The title says it all really. I’ve joined up with the Foreign Service, which is part of the Department of State. So, I’ve decided to start doing the blog again. I would rate my last attempt as low to moderately successful in keeping people up to date on my goings ons abroad so I might as well try again.

If you’ve gotten this far you might have some question so, because I’m a nice guy, I’ve prepared a frequently asked question section below. Enjoy!

  • Q: What the hell is the Foreign Service?
    • A: It’s the part of the United States government that runs the embassies abroad
  • Q: What will you be doing?
    • A: This.  Information Management Specialist, AKA: Computer Stuff.  Outside of that it’s kind of hard to be specific as I haven’t actually started yet and the job can apparently vary pretty widely.
  • Q: So, that means you’ll be abroad a good bit?
    • A: Yes, Tours last 1-3 years or so, most of them are abroad but, some can be in DC.  Foreign service folk are more or less expected to be abroad a good chunk of their career.
  • Q: Will you have to learn a langauge?
    • A: The people who are considered “generalists” are required to learn a language within 5 years to stay employed, specialists are not. That being said, I will almost certainly have to learn a language at some point and if I stay on board long enough, more than one but it varies by post.
  • Q: So… This means you’ll be an ambassador.
    • A: No.
  • Q: Fine, Whatever, When do you leave? I’m tired of you.
    • A: Training in DC starts mid july and lasts for about 4 months.  It could be longer though. After that, I’ll go to abroad.
  • Q: Where?
    • A: I don’t know, For your first 2 tours they give you a “bid list” of cities you can serve in and you rank them.  I’ll know about a month into training where I’m going.
  • Q: Do you get tired of writing FAQs?
    • A: Yes. I am now.

Sometimes, after being in a place for a while everything starts to seem normal. People have an amazing capacity for adjustment, and this is probably especially true for PCVs who are stuck in an area with both very supportive volunteers and who are strongly involved in their community or work places. Due to this familiarity it’s easy to forget how culturally foreign Americans are from Gambians and how experiences we take for granted they’ve never had and vice versa.

This is all by way of explanation of an interesting response I received on a recent question to one of my Introduction to Computer Science homework questions. Note, this particular student is one of my better ones and there is nothing wrong with the answer….

The question was something along the lines of “Write a set of steps that conform to the definition of an informal algorithm”.

He wrote
Task is to get a mango
(a) Find a mango tree
(b) Start throwing rocks
(c) If any mango falls, pick it up.

Again, I consider this a pretty decent answer it’s just something that no American college student would likely think of when answering this question… It’s a fairly small example but this type of situation brings to light many challenges we often face in teaching in this sort of environment. How much more of an effective teacher would I be if i had a better cultural and historical background to pull from when creating assignments and giving examples in class? It’s hard to say…

Dear ole brother sent me a new camera a few weeks ago and I just received in the mail this Tuesday. I thought this would be a good opportunity to do another “Day in pictures” type post and play with my camera. It’s pretty punk rock. Enjoy…

Day in pictures

Early in the morning

Early in the morning

Making coffee is a complex ritual

Making coffee is a complex ritual

Leaving the house

Leaving the house

This child called me taubab for like 10 mins

This child called me taubab for like 10 mins

I've got my ducks in a row

I've got my ducks in a row

Down the dirt road

Down the dirt road

Past the trash dump

Past the trash dump

Jammeh's "Alternative" clinic. Alternative to what? Don't ask

Jammeh's "Alternative" clinic. Alternative to what? Don't ask

Taxi to take me to the office. (Representative sample)

Taxi to take me to the office. (Representative sample)

Inside a taxi

Inside a taxi

The office

The office

YaYa giving me my COS packet = [

YaYa giving me my COS packet = [

See those 2 boxes. They weigh like 30 pounds.  They go to Brikama for samantha

See those 2 boxes. They weigh like 30 pounds. They go to Brikama for samantha

I'm sad.

I'm sad.

Westfield!

Westfield!

Gele taking me to brikama

Gele taking me to brikama

Clean air anyone?

Clean air anyone?

On the way

On the way

Near the college

Near the college

Oh. UTG!

Oh. UTG!

