A time of Laziness

Today I found myself worrying about the state of education in South Africa. And no, not the usual “Basic Education in South Africa is lacking”, but the “We really don’t have to learn more than we already know” state of education in South Africa.

I noticed this trend for the first time two weeks ago when I met a (by no means unintelligent) young man that came to freelance at the place that I currently call my employment enjoyment, also known as work to the more pessimistic among you. He has been studying for his diploma in the field of IT and Business studies, and despite several signs of his intelligence, seemed to be under performing grade-wise. After a subtle amount of interrogation I realised his college employed not only a derivative of the OBE (Outcomes Based Education) system that has been such an amazing and utter dismal failure in the South African environment, but also a “group system” where groups of people work together on one programming assignment.

The problem with this system is that in the South African environment it means that one person that actually wants to pass does all the work, and everybody else freeloads on that person’s work. But when push comes to shove, the person that did all the work can perform well in exams and tests, whereas everyone else is left behind.

This has shown me the disturbing reality that someone can easily be made to look competent in the South African education system. Yet again, for iteration, this young man was, without a doubt in my mind, intelligent. But because of the lack of an environment where he needed to learn in order to improve his own knowledge, he managed to get by by doing the bare minimum that was required of him.

This mulled around my head for the past two weeks, and then in an instant my anger towards this system reared its ugly head today.

A girl walked into the shop with 2 laptops with a complete lack of understanding about how they work. This in itself is fine, as we work in a computer shop that does repairs and helps customers in need of some technical expertise in the field of their IT related needs.

But what got to me was that when I suggested to her that she could just use Google to search for her problem and find out and teach herself how to overcome her minor problems when they arose, she immediately shot down the suggestion, saying she doesn’t have time for that. Her rebuttal was that she wanted to take lessons from us on how to navigate the computer, as Googling takes too long (All the while showing remarkable prowess, skill and understanding of a small wireless handheld device that is connected to the Global System for Mobile Communications).

This led me to a serious question:
When did we get so lazy that even Google is too slow a way to find our answers? Our ancestors, Homo Nongooglerus, managed to find answers by thinking through problems, visiting a library and if all else failed, asking someone who knew better than themselves. Now we live in a world where we do not even have the time to find the answer for ourselves. Everything has become so fast paced that our knowledge should not be gained, but served upon a golden platter of feasting! And yet again, the power of the many is gained from the work of the few.

This cycle of people demanding respect and honor for someone else’s work needs to come to an end! Laziness is a disease that is spread throughout the veins of South Africa, and the few hard working South Africans get blamed for the state of the country because they are trying to achieve something and yet they are failing. And why? Because they have to pull the dead weight of the rest of the country along with them!

South Africa, it is time that everyone looks towards themselves and asks
“What can I do for my people?”
rather than
“What can my people do for me?”.

All it takes is just a little self motivation.
Nothing more,
Nothing less.

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Education is everybody’s right, but at what cost?

Everyday I realize that the masses in South Africa are still devoid of a proper education. Teaching isn’t a glamorous profession where teachers are respected, handed apples by the students after class and paid a decent salary at the end of the month anymore. If anything, teaching is a profession where only the bravest and most steadfast souls tread.

And yet, even with this severe disrespect that the teachers get, children and parents still demand an education for the youth. But even after receiving their education, children claim that it is “no longer relevant” to them. 

No disrespect to the teachers, but I agree with the children. It might seem harsh but bear with me. Currently the education system in South Africa is heavily reliant on printed media being delivered to the school in a timely fashion, and all the information is only current as soon as the book is printed. 

But as seen as recently as three months ago, books are not necessarily delivered on time (http://mg.co.za/article/2012-08-10-00-still-no-books-despite-departmental-progress-reports), and after a year or so a lot of the information might be outdated or even wrong depending on discoveries and research made in those particular fields. I remember working out of books that were so old that the information might have been translated from hieroglyphics! 

Technology has allowed children to start teaching themselves at a young age, and just by handing children a tablet, they can easily teach themselves. In India, for instance, tablets were handed to children in a rural village, and within months they were able to teach themselves the letters of the English alphabet (http://qz.com/26244/how-a-20-tablet-from-india-could-finish-off-pc-makers-educate-billions-and-transform-computing-as-we-know-it). It might seem like an everyday thing to you and me, but these kids never had interaction with higher forms of technology before this, and there are no teachers to help them learn. 
These tablets are also extremely cheap at only $40 (about R350 in South African Rand), and thus, with a little bit of monetary funding from the government, these tablets can be available for even cheaper to underprivileged students. 

