We’ve Moved

New HouseWe moved house! Actually we moved just over a week ago and have been unpacking and settling into our new house since. We’re on a compound called ‘Mountain View’, and unsurprisingly there is a large hill just at the back of the compound adorned with water tower and radio masts. Rebekah and Elizabeth have been enjoying playing a bit with another wee Northern Irish girl who lives on the same compound.

Most of the bags are unpacked. David’s taking on the challenge of remounting our mosquito nets in an aesthetically-pleasing manner (hopefully). We’ve hooked up a whole-house power backup system with 3 huge batteries which currently unfortunately omits most of the lights in the house. (Oops.) Washing machine is ensconsed in the nice large bathroom and the somewhat large hole in the bathroom wall where the outflow pipe went even got patched up by the plumbers last week.

Meanwhile friends of friends moved into our old house 4 days after we left. Intriguingly Elizabeth refers to our old house as ‘Nigeria’, as in “When we used to live in Nigeria we only had 2 bedrooms but now we have 4.” Maybe the dedicated home-education room needs to be dedicated to a bit of geography. As for Abigail, she loves the fact that this house comes with a climbing wall (stone fireplace) and all manner of opportunities for sneaky ascent.

It’s back to work for us all this week. Unfortunately we brought back a nice British cold virus which we’re all suffering from.

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A quick visit back to the UK

Happy New Year! We’ve been on the road the last week, all in the run-up to the family wedding we celebrated on Saturday near Exeter. We left Jos on Monday at lunchtime to be driven down to Abuja with a fairly modest load of suitcases, then stayed overnight before flying to Heathrow the next morning. Since then we’ve been glad to see friends and a few relatives around England en-route to Exeter and have now flown up to Glasgow for a week, again catching up with family and friends, as well as handing our flat over to an agent to let while we’re away.

The wedding itself was lovely and relaxed, with Dave and Becky organising lots of things themselves and with quite a few children there too. Rebekah contributed a (pre-recorded!) prayer for the couple and Abigail and Elizabeth contributed a certain amount of volume too.

Coming back to the UK in the midst of wintry wind and rain has been a bit of a shock for us all, but we’re well kitted up now with all the warm clothes and boots we need for the next couple of weeks in Glasgow and Northern Ireland before we head back to warmer climes again.

Love from us all, and perhaps we’ll see some of you this week or next. Apologies if we miss you; it’s only a flying visit.

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A December break

Miango holidayWe’re just back from a restful few days of holiday at the Miango Rest Home, about an hour’s drive away. On Thursday afternoon, right after David had finished subjecting some of his poor Bible translation students to the rigours of practical and written exams, we drove dustily West to the conference centre originally built as a peaceful sanctuary for harried missionaries over 80 years ago.

Our Northern Irish friends from the seminary down the road in Kagoro were there too, and while the dads both knuckled down to marking and teaching prep, mums and children (3 wee Creightons and 3 slightly weer Rowborys) enjoyed a change of scene and some fun things to do together. It was interesting while we were there to meet various Nigerian missionaries staying for conferences; some knew a bit about Bible translation and others were very interested to hear that work was beginning in their own languages.

Back home, there’s still more marking for David to do, then a Wycliffe group Christmas party on Friday, before Christmas is upon us. In amongst all that we’re also getting ready to move to a bigger house in January.

Love from us all, from a rather chilly Jos,

David, Julie, Rebekah, Elizabeth and Abigail

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Talking signs & Written assistants

Travelling around you always notice some differences markedly.

“How do you know where to go without any signs on the road?” my friend Richard asked our driver on the way to Abuja airport. The answer was that he’s lived around Abuja and travelled the road a lot so he’s seen it change and has been able to always find someone who could tell him where to go. At the airport in Abuja you notice lots and lots of staff helping you through 6 different security checks, immigration control etc. How did we know what to do and where to go? Someone would ask us what we were doing and would tell us where to go. In Frankfurt there were comparatively fewer staff around; instead there are just lots of signs everywhere.

In some ways this is symbolic of the different cultural expectations. In writing-focussed societies we expect to find a sign telling us where to go, but in most of Africa you get people doing that job as part of the conversation. (Around airports you’ll also find lots of people who absolutely insist on helping you and then being reimbursed for it even if you really don’t need any help, thank you!)

