Kenya Trip – Safari Time!

20090306_233710Saturday we left Gary and Mary’s compound. Gary had his Maasai employees sing us a traditional Maasai song. You can watch part of it by clicking on this link: Maasai Song. After leaving the compound, we stopped back at Endonyo Narasha to treat a few people from the surrounding community.

At this point, we were starting our safari portion of the trip, in the Masai Mara National Reserve. But first, we had to stop at a small village to pick up a spare tire for our van. You don’t want to get stuck with a flat in the middle of an animal reserve! While we waited for the tire, I met a Kenyan named “Black Fire,” who sold various types of vehicle and generator fuel. He taught me to say the date and time in Maasai.

Once our tire was loaded up, we headed for Siana Springs, a tented resort just outside of the reserve. Each dwelling area there is a large tent spread over a wooden frame built into a concrete foundation. Each tent even included a toilet, shower, and electricity! The entrance consisted of a normal tent zipper, and we were told to tie the zipper shut to keep out monkeys, who had learned how to unzipper the doors.

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We were able to get a discount for our stay at the resort by treating their workers, so after lunch we held open consultations for the resort staff. Then we spent the rest of the day enjoying the pool and exploring the beautiful grounds (and wildlife!) of the resort. That night we held devotions in the open-walled bar.

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Kenya Trip – Gary and Mary’s Mission Compound

On Friday the medical team rode back to the dispensary in Olkinyiei to work with the nurses there a second time. Gary had other plans for me, however. He had a couple of computer problems that he wanted me to look at. I was able to set up his new hard drive that had him stumped, so it was exciting for me to have my own particular expertise utilized (they don’t often find computer technicians out in the bush!)

Joseph in Gary and Marys' Guest HouseI also had the opportunity to listen to Gary help some of the Maasai preachers prepare a sermon for the coming Sunday. Gary did a mini-sermon himself, pointing out what he felt was important about the Bible passage, and the Maasai listened and took notes. Gary encouraged them to make their sermon their own; to relate the Biblical stories to the experiences of their people and of themselves.

I also spent a lot of time talking with Gary and Mary that day. It was interesting how easily I felt like I had something in common with this family, since they were the only other white people we had seen in a while. But I quickly learned that we had many differences as well, as we discussed not only their mission work, but also their experiences in Ireland.

Packed Land RoverAt the end of the day, I went with Gary to retrieve our team from the dispensary. There were a number of Maasai there who wanted a ride home, so we crammed all these guests in Gary’s Land Rover along with our entire team. As we drove through the barren savannah, the Maasai suddenly shouted for Gary to stop. This was their stop, we learned, though there was nothing we could see that differentiated this spot of land from all the land behind and in front of us.

Kenya Trip – Endonyo Narasha and Olkinyiei

20090305_00543020090305_001447Thursday March 5th marked our arrival in true bush country. We spent hours driving across the plains, following trails in the dirt that were barely visible. Our first stop was a site in Endonyo Narasha – a shell of a clinic that was built almost a decade ago, but is still awaiting utilities, supplies and staff. The surrounding area was practically deserted, but we were told that it’s a thriving community at certain times of the month, and during certain seasons. We met with the local chief, and we got a brief tour of the facility. We assessed the work that remained to be done at the site, then continued on our way to our primary destination.


Olkinyiei is a sparsely populated area far from any major towns or cities. The people are fortunate, then, that they have a functioning clinic in their midst. The clinic in Olkinyiei is a small building with several visiting rooms lining a central hallway. The nurses that work there receive drugs and other supplies from the government, as well as from our mission efforts. There are two Irish missionaries that live in the area, Gary and Mary Reid, who have helped to maintain the clinic. Gary recently installed a solar power system that provides electricity for the lights, equipment, and cell phone charging (many people from the community come to the clinic to charge their phones). The facility has a gas-powered refrigerator, but they are hoping to replace it with an electric fridge (gas for the current fridge is expensive).

When we arrived in Olkinyiei, the medical people worked with the clinic staff to provide support and training, where useful. Since the facility is maintained so well, the less medically-inclined of us had nothing to do, so we decided to pay an early visit to the missionary compound.

Lab Bench for OlkinyieiAcacia Grove Mission is a compound that Gary and Mary have built, with the help of the Maasai in the community. They help spread the gospel of Christ by planting churches in the surrounding area, helping with the clinic, and doing whatever they can to aid the people. After a welcome tea break, Gary put us to work building a laboratory bench to be used in the clinic. Gary was skeptical of my construction abilities after learning that I program cell phone games for a living, but I like to think that I was able to redeem myself. “Measure twice and cut once,” my dad always used to say!

