Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tiger Scout Meeting #2

No one showed. Jono and I arrived early to get things set up. I had activities, games, and snacks ready to rapid fire into the half dozen first grade boys that form our Tiger Scout den. Playtime, opening activities, share time, discovery time... reload. Snacks, announcements, a closing thought. But no one ever came.

So Jono and I hung out at the playground until dark. I pushed him on the swing for a long time and internally delighted at a chorus of sounds that danced on my ears: sneakers dragging through pea gravel, a squeaky chain, and the genuine belly laughter of my seven year old son soaking up concentrated attention. We played in the pebbles and climbed on the whatchamacalit.

Maybe God knew Jono needed some one-on-one time with his Papa. Maybe God knew Papa needed some one-on-one time with Jono.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Symposium

Baylor University is hosting a very exciting symposium this week, and I am up to my neck in it. I am chairing a session, giving a talk, encouraging my students to attend, and planning to suck the marrow out of this event. Here is the program description:

The way that Christians respond to those most in need is a sign of God's presence. But the mission of the church does not move in one direction-from West to East, first to third world, or affluence to poverty. Nor is it controlled from a central location or organization. Located in every province of every country, the church is situated to react to the needs of the poor in an especially powerful way-from the bottom up.

Prompted by God's call to meet the needs of the poor, marginalized, and oppressed, Christians can respond sensitively and productively to poverty though faith-inspired practices of appropriate technology and social entrepreneurship. The former draws on a community's existing talents and resources to produce technology that is simple, inexpensive, easily maintained, culturally acceptable, and responsive to genuine human needs. The latter finds alternative approaches to corporate structures that provide opportunities to improve the physical and social conditions of the poor.

Instead of rivals at cross purposes, these three forces-local church, appropriate technology, and social entrepreneurship-hold enormous promise when they converge, for they have the potential to create genuine social change and express Christian faith and witness.

Want more information? click here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Books A Meeleeon

When Jono was younger he would pronounce the word million more like "meeleeon" rhyming with "really on". Last night the whole family went to Books A Million to browse books and magazines. Despite reminiscing about the meeleeon laughs we used to have, I was disappointed.

First I looked for a magazine on alternative energy called Home Power. They didn't have it. They did have thousands of other magazines on subjects as diverse as remodeling, knitting, and personal fitness. But after spending twenty minutes looking for it I finally asked an employee. We don't carry that. OK, I said, how about books on alternative energy? I was hoping to find something on solar power, biogas, wind power, and micro hydro power. The girl led me to the Green Living section where they had Solar Power for Dummies and something else. But most of the books were about organic eating, recycling, or living off the land. I thought alternative energy was a hot topic. Are my interests really less common than knitters? I think not, what with Al Gore and the price of oil and all. Where were the good books?

In the Green Living section, I used my camera phone to take a picture of the two books below.

The first book implores you to keep your junk and reuse it for something else. Make wind chimes out of your naval lint, that kind of thing. The second book was about throwing it out and getting organized. I was confused by these mixed signals. So I went home and threw away all our food so I could reuse our refrigerator as a planter box. The M told me I could reuse the couch as a bed.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Commentary by Henry the Cat

Hi Folks, Henry the Cat here. The fat man went
to bed early tonight, so I sat down at the computer to check my portfolio and catch up on the news.

Well, for those of you who may not know, the fat man works for Baylor University. And once again, Baylor is in the news. And it's not good news. Bad press. Us cats call it "befouled litter". Don't worry, there have been no more murders on the basketball team, nor have they changed presidents again. This time it's because someone decided it was a good idea to pay students, already accepted and enrolled in the university, to retake the SAT. If they improved their score by 50 points or more, they got a bonus.

Why would Baylor do this, you ask? Because it inflates the statistics used by US News and World Report when they compile their annual ranking of universities, and Baylor is drooling like a dog to increase its ranking.

Now, I'm just a cat, and the fat man would probably not like it if he knew I was writing this, because he would worry about biting the proverbial hand that feeds him. But lest you misunderstand my criticism, please understand that I don't think they did anything wrong. Short sighted, maybe.

We shouldn't be shocked by this. It is not certainly not criminal, and I say it is not even unethical! Instead, it is a clever, though unwise, attempt to manipulate an ARBITRARY standard imposed by US News and World Report. It is actually sad that Baylor cares too much about the rankings. They are like an insecure high school girl wearing rediculous green lipstick because it's what the "popular" girls wear. Never mind it makes them look like idiots.

