Technologies used for Buli Rapid Word Collection

Mobile cellular network

Arriving in Ghana, we were accosted with advertisements for cell phone networks, all claiming to be the fastest and most reliable.  There were at least 4 or 5 to choose from.  Since we hadn’t gotten any feedback as to which one would be the best for the Northern part of Ghana, I asked a random individual which network he thought would work the best in the North.  He hesitated a moment and said, “Tigo”.  We really had no idea, but trusted that the Lord inspired him with that answer.  We loaded our devices up with 4 SIM cards with a median price of 62 cents each.  We loaded two of them with one month’s worth of Internet credit for up to 2.5 Gigabytes of data.  Plenty for synchronizing dictionary files and sending out Tweets (see below).  When we finally arrived at the workshop location, I was disappointed to discover there was no connectivity.  …but wait—Art informed me that he was connecting, and sure enough, a reboot of my phone and I was in business too.  It wasn’t the advertised 3.5G speed, or 3, or 2.5, but hey, we are connected and able to do all we need.

The $25 tablet we almost had

UPDATE: I checked back two weeks later and this was false advertising. The sign said no contract, but the $50 was per month for one year!  The data plan was no contract, but $32 of that each month went to pay off the tablet, making the total cost of the tablet: $384. 

At the Tigo office in Accra, we had been tempted by a large glossy advertisement for 7 inch Android tablet with no contract for $50 US equivalent.  With that, you would also receive 3.5 Gigabytes worth of data.  Since the 3.5 Gigabytes, if purchased separately, would cost $25, our final cost for the tablet would have been $25.  The future is here, in Africa, folks.  But unfortunately, they didn’t have any in their branch office and we would have had to go to the main office.  Not possible, since it was almost closing time and we were to leave early the next morning. What would we do with such a tablet?  Read on…

Unlocked Android Gingerbread Phone

I had a Google Ideos phone made by Huwei sitting on my desk at home, rejected by my son in favor of something with a bigger screen.  I almost overlooked it but my attention was attracted to it as I was packing up my desk to go.  Hey, I bet we could use that for our Internet access, and since I won’t be staying for the whole workshop, I can leave it behind.  The phone was purchased in Nairobi for a little less than $100 less than a year ago.  Sure enough, because the phone is unlocked to all carriers, and was sold that way in Kenya, it can be used with any network provider.  With the Tigo chip in and the phone configured at the office in Accra, the phone is broadcasting a WiFi signal that can travel a decent distance.  The standard way of getting mobile Internet in Africa is by using the dongles that plug into the USB port of the computer.  We would have had to purchase two or three of them for this workshop, but we can make due with a single Android phone.  If we leave the phone plugged into the wall, it can broadcast all day.  Of course, it has the standard WPA encryption which allows us to limit it to people in our group. Of course, with our connection speed, we really wouldn’t want more than two sharing at once. Think small.  To supply GSM Internet over WiFi, you don’t need a dongle and compatible Wireless Access point.  You just need a cheap Android phone—or a $25 tablet, if the deal is still on ;-)


A twitter account is an excellent way to disseminate information during the workshop for the purpose of promoting the event.  For a past workshop we used a Blog, but creating the blog articles was more time consuming.  Because people on site did not have easy internet access, they sent the day’s tally via SMS to me and I put it up on the blog. Twitter, on the other hand, allows you to post to your twitter account via SMS, which you can do anywhere there is a cellular network.

Twitter is liberating in one sense because you are limited to 140 characters for your post.  Rather than deliberating over wording, you are pretty much writing headlines for significant events in the workshop.  If you want to write more in-depth, like I am now, you can create a blog post and send the link via Twitter.

Tweets can include photos.  We use an app called Tweet Deck which allows you to take a photo which is automatically uploaded to Twitter’s server, and the short URL is embedded in your tweet.

Linguistic database software

In preparing for this workshop, we had planned to use WeSay because we knew that we could synchronize all the data in the absence of the Internet, and without having to rely on a networked setup, which will require someone with specialized knowledge to be on hand.  However, I uncovered a bug in WeSay that is specific to our data entry and correction process for the workshop. You won’t encounter it unless you add words with glosses and then correct a misspelled word in the same Word Collection view. The bug has been reported and was not able to be fixed in time for the workshop.  This weekend, I will be playing with various scenarios, and may try a hybrid approach using FieldWorks and LIFT Bridge. Stay tuned!