UniWar Now Available on iPhone!

Javaground’s first independent game, UniWar, is now available for purchase on the iPhone and iPod Touch through the App Store. We plan to charge $7.99 for the game (believe me it’s worth it), but to boost awareness of the game, we’re currently only charging 99 cents. Golly, that makes me want to go get an iPhone just so I can buy UniWar for a dollar!

If you missed my feature post on the game, you can read it all here. And if you do buy the game, feel free to challenge me to a match. My player name is ‘jason,’ and even without an iPhone, I have my own means of playing the game. 😉

We also found another preview of UniWar, which is noteworthy because it refers to Javaground as the developer of Wheel of Fortune for the iPhone. It looks like working on such a well-known game may pay off through name recognition!

Additional versions of the game, which will allow you to play with any other players, including iPhone users, will become available soon.

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Wheel of Fortune and iPhone, Together At Last

My latest project, which I finished right before leaving on my Kenya trip, is rather high-profile. Wheel of Fortune is one of the most popular TV shows in America, and the iPhone is all the rage right now. I had the honor of programming the mash-up between these two giants, the Wheel of Fortune mobile game for iPhone and iPod Touch, which we affectionately refer to as “iWOF.”

iwof-01Now don’t let me take too much credit here: I didn’t write the whole game, just the iPhone version. The biggest task for this project was to create flashier, higher-resolution art that matches the latest season of the television show. Plus there were a number of minor rule changes, the most noticeable of these being the addition of the Million Dollar Wedge. Yes, you can win ONE MILLION DOLLARS on Wheel of Fortune now, but meeting all the requirements is statistically impossible. Still, that didn’t stop this woman. We also added trophies. Because, y’know, you gotta have trophies. Even Sony agrees now.

As for the mobile game itself, it’s been a roaring success. We watched the game’s sales ranking rise daily after its release. I had heard that at one point, it reached #13 on the iTunes Top Paid Games list. Currently it’s hovering in the middle of the Top 50 list at a respectable #29.

iwof-03The reviews for the game have been exceptionally good as well. Everyone seems to praise the gameplay and art, while only criticizing the same small list of shortcomings: no Pat Sajak or Vanna White (Sony would bankrupt themselves trying to license their likenesses),?no multiplayer. What’s been funny is people who complain about the rules of the game, without understanding how the latest season of the show works. I’ve seen people criticize the wheel layout (it’s copied directly from the design layout for the show itself), and the biggest complaint is that when you select “Normal Mode” it starts with Toss-Up Rounds. Normal Mode is meant to replicate the game show experience exactly, and the show starts with two Toss-Up Rounds! Overall, though, it seems like most people who like the show love the game, and that’s a great feeling.

There are also some more in-depth web-based reviews that are worth checking out. I love this guy’s mocking criticisms of some of the puzzles. I agree that some of the puzzles seem totally random, but they came directly from the show’s writers, so I don’t know what the deal is with that. And this guy supposedly has a video review of the game, but it’s actually just a silent video of him playing, with some jazz music overlayed to spruce things up.

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Wheel of Fortune Title Screen

Camping Adventures

Photographer GabeAmanda, Teddie, and I went camping at San Clemente State Beach last Friday with a few friends. The best part was when Teddie got skunked. We had him off his leash, and he was behaving very well. Then we saw a dark critter run across the road next to our fire. Amanda and I both saw it at the same time, and we grabbed for the dog. But he had already taken off. He darted after the animal, sniffed at the bush that it dove into for a split second, and then just as quickly did a 180 and ran back towards us. Once he got off the road, he started rolling on the ground, rubbing his face and side in the dirt. At the same time, this weird smell like garlicy onions began assaulting our nostrils. Luckily there was an unoccupied campsite nearby, complete with running water. Amanda and I grabbed a bottle of shampoo and dragged the dog to the hose. Luckily the skunk must have only gotten him a little bit, because it wasn’t too difficult to get the smell to go away. Oddly enough, it didn’t smell like onions or skunk on the dog. It smelled like burnt rubber.


And, speaking of burnt rubber, I melted the sole of my shoe that evening as well.

Squishy Shoe

Javaground’s Own Game: UniWar!