I am all in favor of them increasing the quality of students, whether feline or human, and for them increasing the quality of the faculty (unless that involves replacing my human). I am even in favor of Baylor increasing its research reputation and expanding the frontiers of knowledge itself. But making the goal to be on someone else's list is reminiscent of high school popularity contests. Baylor should decide who Baylor wants to be, and strive to achieve THAT. Otherwise they're just wearing green lipstick. PPPTTH! I cast my used litter towards that idea.

The problem, I believe, lies with US News' rankings themselves. Why does US News even compile these rankings? Is it from some altruistic motive to improve our education as a nation? Or is it to sell magazines? Can we really judge the quality of a university using the metrics of research dollars obtained or average SAT scores? Are not factors such as faculty morale and the institutional valuation of quality teaching more important than standardized test scores? These things can't be measured. But if you can't measure it, you can't rank it in a magazine!
I'm getting too wound up about this. I'm going to go play with my catnip mousy.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tiger Scout Meeting #1

This evening Jono and I went to our first Den meeting of the Tiger Scouts - with me as the leader! The boys started off by playing together at the church playground, then we came inside and said the pledge of allegiance and had an opening prayer. I taught them the salute, the scout sign, and the motto: Do Your Best. Then we played the telephone game and had some announcements. Then it was over. Thirty five minutes. It was supposed to be an hour. Oh well.

I forgot to bring my camera, so I had to illustrate the meeting with Paint. This is what it looked like from my perspective: lots of uniformed boys looking at me like I know what I'm doing. I call it "Send in the Clones".

Miscellaneous Images from Hurricane Ike

These are all pictures I took during the weekend I went down to Houston to ride out Hurricane Ike. I have had them on my camera for a while because, as you may recall, I lost the cable for connecting my camera to my computer. But I found it.

This is a pine tree laying on a house in Mom's neighborhood.

This is a metal awning wrapped around a telephone pole by a guy who hates metal awnings.

This is evacuation traffic heading in the opposite direction that I was. My lanes were clear! Imagine that.

I saw this sign on my drive into Houston. Imagine if this was the first news you heard of it.

OK, this very cool picture I took in the middle of the night. It is a 15 second exposure. You can see the amber colored lights causing the clouds to glow. Also notice that the trees are all blurry because of the winds. I took this picture out of the back window of the house.

This is the same pine tree as in the first picture, repeated here to make things look worse than they were. OK, they were pretty bad, but I have a limited number of pictures.

After the storm passed everyone went out to clean up and/or take pictures.
I don't understand why we lost power for 12 days... ?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wind Turbine Project Part 12: Anna and the Alternator

Engineers with a Mission, the student organization turned non-profit that I co-lead/sponsor/promote, is back in the saddle with their wind turbine project for the World Hunger Relief Farm. Last weekend a team went out to begin rebuilding the guy wires on the tower, and the wooden blades are now carved. The alternator team is preparing for the final assembly of the permanent magnet alternator (PMA). Below is a picture of one of our long-term student leaders, Anna, using a pneumatic sander to smooth out part of the alternator. The part is called the "stator" and it contains a dozen or so coils of wire, each with about 100 loops. They are all wired together and embedded in a fiberglass resin, which she is working on. We also had two "rotors" which are also bound in fiberglass, but instead of coils, they contain some incredibly strong magnets. In fact, they were so strong that at one point we accidentally got them stuck to the steel table. I could not get them off or even get them to slide, and I am not what they call "tiny". We ended up prying up the corner with a screwdriver and sliding non-magnetic shims in the crack to get it loose!

Anna had the opportunity to live and work at the World Hunger Relief Farm this summer. I found a video about them made by a local news group focusing on non-profit organizations. In the video you will see a little house called the Nicaragua House at 1 minute 11 seconds into the video. This is a house built in the style of Habitat for Humanity houses that are constructed in Nicaragua. It has no power at this point, and the power generated from our wind turbine will provide electricity for it. Hopefully.

If this project is a success, we may try to build a biodigesting toilet facility for them next spring. Raise your glass for poop-power!

Hurricane Ike: Galveston Photos

A friend of mine sent me these photographs taken in Galveston after Hurricane Ike. He was down there helping someone and said that the damage was really bad.

