The last post

13 07 2009

Tim is no longer in Tamale, nor anywhere in Ghana so I think I ought to stop blogging as “Tim in Tamale”. Instead I’m blogging elsewhere, contact me if you want the details.

If you’ve been following me for a while, thank you and I hope I’ve managed either to  entertain or inform you.

If you’ve just stumbled upon my blog and want to find out what it’s like to be a VSO volunteer in Northern Ghana, then jump back to an early post (like this one) and work your way forward (at the bottom of each post you’re offered links to the posts chronologically either side of the current, the right hand one is the future). If you’re interested in reading about my life before I volunteered read from the start, here, but I feel it took me a while to get used to blogging

I hope you enjoy what I’ve written and continue following the new blog.

Infrequently asked questions

3 05 2009

I’m into my last month as a VSO volunteer and have been blogging about the experience for nearly 2 years. In an attempt to analyse my experience I’m writing a few bits for myself (on aid and on my experience) but I’m not sure whether I’ll publish them.

In the mean time do any of my loyal (or disloyal) readers have any pressing questions they’d like to ask? They could be about volunteering in general, me or anything else you want to know within reason, decency  and the limits of the libel laws.

Always connected

10 02 2009

I’ve been an active internet user (or netizen for the geeks) for more than ten years now, initially contributing to debates in Yahoo groups, then creating my own websites and in the last few years using social networks starting with “Friends Reunited” and leading on to Flickr, Facebook, blogging and, most recently, Twitter. It takes at least half an hour every morning just to see if anyone still loves me.

Combined with the mobile phone we’ve moved from a world where we could be “invisible”, either deliberately or beyond our control, for long periods of time to one where, I at least, start to feel unloved if I haven’t received an email, text or tweet in the last couple of hours. From a world where in 1995 the only way to communicate with my brother in China was via paper letters which took two weeks to reach him to 2008 when he phoned me from near Shanghai while I was crossing into Burkina Faso. I’ve made a friend because he read my blog when in Khartoum, a nice lady in Uruguay (whom I’ve never met) leaves lovely comments and an executive for a UK multinational working in Accra has contacted me via Twitter.

But all this connectivity and sharing raises questions of ethics and etiquette. One of the first decisions I made, way back in 1998, was that I’d use my own name and not be anonymous. This seems a lot less controversial now but the received wisdom then was that “on the internet no-one knows you’re a dog” and obscure monikers were the order of the day. As a result people seemed to forget that the “click1” or “nightstalker” were actually real people who might be hurt by gratuitous insults. Personally I think that anything I’m willing to say in public I ought to be willing to put my name to. I realise there are valid reasons for anonymity but I think it can be abused.

Then comes the Goldilocks question of personal information. What is too much, what too little and when do you get it “just right”? Too much information puts you at risk and risks boring people. Too little and people can’t identify with you as a real person. Just right gets people interested in you as you without seeming a self-obsessed self publicist and also without giving criminals means of stealing your identity. I still struggle with this one.

Facebook throws up a whole heap of questions. How do you respond to a “friend request” from someone you don’t really like but need to keep on the right side of? What do you do about your former colleagues listed as friends but now aren’t particularly interested in? How do you react if someone rejects you or removes you as a friend? And what about all those invites to groups, events, games or causes? Being in Ghana gives me a decent excuse to reject some (I’m not going to be able to get to a talk in London and the bandwidth means that paying scrabble or racing cars is out of the question) but how do I say politely that while I believe the rainforest should be saved/racism ended/world poverty tackled I’m not convinced that adding to my already cluttered Facebook profile will really make any significant difference. And no I don’t want to be a pirate/zombie or whatever.

And all these new channels create nuances of what medium to use. When is a text better than an email? When do I write on someone’s Facebook wall rather than messaging them? Is actually phoning someone intrusive or personal? How much do I reveal in my status/twitter etc? How often should I comment on other peoples blogs? Should I ever actually put physical pen to physical paper?

