Sunday, June 10, 2007

Tropical Cyclone Gonu

Wednesday Tropical Cyclone Gonu hit here. Not so much as hit here as gave the country a long sideways pummel. The rains started at around 4am and continued until about midnight. The weather probably was at its most extreme from noon to 4pm.

Like Katrina, the hurricane was about category 5, however by the time it here it had dissipated down to a category 1 or 2. Like Katrina, the devastation was not caused so much by the storm itself, but by the flooding that accompanied it. With Katrina it was the failures of levees. With Gonu it was the overflowing of the wadis (normally dried up riverbeds with their sources in the mountains). Some friends of ours reported that they saw a dump truck being swept away by the force of the water and it was just being rolled like a Tonka truck. . In other parts of the city whole sections of the expressway were washed out.

At school, the on campus housing got about an inch of mud when the wadi their housing backs on overflowed. Fortunately there was a solid retaining wall in place, and all the teachers and their families were in the school at the time so no one was hurt. The church across the street from the school was buried in mud. It came within 2 feet of the top of the door. The Toyota workshop next to the church was basically swept downstream. Cars and trucks are strewn all over for about a kilometer. Some buried up to their roofs in sand and muck

We thought we were weathering the storm very well. Until about 6pm, everything was working very well. We had power, electricity, water, telephone and an ADSL connection. The worst of the storm seemed to be over. Then the power went out. It seems that the generator that powers this area used natural gas which was piped in through a pipeline that ran through a wadi. When the wadi flooded, the pipeline broke, and cut off the supply of fuel for the power station. That took 48 hours to repair. We had just checked into a hotel when we came back to get clothes, and saw that the power was back on. A couple of nights make you appreciate air conditioning all the more.

More serious than the electrical outage is the water outage. Water has still not yet been restored. Fortunately we have a stockpile in that we have a water tank on our roof. As soon as we learned that the tank was not being refilled, we took water conservation measures, and still have about 2/3 of a tank. There are rumours that trucks belonging to have been mobbed and others are receiving police escorts. Since initially writing tis, the water has come on for a while and then been turned off so another district can get water.

The infrastructure of the city on all levels took a massive hit. This included the communications infrastructure. In the aftermath of the storm, the phone network went down. At our house it was out for two days. The GSM (cell phone) network was iffy at best. This meant that the school had a hard job communicating with the staff. Not to mention the problem with cell phone batteries dying. With electricity still out at school, and our mail server on campus, communications between the school and wider community are not where need to be. One of my jobs over the next few days is to start looking at some ways to address this issue.

Lessons learned: Two post hurricane stressors were lack of cash as phones and therefore ATM’s were down. Next hurricane, I’m going to make sure I stock up on some cash before hand. Also the half tank of gas in the car was a stressor. I’ll make sure it is full. We had only one cell phone as my Treo suffered an unfortunate accident the week before, and we were constantly switching SIM cards. It might be good to have at least the same number of cell phones as the number of SIM cards in the future. Also good to have is a car charger for the cell phone. Other than that the stocking up with water and flashlights worked out well. Once power is back on at school, I’ll need to start unpacking the lessons learned on the school side. One thing I need to learn about is the difference between a hurricane, cyclone and typhoon. My current theory is that it has to do with which ocean spans them; hurricanes in the Atlantic, typhoons in the Pacific and Cyclones in the Indian. That is just a working theory for now.

Sunday, June 3, 2007


Lee LeFever of Common Craft has come up with another great video, explaining wikis.

Planning continues on the technology strand at the NESA Leadership Conference in Bangkok using a TikiWiki. Others have started to use the edit button and move away from the comments. The other tech coordinators and directors are starting to create what will be a really good strand.
I also realized today that blogs were he answer to a problem that were plaguing us in Blackboard. The problem was that teachers wanted to use the results of a discussion board from one year to the next. In Blackboard, once users are deleted, their postings disappear. This was a problem in that the course where the students were posting was a Grade 12 course, and the student accounts (and therefore the student postings) were deleted at the end of the year. Moving that knowledge to a wiki will result an ability for students to stand on the shoulders of their predecessors.

Taxonomy of Knowledge

David Weinberger's video (based on his new book Everything is Miscellaneous) represents a whole series of new powerful ideas. Equaly interesting are his series of interviews with physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga(founder of he Daily Kos), Arriana Huffington (founder of the Huffington Post), Jimmy Wales (co-founder of Wikipedia).
The main threads running through all of these is how everything has changed. "Web 2.0 changes everything" is a common rallying cry among Educational bloggers, but the how is often missing. I believe that David Weinberger is starting to put his finger on it. According to him, there are three orders of data. There is the data itself, say the pictures in an archive. There is metadata, the card catalogue. But when data and metadata are digital, they become interchangeable. For example, if you know that Charles Dickens wrote a Tale of Two Cities, you can Google and the four or fifth hit gives you the text of the A Tale of Two Cities. Conversely if you knew the line, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times", but were unsure of its source, you can Google the phrase and see that it was written by Charles Dickens. Weinberger's important observation is that metadata is what you know. Data is what you don't.
In terms of Web 2.0, Weinberger mak. es two observations. Firstly that all taxonomies are arbitrary. There is no perfect order, waiting to be revealed. If everyone can organize their own knowledge in any way they see fit, that is incredibly liberating. The Web 2.0 tool that allows users to do this is tagging. As I was writing this I realized that tagging is a constructivist tool. It allows people to attach their own meaning.
Secondly, he notes that traditionally editors have exercised power by controlling what goes on the front page of a newspaper. Thanks to Web 2.0 tools, everyone is their own editor and can use tools like NetVibes to pick what stories they want to see, and in what order. To me that is a revolution on par with Martin Luther's "Every man is his own priest," and sums up very well how Web 2.0 changes everything.