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More Pics From the Fair

Here are a couple more pictures from the fair we attended recently. The first ride is a sling-you-back-and-forth thing that sometimes goes upsdie down. David and Katie are riding it here. Yahoo.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Unexpected Notoriety

Wow. What I started as a prank has now taken on a life of its own! Please don't let anyone know who started this. I'm glad I don't even use my real name on this blog...

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Multimedia message

New trick. I can now send a text message and picture to the blog from my cell phone! I call it mobile blogging. This is my first one.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fairly Expensive, Fairly Fun

The boys got some kind of coupons at school recently that enabled them to get into the fair. They were as excited as I was apprehensive. I feel defensive and on guard at these things, like there are lots of folks who want to take my money and/or steal my children. I opted for the former. I find these fairs to be something akin to the lottery: they promise more than they deliver, and they feed off of the poor.

I didn't have my camera, so I took pictures with my cell phone. I think they're kinda cool and trendy, like a movie shot with a giggly camera.

Here are some of the rides at the midway. Why is it called the midway, anyway?

I didn't get on this one on account of puking being not fun.

Jono and I rode several rides together. He enjoyed the bumper cars and the hall of mirrors, but the goes-up-and-down rides he was not so fond of. Well, actually, he liked them once he got off, but not while he was still riding!

Waiting in line for bumper cars.

We told David he could bring a friend. Although we were expecting a guy, we all had a great time with his friend Katie. She was fun and polite and confident and we like her.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sucking Up Free Wi-Fi in Houston

Ryan and I are sitting on the ground outside the President's Club at Houston's Intercontinental Airport, Terminal E. If you sit close enough to the door, you can pick up their wireless internet connection and suck down bandwidth like a remora feeding off of the frequent-flier elite. Schlurp.

I feel like a hacker.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Coming Home

We spent the last day in the village and it was good. The inverter is not working, but we have the back up system in place. We will be ordering replacement parts when we get back to the US. We took it apart yesterday and took pictures. It has some big honkin capacitors and some weird stuff I couldn't identify. Que es esta? No se. Cosa grande.

Here is the status: the diesel generator will be turned on from 6 to 9 PM every day. It feeds the grid, so the user won't be able to tell a difference. Buying enough diesel fuel to make this happen will, unfortunately, not be sustainable because we will not collect enough to recover our employee salaries and the fuel. But with $50-100 per month, we can keep it going until we get the inverter repaired.

We also fixed a fuse problem and reconfigured the batteries (for 12 volts) so that we can put a "trickle charger" on them. Every time the generator is powered up, it will charge them a bit. That way they won't loose charge and die prematurely.

The exciting news is that Adolfo has begun a pulperia in his house, and is selling a few things like snacks and groceries. He has plans to buy a cooler so he can sell cold drinks and ice! That is the kind of entrepreneurship we are hoping to see. It will likely help us attract more donors too.

Tomorrow we drive to San Pedro Sula and fly home. I am supposed to arrive sometime after 10 PM after connecting through Houston.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Central American Men in Hats

Today in Copan Ruinas there was an extra helping of men wearing the stereotypical Central American Man-Hat.

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Mayan Ruins of Copan

Today we skipped out on the last few hours of the conference and went to see the ruins after which the town is named. The first Mayan king here was in 425 AD and their civilization lasted 400 years. Ryan, our friend Erin, and I toured around these ancient ruins with our tour guide Jose. It was a great experience and well worth the money.
This was part of a 27,000 person stadium. No kidding. These are the seats that look down on an arena. Copan was the intellectual and artistic capitol of the Mayan civilization, so the king had access to astrologers. At the end of this arena was a temple in the shape of a snake's head. He would go in and talk to the Mayan god and come out and proclaim new decrees like, God told me you must work harder, pay more taxes, and I should take more wives. Then he would say, if you don't believe me, he also said there would be a great darkness today. And since the king knew when the eclipse was coming... well, you get the picture.

The area in the two pictures above was all buried under rubble until 14 years ago! They estimate that only 25% of the ruins have been excavated so far. To get a sense of how big it is, try to look for the little people down in the lower level of the first of these two pictures.