E-books can be written and published for download on the student’s tablets, the whole curriculum can be made available on a single device that weighs no more than any regular school book, and children who no longer receive a relevant education will have access to the latest and greatest teaching tool that has ever been created:
The Internet.

In the short term, it might be slightly more expensive to get the tablets to students, but unlike books, the tablets do not become outdated in terms of information. The newest information is always available on the internet, and a higher level of education can be reached by all. Tablets can also be used year after year during a child’s school years. And the cost of getting new material that is needed to study for the rest of the year? Ten minutes of time to download a few megabytes of data, and possibly a small fee towards the publisher of the e-book. 

In conclusion, in order to raise the standard of education in a country, the technology that makes it possible needs to be embraced. The children of today will be the adults of tomorrow, and to build a better and more intelligent society that works towards improving itself in the future we need to raise the standard of education among everyone today.

My Attempt at a virtual environment

For our Multimedia project at the University of Pretoria, my lecturer instructed us to build a virtual environment based on any theme we desired. From the images it should be obvious what theme I chose!

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Sonic the Hedgehog!

A lot of care was taken to make the environment feel natural, for instance, every section of fence is rotated slightly so that it does not feel too perfect.

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I tried to achieve a sense of scale here, by having a massive tube like structure in the background, with smaller trees below it and the avatar being the smallest. Yet again, take note of small details such as the rotation of the palm trees. each tree is exactly the same, but just by adjusting the scale, rotation and angling it a bit, the trees take on a life of their own.

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A view from the top. Here I went for a more “structured approach”, making this small bit of environment seem like it was built properly, so the fences are straight, the elevator has straight parts and just a slight bit of foliage growing to show that it has been around for a while. By clicking on the balls in the tube, you could sit in the ball and roll all the way down.

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Just another picture showing the detail from above, even showing flowers on top of the wall. The user might never ever look there, but that kind of detail shows a well planned and thought out environment

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The mystic ruins altar that I built. The limitation of the second life engine is that if an object is just slightly higher than another, the avatar cannot walk over it. So the stairs were a challenge in the beginning. But just by building an invisible platform over the stairs, the user could feel like he was walking up the stairs. Just a bit of trickery to make a user feel comfortable 😉

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I decided to shape the islands themed around the characters. Details people! 😀

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Pollution due to the chemical plants and the Death egg have turned this island a slightly disturbing shade of poisoned pink and purple. To further emphasize that things are wrong, the fences are planted wrong and flowers grow triple their usual size! Even the trees glow with a fresh coat of pollution!

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The Death Egg from a little bit closer. Glowing eyes sold seperately 😛

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The inside of the Death Egg, complete with the Death Egg Robot! Click on his moustache to let a particle generator to set it on fire! The space background also slowly rotates around, giving a feeling of movement.

Sonic the hedgehog and any characters and ideas that are associated with this world is copyrighted to Sega and is used under fair use.

Feel free to ask me questions if you want to learn a bit about virtual environments!

I am absolutely quite certain that there are a lot of people who are better than me at this field, but due to a class I took this semester, I got to experience the process of creating a virtual environment. It is not as hard as it seems, albeit time consuming!

The very first thing I learned is:
Detail!
Even very low poly objects can look extremely detailed with just a bit of photoshopping and effort! Applying a bump map makes life easy as well! We were lucky enough to use the Second Life derivative, Opensim, for the creation of out projects, so we could apply bump-mapping on the fly by just choosing if you want the light or the dark parts to form the bumps. But either way, bump maps are not hard to create, and there are myriads of tutorials available on the World Wide Web to help guide you in this endeavor. 

The second thing I learned was not how much you create, but how you use it. I noticed this trick early on in Blizzard’s MMORPG, World of Warcraft. Walk into any new area and you will notice that resources are used over and over again, but just in slightly different ways. For instance, a new area might have as 3 slightly different shaped trees with a simple bark texture applied and some leaves, but just by going through the trouble of rotating the tree, scaling it to different sizes and changing the angle to fit the terrain, they can make a tree seem completely different to it’s brethren standing right next to it. 

