Tools of the Trade: The Internet

You don’t truly appreciate something until you lose it. We lost our satellite internet system from August 15th until September 28th and it quickly became very obvious how much we use the internet. It has also prompted this post on the Internet as a Translation Tool. This loss of a good connection is also why it has taken so long since my last post.

First, I want to cover some of the more practical day to day needs that may be obvious. Our largest use is email. This ranges from keeping in touch with family to updating our partners to communicating with our office in the US. Email is the one thing that we have to be able to do even when everything else does not work.

Another day to day need is keeping our antivirus programs up to date. At first this may seem circular as viruses are mostly spread via the internet so it is like saying we need internet access to fight things that come from the internet. I have worked on computers in a village that are powered from a solar system that have never been connected to the internet that stil have viruses. It seems that people have just enough access to get viruses (USB drives taken to internet cafés miles away) but not enough access to get antivirus updates. If I can keep the antivirus programs updated then I spend less time cleaning infected computers and more time doing other work.

Second is keeping our programs updated. This is not as critical as antivirus updates, but still very helpful. Keeping Microsoft Windows and Office updated gives us a more stable working environment. Keeping language software up to date gives us new features that make the work easier to do. We are better able to interact with the developers to add features that we need, whether they are in the US, Papua New Guinea, or anywhere else in the world.

Third, there is the problem that a computer person cannot know how to fix every possible problem that a computer experiences. Sometimes it as simple as looking up an error message that a program is exhibiting. This alone saves hours if not days of troubleshooting. Recently a computer came in that was having a problem with its screen backlight. Normally I would not have been able to do anything about this and would have had to condemn the computer to being useless. But I was able to research the problem online and find out that the specific symptoms pointed to a problem with the LCD inverter which costs $15. Thirty minutes online and $15 and a useless computer can be used again.

Fourth, internet access has had several very direct affects on translation work. Consultants and translators are in the same place for only a few weeks a year. At other times they may be several hours away or even in another country or on another continent. With internet access, they are able to send portions of scripture back and forth and hold long distance conversations.

In August we were able to take this ability to a whole new level. The Nkonya New Testament was being typeset in preparation for publication. Although the text had already been thoroughly checked, during the typesetting process each page has to be read several times to make sure no errors have been introduced. Normally the typesetter, the expatriate translator and the national translator are all in the same room over the course of a month or more. In this case, this group was separated over thousands of miles. Wes Peacock was in Dallas with Darrel, the typesetter. His wife Katie was in Canada with family. Emmanuel, an Nkonya man, was in Tamale with me. Each day as a section was done by the typesetter, Wes and Darrel would email it to Katie and Emmanuel to read over it. They responded with comments via email or Skype. This new ability is even more important as after 9/11 it is becoming more difficult for our national coworkers to get visas to the US or UK where a lot of our typesetting is done. You will note from the dates above that the Nkonya typesetting was going on while our VSAT was down. This did make things much more difficult and creative solutions had to be found, but with the Lord’s help, the work progressed.

There are a couple of articles that you may want to read as follow-up. The first is from a series that my wife is writing on our life and expectations when we first came to Ghana and what reality is now. She has recently written a post on our internet access. The second is a story from ABC on how slow internet access is in Africa. A company in South Africa was actually able to transfer data 50 miles faster via carrier pigeon than via their internet connection.

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