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Where there is no Desktop

Is the Desktop metaphor dead? The linked article suggests that touchy-feely tablets and phones are starting to sweep the desktop metaphor away. That’s certainly happening in part, but my own perspective is that in some parts of the world it’s never really been alive or helpful.

The point of the desktop metaphor, popularised by Apple and (to some extent) Microsoft was that it made something new seem familiar. Or to put it another way, it gave you new tools to do the same kind of things that you might want to do.

Rewind now to about 12 years ago when I was in a reasonably remote part of northern Nigeria trying to teach basic computer skills to Bible translation team members. It gradually dawned on me that we were up against a major difficulty; the ‘desktop’ metaphor that had made computers accessible to ordinary people in the Western world was actually making it harder for my Nigerian colleagues.

Zuru 2001: basic computer skills in the language development and translation office

Zuru 2001: basic computer skills in the language development and translation office

The problem was that none of them had encountered ‘files’ or ‘folders’, ‘directories’. One or two had come across a typewriter before. They knew nothing of (written) reports. Their houses didn’t even generally have windows! They very rarely used buttons of any kind. Mice were familiar, but were for chasing away from the granary, not for moving around a table. They squeaked, didn’t click. Arrows were for hunting, not pointing. Not even fingers really were for pointing (chins were for pointing). They did know all about saving. Being ‘saved’ was certainly important in church and nothing to do with storing something important.

At the time, even as I struggled to explain first what a window was and why we use that term on a computer, I thought what we really need is to rethink the whole concept of Human Computer Interaction for different environments. But I was too busy working on a dictionary and other things to make any serious headway, except to note that on traditional Lelna compounds, there is a degree of organisation that might transfer to a computer system. And existing social differentiators and hierarchies too might prove helpful concepts.

TCNN 2012: basic computers for linguistics

TCNN 2012: basic computers for linguistics

Roll on 10 years and I find myself again teaching computers to people who have only just encountered them. Now a whole load more people are using computers and laptops are much more common across Nigeria. Mobile phones too are quite ubiquitous. But just as most of Africa has somehow skipped the landline age and leapt straight for mobile telecommunications, I have an inkling that the ‘desktop’ age may be blithely bypassed by many. Perhaps many Africans encountering technology for the first time will join the IT highway several junctions along from where I joined it.

So Apple’s had a GUI regime change – out with the old ‘tacky’ skeuomorphism, and in with flat solid shapes. If indeed that is where we are now – and Microsoft certainly think so with Windows 8 – then perhaps we won’t need to wrestle for much longer with an ill-fitting metaphor.

However, that’s not the full story. The fact is that user interfaces rely on some degree of familiarity. If skeuomorphic designs are being edged out now it doesn’t necessarily imply that they were a bad idea all along. How much do the new mobile-inspired UI designs rely on familiarity with older idioms, that is features of the desktop metaphor? Even when bold new strides are made, there must be some continuity for existing users to make the transition successfully, and some connection to the rest of their life for new users to be able to grasp a way of relating to computers.

Perhaps now we have a unique opportunity now to rethink user interface in culturally appropriate ways. As we have seen, new approaches to user interface design are being thrashed through right now. At the same time Africans are becoming familiar with various bits of mobile technology. (I say this based on living for much of the last 6 years in East and now West Africa.) In African cities and towns we see an interesting mishmash of ‘western’ and ‘traditional’ concepts and life. Not everyone lives in an agricultural world any more though still the majority of the Nigerian populace are linked to farming in some way. Perhaps the concepts I had considered before of ‘granaries’ for storing bags of grain as a metaphor for data storage will not work, or perhaps they will. We certainly need to abandon ridiculous archaisms such as a floppy disk icon representing ‘saving’.

This is not the end of the road but perhaps only the beginning. What I would love to see would be truly African approaches to using computers that no longer fall in line behind a mysterious and misunderstood western world. Perhaps I’m a bit of an unrealistic ideologue  but I would love to see people using computers without spending ages worrying about the intricacies of how to use and manage the computer itself, and focussing much more on the content they are actually manipulating and communicating.

Ideas welcome.

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Naming of Parts

Yesterday we had naming of parts. Today,
We have daily cleaning.

