afternoon I was able to have a Skype call with Krista and it was crystal clear with no delay!  But later tonight I tried to call her again to talk longer and it was choppy, dropping words here and there.  The Internet access seemed slower again, so we decided to hang up and try it very early tomorrow morning (my time) which will be near midnight for Krista.  Hopefully nobody else here will be using the Internet then and we will have better access.

Here's a screen shot from the results of a speed test I ran when things seemed slow tonight.  Those numbers should be about 1.50 download and upload speed for here.  Obviously right now the Internet is fast enough that I could even upload a couple of photos!

Lots of news has been shared yesterday and today about the Heartbleed computer bug which has the potential to give hackers access to everyone's passwords.  My coworkers back in the USA have been busy patching our systems there to close this potential hole, and communications are being prepared to share with our global missionary staff with guidance on what steps they should take to ensure their data security.  It is times like this that we in the technology field earn our keep.

That's about all I have to say today!  Thanks as always for your continued interest and prayer support.

Still waiting on the web!

Wednesday, 9 Apr:
Our saga of weak Internet access continued today.  I finished up the Google Apps course, but we had to skip the interactive labs again because the class didn't have good enough Internet access.  They will be able to do some of this testing on their own later, but I was looking forward to the class interaction, as we always learn more and learn better when we can do things together in a group.  Even without the lab exercises, I think the education on Google Apps was really helpful for the IT guys, so they will be better prepared to provide help for the many hundreds of people they support across Central and Eastern Africa.

(IT Discovery team Google Hangout conference call)
This afternoon the Internet bandwidth improved for a while and I was actually able to make a Skype call to Krista and talk for a few minutes, which was nice.  At dinner time our IT Discovery leadership team had a conference call with the other leaders who were in Chad, Africa and Canada.  The call was over the Internet, so we asked all the IT guys not to use the Internet for two hours so we could have our call without it being dropped.  That worked OK, but at 8:10 PM when other people started to use the web again, our call dropped.

I have been in other places with poor Internet access so this is nothing new to me, and I usually come prepared to work offline just in case, with all of my email synced offline, and this time around all of my Google Documents synced offline too.  But we held this course at this location because historically their Internet access has been pretty good, and that is very important for the training we are doing!  I would appreciate continued prayer for a solid improvement in the Internet connection here, as we have another week of training to get through!

Otherwise the weather here is beautiful, sunny skies and warm temperatures, and other things like reliable power and the food are great!  Thanks for upholding this training conference in prayer!

Really bad Internet access today...

Well I spoke too soon yesterday about having decent Internet.  After lunch the Internet got really sluggish to the point of nothing working on my laptop or other people's either.  The wireless connection at this location was fine, but the connection from the network to the Internet was not working well at all.  We were really concerned about it because I was to teach a Google Apps course today and I had planned on a lot of interactive labs which all required Internet access!

The Network Manager here called their ISP (the company who provides their Internet connection) and asked them to upgrade it because we had a lot of IT people here and we needed more bandwidth.  But we think the problem is bigger than just a lack of bandwidth. This morning a couple of us got up at sunrise before all the other IT people had arisen and ran some speed tests and it was still terrible.

Hank, Teaching on Google Apps

I taught the first half of my course today but we had to leave out most of the online labs because the Internet was so bad.  When I say bad, I mean like nobody could even get to to do a search and even minimal email was not working as it should.  Interestingly, the email on our smart phones was working, and that uses the same Internet connection as laptops, not a cellular connection here.  But I think the cell phone email uses less data and so it seemed to work better.  In fact even now I am having to type this into my phone because my laptop couldn't get a good enough connection to post this text.

We are praying that the ISP vendor fixes the problem tomorrow.  The connection is much worse than what most of our field offices have!  Please join us in praying that this gets better, as much of the training over this two week timeframe requires Internet access.  Thanks!

Hank's Journal: April 2014 Kenya Trip

I decided to keep a brief journal on this trip and share it through these blog posts.  Thanks for praying for me and the other IT Connect participants!  I will make an effort to update my journal daily and new entries will appear at the top of the blog.  When I get a chance to throw in a photo or two I will do that.  Here are my journal notes from yesterday and today:

Sunday, 6 Apr:
2nd day of flying... On trips like this you sort of go into time warp. You lose track of what time it really is after going across many time zones and your body gets confused about when to sleep and when to be awake. Looking forward to getting to a bed to sleep!  Only had a couple of hours of sleep on the plane in 30 minute segments, because I am a light sleeper.  On Saturday while flying, I finished up most of the content for the course I will teach.  Just a few final touches to make when I get Internet access, so it is good to have that out of the way!

Monday, 7 Apr:
Breakfast at the conference center.
Arrived at the conference center around midnight last night. Got to bed around 1 am. Didn't have any internet access so could not let Krista know I got here safely. =(  At breakfast now, it is great to see my African friends from all over again and see them greet each other too, as many have not seen each other for a year.  Only part of the participants are here now, the rest will arrive today or tonight.  We expect 28 people for this course, including 4 of us who are specifically trainers.

Later: I got Internet access so I was able to tell Krista I arrived safely.  Very thankful for the +WhatsApp program which she and I use for international texting on our phones! She knows not to worry when she doesn't hear from me, because often if I arrive late at night there is no Internet until the next day.  All if the African SIM cards I bought last year for my phones had expired so I couldn't even call her on the phone.  It is getting more difficult to buy SIM cards here due to government restrictions because of scams, hacking, and illegal / terrorist activity.

+Kyle Edwards from Wycliffe USA just installed new wireless equipment here at the BTL CICC center, two weeks ago, so we seem to have good WiFi coverage now for the first time in the 5 years I have been coming here.  That combined with the new firewall I helped set up when I was here last February means our internet access is now reasonable and usable!  In Africa, reasonable Internet is sort of a variable thing.  It means that most of the time I can get an email message and sometimes I can browse the web.

Even while I was posting this message, Google kept telling me it couldn't save it every now and then as I was typing.  But that is typical for here, as the Internet service providers tend to be overloaded and generally not very stable, regardless of what type of Internet access you have, fiber, WiMax, T-1, 3G cellular, or some other type.  Satellite Internet is usually pretty stable, but it is slow and extremely expensive, so we like to use faster and more economical options when available, but they tend to be sort of bumpy.