Finally, am I too obsessed with this “virtual” world? Too busy checking my emails or texting people to enjoy those that I’m actually with? To what extent is Facebook or blogging a distraction from the work I should actually be doing? Does it really matter how many people have read my blog or looked at my photos today? It was actually nice backpacking across America in 1996 knowing it was almost impossible for people to reach me. It was great chugging down the Niger last year free of all forms of connection beyond the people on the boat. Perhaps sometimes always connected is too much.

Searching for Tim

20 06 2008

The ten most common search terms people use to find my blog are:

1) tim in tamale (and variations on my name)
         which is gratifying.
2) openoffice base vs access
    I must disappoint the nerds
3) china vs India
Some people seem touchy on this subject, I wrote a post last summer comparing the countries
4) office work
5) chihuly glass
   Finds a post on the exhibition in Kew in 1995
6) budapest
7) ghana
As I would expect
8 ) giles bolton
I wrote a review of his book that people seem eager to read. Other authors I’ve mentioned are used in searches quite a lot
9) poor story
The title of Giles Bolton’s book.
10) harborne hall
The only reference to anything VSO in the top 10

I’m a bit surprised at the lack of VSO searches. Oh well.


17 02 2008

Blogging is an enjoyable, if slightly odd experience. Rather like shouting into a dark room that people enter and leave invisibly, occasionally shouting back a comment. I think I know who some of my audience are, some of the time, but am not entirely certain. I know that most of my immediate family and at least one cousin are reading. I know some of my friends are reading, but I’m not entirely sure which ones or when. I also know that some complete strangers are reading, quite a lot in Ireland it seems.

My reasons for blogging are varied. I started toying with it a couple of years ago, but started more seriously about a year ago after I was selected by VSO. Partly it’s a narcissistic attempt at self publicity. Partly there is the ego flattery of fantasising that complete strangers might be hanging on my every word, waiting impatiently for the next instalment. And I found it useful reading other volunteers blogs before I went out to get an idea of what it is like to be a volunteer, I hope that my attempts have been useful at communicating my experience, not that there is a typical experience. I also want to raise awareness of some of the issues around international development. Finally I enjoy practising my writing, and hopefully occasionally making people laugh.

I have different approaches to writing a post. Occasionally I simply go straight to the website and write directly, but usually I start with an idea and then rough it out before getting a version I’m happy with at home before I head to somewhere that has internet and copy it up. I try to aim for different styles, subjects and lengths.

WordPress (the people who host my website) is quite interesting because it provides me with quite a lot of information, and combined with the Cluster-maps add-in I know how many people are reading my blog, where they are in the world and how they find me – all feeding my narcissism. This throws up some interesting information; I seem to have a lot of readers in Ireland for some reason, as well a few hot spots in the US, Europe and northern Nigeria. I would love to know if I have regular readers I’ve never met. There are one or two blogs I follow, and it will be strange if I meet Nigel and Jenny Horricks who are fellow VSOs in Ghana whose blog I started reading before I left and now I know people who know them. In fact my friends Ruth and Katherine borrowed their car to get to Mole.

The most common routes to my blog (and the most read posts) are searches for “Microsoft Access vs OpenOffice Base” and “China vs India”, although gratifyingly I do get quite a lot for “Tim Little Ghana” or “Tim in Tamale”, and I can see that one or two people have used Google to create an RSS feed of my page. I seem to average about 15 – 20 hits per day, but those aren’t necessarily different readers. Hopefully a few of the people looking for technical advice or a heated emerging superpower debate hang around and read some other bits.

I’m too lazy to be a proper writer though. I love composing articles in my head, considering what first sentence will grab the reader’s attention, how the post will flow and what the rhythm of the sentences will be. But I’m too lazy to apply myself. To sit down and spend time writing, rather than reading, watching a movie or even playing free cell. Blogging is the lazy man’s way to write.

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