Today is Sanitation Saturday. That means that everyone has to stay at home until 10am and clean their houses and the area around them. And, yes, it is enforced by the Sanitation Police! I’m not sure how much sanitation we will actually do, but it is certainly very pleasant when the road outside is so quiet. For a couple of hours we can enjoy the pleasant warbling of the birds instead of the car horns and taxi touts.

Rebekah RowboryA major feature of the last few weeks has been Julie starting to home educate Rebekah in earnest. She has been delighting in telling everyone that she is in P1, even though the term is fairly meaningless to most people she talks to! We have had lots of fun with reading, writing, maths, art and science. Yesterday we did “naming of parts” where we drew round Rebekah and Elizabeth and they coloured in the pictures of themselves. Then we stuck labels on the the different body parts. We are also planning to meet with another home educating family every other Wednesday to do art and crafts together, so that will be something to look forward to.

And now, as it is Sanitation Saturday, we should get on with the daily cleaning!

(Anyone know which poem we are alluding to in this email? The first three correct answers will receive a small prize!)

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Another no-installation mobile broadband dongle

Having to install dongles on lots of computers is a bit of a pain and this one from Huawei seems to fill a need many in Nigeria might have. Huawei E355 3G and Wi-Fi USB Internet Modem Dongle – White

I’ve had a mobile hotspot with a battery inside but I can see there may be many situations where actually a small (translation) office or home could connect several WiFi devices through the same connection powered by USB either from a backup battery or a computer. Wonderful when you don’t need to mess about installing any software to make it work. If I get one, I’ll post feedback on how well it actually works in Nigeria.

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William Tyndale – the most dangerous man in Tudor England

An excellent Melvyn Bragg film about William Tyndale expresses eloquently why people all over the world need access to the Bible in their mother tongue and gives an insight into the dramatic changes it can bring.

It was on iPlayer in June 2013 and hopefully will be again. Well worth watching. We found it inspiring for our own involvement in Nigeria. It was interesting to see that Tyndale had to flee his native land and needed the theological, linguistic and technical support of others in Europe to make the translation happen. But crucially it was a native speaker who actually did the translation.

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New Fifth Column for Evangelicals in the Church of Scotland

The establishment of the C of S has proclaimed the creation of a new ‘network of evangelicals’ who seem to be committed to remaining yoked to the denomination no matter what.

This seems to be seizing the initiative from Forward Together which has struggled and stalled over the years to reconcile people/congregations who were evangelical first, CofS second and those who were the reverse. I find it interesting that this is trumpeted by the official mouthpiece of the denomination and is happening as a torrent of gospel-focussed churches declare the necessity of distancing themselves from a compromised denomination. How many well-intentioned people get swept up without recognising it to be a fifth column (or Trojan horse) will remain to be seen. Those of us who have seen the reality of the lies and scheming of those desperate to wring the gospel from the Kirk will be forgiven if we appear sadly cynical.

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Languages I have been working with

As we’ve talked about our work in Nigeria, several have asked about the language(s) I work with. One quick way to find out some basic information about any language in the world is to look it up on the SIL Ethnologue. So roughly in order of more – less involvement on my part here are a few languages:

  • Gworok (just starting their work)

    • If you look at the page linked, you’ll see that Gworok is officially listed as a dialect of Tyap, which already has been developed fairly significantly, and has a Bible translation project well under way for some years.
    • At first sight it seems that there are some fairly significant differences between Gworok and Tyap, though some Gworok speakers can just about follow the Tyap Bible. But there seems to be substantial interest in having a Gworok translation.
    • Gworok is sometimes known as Kagoro, which is the town at the centre of the language area. Often outsiders refer to a language by the name of the most significant town in the area.
    • I really don’t know the number of speakers of Gworok. I’d hazard a guess at 50,000+.
    • Similar in some ways to neighbouring languages Ninkyob (who are still struggling to start) and Irigwe/Miango (whose New Testament was just launched).
  • Maya (started 2008, but still a fragile project)
  • Duya (started around 2010)
  • Koro Waci (started 2011)
  • Nyankpa

Those with good memories may remember I thought I might have involvement with the Tal Bible translation project. I’ve had some chats with the Nigerian missionaries involved in church planting there but there’s not been anything in particular for me to help with yet.

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