There were a dozen or so Macaws that were kept in the ruins. The Mayans had carved Macaw heads all over the place. They played a sporting event where five players on a team used an eight pound solid rubber ball (made from the sap of a rubber tree) and tried to score points by throwing it at a huge, caved Macaw head target. At this point the audience would yell "Mccaaaaaaaaaaw!" OK, I don't know if that's what they yelled, but get this, the winner of the event won the "honor" of being sacrificed. And the blood of ball players was considered the third most potent for sacrifices, right after virgins and kings. Sounds like America: sports, sex, and power.

This is the great great grandfather of Sam the Eagle from the Muppets.

This is the market area. In the back of the picture you can see some statues under a metal roof for protection. These are some of the many statues erected by the 13th Mayan king whose name is, get this, Eighteen Rabbits. What the heck kind of name is that? That has got to be the weirdest name I have ever heard. For the rest of the day I called myself Half a Dozen Donuts in honor of my breakfast.

This is Ryan and a statue of the "Dancing Jaguar". Ryan is on the right.

And this guy with the goofy expression is me, thinking that I can't wait to get back to the hotel wi-fi and blog about my day.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Ambassador Llorens Likes Renewable Enegy (and me)

The conference here in Copán Ruinas has been really good. The presentations have been only partially relevant to our work, but the networking has been fantastic. I have met people from USAID, the Consulate's office, and the US embassy. I even got to meet the new US Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens! He spoke to the group and mentioned that his recent meeting with the president of Honduras. He said that both he and the president were interested in promoting alternative energy in Honduras and mentioned plans to install a commercial wind farm.

So at the next break I walked up to him and introduced myself. I gave him my 20 second talk: who I am, where I'm from, and that we're doing village-level electricity projects using renewable energy and that we're looking for financial partners and other help.

He enthusiastically gave me the name and cell number of a man he knows interested in investing in renewable energy projects here. He said I could tell the man that Ambassador Llorens told me to contact him! Then he said, after you talk to this guy, come see me in Tegucigalpa! Cool. The whole conversation took about one minute.

That conversation alone was worth the plane fare. But I also met a great missionary couple working here. They are about my age and have two girls near the ages of my boys. He is an engineer and is largely doing agricultural work in the area. He has built a dam to collect water for irrigation purposes and would like to install a hydro generator to provide electricity for the people in the area. And on top of that, he has built his own biodiesel processor from a kit and has been making batches from palm oil! We may try to do a prototype system together or something.

You know, for a person that's generally an introvert, I am thriving on making these connections. I really love it. It's almost a game to see how many folks I can meet. I can only attribute this to being married to The M for 15 years now. The scriptures are correct (imagine!) when they say that the two shall become one. The M and I have each been migrating toward the personality-middle-ground for years. She is becoming more introverted, or at least doesn't hate being alone anymore, and I have become a networking schmoozer. Miracles never cease.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Copán Ruinas, Honduras

Tuesday: I got up at 3:30 AM, caught the 5:20 flight to Houston, and landed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras before noon. We rented a 4 wheel drive Nissan pickup and drove all the way to Danta Uno, about four hours to the east. We quickly assessed the problems they were having with the system and determined that the problem is with the inverter. We were able to power the grid with the diesel generator for a while until we came close to running out of fuel. Walter says the lights were on and then BOOM, the lightning hit somewhere nearby and the lights went out. Oddly, none of the circuit breakers were tripped.

We spent the night on a mattress on the floor of Walter's kitchen. Shortly before lights out, a huge scorpion (3 inches long) was walking on the floor two feet from our bed. While I was sleeping, a June bug the size of a cat landed on my back, twice. The chickens woke us up at 5:00. We had coffee and tamales for breakfast, and then a second breakfast twenty minutes later. The second breakfast was oatmeal made from fresh milk. When I say fresh, I mean it was in the cow an hour earlier.

We drove to Jutiapa and bought five gallons of diesel for the system. Then we left. After we were gone, Sergio came and directed the first billing time. One family had a 400 Lempira bill; about $20. That's about five times what we expect the average to be. We are unclear about the details, but we think Sergio said they collected 3200 Lempiras since the system went online ($160).

Wednesday: We drove a LONG way to the city of Copán Ruinas, an ancient city built near Mayan ruins. The streets are cobble stones and very narrow. It looks like what I imagine Old Spain to be. The hotel is nice and we are going to the first conference events in a few minutes. See for information about the conference.

Oh yes, when I registered for the conference Monday, I offered to give a presentation about our work, and they said OK. So we are giving a presentation sometime in the next few days, maybe.