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Javaground is finally releasing its first internally-produced, original IP game: UniWar. This game is our CEO Alex’s brainchild, and it’s turned out amazingly. UniWar is a turn-based multiplayer strategy game, and it’s incredibly addictive. You can play with up to eight players in various team configurations or free-for-all, and there are three races, each with their own totally unique units. You can believe that balancing those units took some time, but the game plays very well now.

uniwar-screenshot-4Alex has been doing a lot of promotion for the game. My favorite article includes a video demo of UniWar that Alex demonstrated at the Game Developer’s Conference a couple weeks ago. He’s absolutely right when he says people at the office are addicted to the game. I have multiple matches going on at once, and occasionally take a break from my work to play. So in a way, I’ve also been doing Quality Assurance work lately…

There are a few other articles talking about the game as well, here at Pocket Gamer and elsewhere. My heart goes out to the poor soul on this forum who claims to be checking the internet every few hours for UniWar updates.

The game was just submitted to the Apple App Store for release on the iPhone and iPod Touch this morning, so if all goes well, it should be available in a week or so. The game will also be released for a whole slew of regular cell phones, so more likely than not you’ll be able to play the game on whatever phone you have! More updates on the non-iPhone versions to come soon.

That's my green army on the left.  Go humans!
That's my green army on the left. Go Sapiens!

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Kenya Trip – Narok School

The following day, March 4th, we went to a school in Narok to treat the ill from the surrounding area. On the way to the site, we first stopped at Reverend John’s church. Women from the church’s Women’s Guild had food and tea prepared for us there, and we were given a tour of the grounds. We were also met by a few government nurses, who were helping us treat that day.

Once everyone was assembled, we were escorted by members of the church to the school. There was a huge amount of patients waiting for us, all scattered around the school grounds. I worked with several other non-medical types outside,?taking patients’ name, age, weight, symptoms, and blood pressure. Amanda and our nurses set up a number of treatment stations inside the largest classroom, and our pharmacy and lab were set up in other rooms. We were missing a piece needed for the lab’s generator, so Amos was unable to perform most of the tests until the afternoon, when someone brought us what we needed.

Most of the patients we saw were?older men and women, but we also saw a huge number of students (most of them from the school). The kids were excited that we were from the United States, as Barack Obama is seen as a national hero in Kenya. For lunch we were invited to the home of one of our Kenyan hosts, but it was difficult to leave the overwhelming number of patients. They were disappointed that we were leaving, even though we promised to be back quickly. We did return quickly, and managed to see all the patients that stuck around to wait for us. In total, we saw over 300 patients that day.

After treating all day, we attended a dinner that was hosted for us by both the Narok Town Council, and the Narok County Council. Many of the council members had speeches prepared for us, and several members of our team (including Jason) were asked to address the councils as well. It was great to meet so many people who were happy with our partnership, but it was a long ceremony, especially since we were all exhausted from the long treatment day.

Kenya Trip – Nairasirasa

Nairasirasa is the first Maasai dispensary we visited. The patient load was steady but light that day, so our medical personnel were able to spend a lot of time with the staff. This left me free to make myself useful where I could. I spent a lot of time talking with some elders of the dispensary’s overseeing church. These two men, Francis and Jackson, were very eager to share about their community, their church, and all of Kenya. They had recently lost their church building to a division in the church body, so they showed me the land on which they plan to build the new building.

Francis and Jackson were even more eager to learn about America. I explained to them the diversity of America’s geography, what life in Southern California is like, and how it compares to where I grew up in Pennsylvania. Francis had a lot of fun repeating the name ‘Pennsylvania.’

At one point during the treatment day, our entire group walked over to the local school to de-worm the students there. This was as simple as handing each child a single chewable tablet. This keeps them parasite-free for three months. As we were leaving, the children lined up for their lunch – the only meal many of them would receive that day.

The School De-Worming Lining Up for Food

Sneaky Water Bottle VillainsIt was interesting to watch the Maasai patients gather at the clinic. The men sat outside together in the shade. The women sat in the waiting room inside, and always had children along with them. I played a game of bottlecap soccer with one of the little boys, which turned more physical when we started sword fighting with empty water bottles. It escalated to quite a fray when the other children got involved.

Amanda and Some Maasai Patients

That evening we went back to the hotel and had our first major devotional with our Kenyan friends. We also spent a lot of time planning for the next treatment day, which was to turn out busier than any other.