My sad office

My sad office

Wondering about

Wondering about

Grading papers. The students did.... poorly.

Grading papers. The students did.... poorly.

Someone's happy to get packages

Someone's happy to get packages

I got an easter card!

I got an easter card!

Samantha buying us bean sandwiches

Samantha buying us bean sandwiches

The most important part of my day.

The most important part of my day.

Even gingers love bean sandwiches

Even gingers love bean sandwiches

See?

See?

We had to walk to samantha's house to drop the boxes off...

We had to walk to samantha's house to drop the boxes off...

So many goodies.

So many goodies.

On the way back

On the way back

Looks hot, no?

Looks hot, no?

See. I work

See. I work

Not much.

Not much.

 

These people hate me

These people hate me

This happens everyday

This happens everyday

Stalking samatha.

Stalking samatha.

Going home

Going home

I'm happy!

I'm happy!

Westfield at night

Westfield at night

Taxi to pizza

Taxi to pizza

 

Mike!

Mike!

Booze!

Booze!

Pizza!

Pizza!

Done.

Done.

 

Waiting for samantha on the corner. Like usual.

Waiting for samantha on the corner. Like usual.

Finally home

Finally home

It’s been a while. Not as long as it’s been before. But. Awhile…

The term for UTG officially started on January 24th or so, not that anybody really showed up or started teaching (including myself…ahem…). My first classes were last week, so, it’s been a little busy around here. For some unknown and inexplicable reason, I decided to pick up three classes at UTG that I’ve never taught before, one of which is completely new and one of which hasn’t been taught in 3 years. This means that I need to develop most of the class material myself which really just takes an inordinate amount of time…

The brand new class is a programming logic and design course that is intended to teach new CS students on how to actually solve a problem. The tragic thing about some of our students here is that they know the syntax of a language well but they are unable to turn a word problem like “take a set of numbers and calculate the average” into a working solution. Hopefully this class will address that issue a bit. The course is going to be taught using several versions of a language called Racket, which is based of Scheme, which for those keeping score at home is a bit like lisp. I decided on the use of this language for a number of reasons, the biggest of which is that the book is available for free online at http://www.htdp.org/ and draft second edition at http://www.ccs.neu.edu/home/matthias/HtDP2e/ .

The language also comes with a nice IDE that allows students to easily play around with the language. That combined with the fact that the language it’s self does not have a complicated syntax means I should be able to get into more advanced computer science topics fairly quickly.

Other than that, I’m teaching a Introduction to Java course, which is the language used in all other programming classes here and a general introduction to computer science. I’m hoping that even in the Java course I’ll be able to incorporate more problem solving concepts found in the How to Design Programs book.

I’ve finally gotten around to finishing my grading for my CPS 306 course, which is the web programming course I’m teaching for the University of The Gambia. The midterm exam went, how does one say, rather poorly. The class average was a mighty 38. Which, sadly, is actually just below a D on the Gambian grading scale. Now for the better news… The class average for my final exam was a 51, which is slightly above a C for the kids keeping score at home, which I’m actually pretty ok with. Almost everyone went up from the midterm and one student increased his score a powerful 43 points. The lowest drop on the other hand was 10 points. There are a number of factors that might contribute to this, for one I think the test was probably a little easier. I didn’t intend to do this but I think it ended up happening. Another issue my have been that the midterm was the first test or quiz they’ve seen from me so they might not have been used that particular style. Finally, no matter how much I try to emphasize this my students tend to insist on thinking that the midterm exams are much easier than the finals…

Anyway. I did want to post the answer which caused the most tragedy in my little heart…

The question was: Create a function that takes an array  and returns the average of the array. If the function is called with no arguments the function should return -1.

Answer:

function average($i $j){
	$i = average Array[];
	$i = [] = 4;
	$i = [] = 2;
	return($i as average_array)
else{
	echo(-1)
}

Now, for those of you who don’t know php or programming this is a pretty bad… If nothing else, he just picks two random numbers and doesn’t even try to average those.  For reference’s sake here is what it might look like

function avg($numbers = FALSE){
	if (!$numbers) return -1;
	
	foreach ($numbers as $value){
		$total = $value + $total;
		$count++;
	}
	return $total/$count;
}