And Lastly:
The small things matter.
Just by 2D textures of vines to a cliff face, I was able to bring a boring, mundane and utterly dull cliff face to life. Take care to not space them evenly apart though! That is not how nature works! Try and incorporate a feeling of randomness to the placement of objects in your virtual world. 
Scripting a particle generator in most engines is not hard, and it is no exception in Second Life / Opensim. There are yet again tons of scripts ready for use from the internet, and just by adding a simple script to an object to generate black smoke coming out of a chimney, I was able to make a factory that had extremely basic texturing come to life and seem like it was polluting the environment.

So, to recap:
Detail
Use it Wisely
and the Small Things Matter

Until next time! 
Sean

Norman the Wise

On the night of the 21st of July 2012, after Friday Night Church at Urban Life Midrand, me and my girlfriend, Yolandi, were feeling a bit peckish. I decided that we should visit a KFC that I do not usually attend quite close to my house. Apparently they are open 24 hours a day (I am yet to confirm this fact, but it still happened to be open by half past ten…) so we decided to purchase a meal consisting of mostly fat and oil from their fine establishment to satisfy our hunger (albeit delicious and filling).  But after ordering our meal consisting of mostly chicken, we were informed that Kentucky Fried Chicken had to prepare some more of their main ingredient: Chicken. How Ironic! But satisfied that a fast food chain like KFC was going to take another 15 minutes to prepare the chicken (yes the irony still isn’t lost on me), we scooted off to the nearest open parking spot and waited it out.

While we were standing outside the car, having some special bonding time, I observed from my peripheral vision a blessed fellow in his full workers outfit smiling at us. I smiled back and let it be. But God had different plans for us that night.

Not very long after, he gathered up the courage to approach us, and I, having grown up in South Africa, was slightly cautious of any stranger approaching me. But as it happens, he was only looking for the one item that most good natured smokers do not have: something to light his cigarette with. After lighting his cigarette, we got into a conversation that would just affirm my faith in the choices that I have made up to this point in my life, and the choices that I still plan on making in my life.

This man, who introduced himself as Norman, started talking to us about how hard life is, and how unfair life can be, and that we, in South Africa, need stable long term solutions instead of quick fixes. Norman did not at any point come over as a very learned man, but he did speak with a certain authority and wisdom that only comes from experience over many years, and I felt that he had gained this knowledge from years of personal struggle and sacrifice.

He continued on about how people like me and Yolandi are needed to think of long term permanent solutions to problems that South Africans face everyday instead of short term solutions that don’t end up changing anything, and that we must all be under God in order for this to happen. I was astonished by the wisdom and depth of insight that this man had, even though he, as I suspect, might not have had the best educational background.

But then he went into a very deep aspect that would just re-affirm my decisions that I had taken and the decisions that I would like to make in future. He told me how he had married a woman, had children with her, loved her and the children and took care of them. But one day things changed for them, and she demanded a divorce. He, as a man of God, talked to her and his pastor, and said that he had taken a vow in front of her and God that “till death do us part”. Her mind was made up and the divorce went through, although I believe if he could have stopped it he would have.

He told us that when love is perfect and that you make a vow, then that vow is forever. Just that small part of the wisdom he imparted on us hit me like a ton of bricks. I had spent years off of the path of righteousness, and over the course of the past two years, spent a lot of time soul searching and finding out who I was and who I wanted and needed to be in order to move on with my life. Finally during December of 2011 I managed to make my way back to God and live a much more honorable life.

After a quick prayer for Norman, he went on his way, we finally obtained our Chicken from a fast food chicken outlet and went on our merry way to consume said poultry. But still, Norman’s message stuck with me, and it made me reflect on how I have spent the past 2 years growing into the person I wanted to be. Especially the last few months where I have walked in God’s light can’t be overlooked in terms of personal growth. All of it was needed in order for me to become the man I am today, and even though I am by no means perfect, I am striving to be a better person every day.

I honestly believe that without God’s help I would not be able to have the amazing relationship that I have with my significant other, and that if I had not been through my past experiences to shape me and form me, that I would not be someone that Yolandi would deserve. Sometimes I still feel ashamed of my past, but it does not define me anymore. It is only lessons learned the hard way, and I have no intention of repeating them ever again.

So today I vow (remember, a vow is forever) that I will continue to walk in God’s amazing grace, that I will continue to try and become someone that is better than he is at that stage of his life, and that I will always be the best I can possibly be for my significant other.

Thank you for the insight Norman!