Saturday, May 31, 2008

Long Roads

I have been unable to write since Wednesday. I will try to get caught up, but there is lots to say.

Thursday morning I picked up Humberto, pastor of a local church in La Ceiba, Honduras. We spent the day driving to Yoro, a town in the interior of Honduras. But before we left, he asked me to stop by the park where his church bus was broken down. Two of his five sons were there arranging the repair. The bus has an interesting story. One of his sons, "Edie", flew to Oregon with a small team to visit family and get this bus. Then they drove it all the way to Honduras! It took them nearly two weeks driving in shifts. It seems living in Honduras gets you accustomed to long drives.

And so began our drive to Yoro. Yoro is south west of La Ceiba. But we began our drive on the road heading east because we had to go around the mountains. Imagine driving from Denver to Seattle, via Phoenix, then reduce the scale, and rotate clockwise 90 degrees. OK, that's the best I could come up with.

The first two or three hours there was pavement. Then we got to a town called Olanchito, and the pavement ran out. We stopped there to get diesel and something to eat. The diesel was fine, but lunch was riddled with bacteria, apparently. More on that later.

On the bumpy dirt road out of Olanchito we entered a long valley called Vaye de Aguan (the river valley through which the Aguan river runs). It was unlike any part of Honduras that I have seen so far, in that it was semi arid, filled with scrub brush and even some Mesquite trees. It reminded me of west Texas, and in a way, made me feel good. It was also one of the straightest roads I have seen here. Men on bicycles rode back and forth on this road from their villages to the Dole plant off in the distance. Cows, horses, and donkeys wandered up and down the road too. I took a picture of this donkey in particular, because of the cellular tower in the background. I thought it showed the confluence of two worlds, but then again, I like to pretend I'm deep.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

El Niño Con La Lawnmower

I saw a little boy in one of the neighborhoods I visited
today. I think he was working for his father, but I'm not sure. He should have been in school, but I am guessing that he is too poor. He was pushing an old lawn mower without an engine, and using it like a cart to transport something unidentifiable. He stopped to rest under the shade of a tree, so I took his picture and gave him a Limpira for his trouble.

La Otra Casa Anaranjada (the other orange house)

I looked at a couple of apartments and a couple of houses. I am beginning to think this may be easier with a realtor. I was able to see a nice house that might suit our needs and be in our price range. Unfortunately, the owner is in Houston and can't be reached. Ironic. We'll keep trying to reach him through the realtor, because I like this one.
This is the view from the street. It's only a couple of blocks from a safe park. It has three bedrooms and is furnished. It sounds really good, but I haven't been able to see the inside yet (except through the windows, minimally).

This is the front yard and front door.

La Playa Peru

This afternoon I drove around a few neighborhoods looking for houses to rent. I have not made much progress and hope that when I meet up with Robin this afternoon, we can do better.
Robin is a missionary working with the deaf community hear in La Ceiba; we met through a mutual friend. She seems to know everyone in the city.

I have been told that the beach "Playa de Peru" is the best one around, so I drove out their today and took a few pictures. The M says she wants to go to the beach a lot this summer, so I wanted to find a nice one for her.

The beach was nearly empty of people, and was very clean. I didn't have to pay anything, in fact, there didn't seem to be anyone in charge. I took some photos.

I also took some pictures of some of the places I considered renting. The following is a nice two bedroom, but it didn't have any furniture, AC, or nada. It was cheap enough ($170/month) that we could afford to buy/rent some furniture, but there were only two bedrooms, and we really need four.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

From the Airplane: San Pedro Sula to La Ceiba

La Ceiba is on the north coast of Honduras. The Caribean is warm and blue here.

These are fields of aloe vera plants. Lots and lots of them. Apparently lots of people are getting sunburned.

Early Morning Flight

And here is a picture I took on the plane to Houston at 5:20. I think it captured the moment. The light is coming in from the overhead because it is still dark.

Waiting for a Connection in San Pedro Sula

I arrived in San Pedro Sula and successfully purchased a ticket to La Ceiba, my final destination. For reasons I do not understand, you cannot buy a ticket on the 2:00 flight to La Ceiba, only the one that leaves at 5:30 or so. And the airport at SPS is not that much fun, so I usually buy the ticket with cash when I arrive. I used a lot of my Spanish and was understood adequately. I can tell that my Spanish is better than last summer, and that people are responding to it more.

I exchanged some money at the bank and went to buy about $20 of prepaid minutes for my Honduran cell phone. I paid, then the girl went to eat lunch, but my phone never started working. A couple of young guys from Tegucigalpa, Carlos and Guillermo, came and tried to help me with it. They fiddled with it, and Carlos even pulled the SIM card (the "chip") out of his own phone and put it in mine. That seems to be the problem, because after he did this I was able to call all his girlfriends. They spent a lot of time trying to help me and I was grateful. (Hola muchachos, gracias para sus ajudar!) I gave them the URL for the blog because I am a dork.

I took a picture of them because I can't stop blogging... Guillermo is on the left, Carlos the right.

P.S. My spell checker doesn't seem to be working here, so now you see my true spelling culers.

Prelude to Summer in Honduras

Today I am flying to Honduras for a week. The purposes of my visit are:
1) to locate appropriate housing for my family and students for the summer
2) to visit Mejia, a village without electricity that may be the location of the project
3) to update our primary Honduran partner, Humberto, about our plans for the business side of the project, especially the microfranchise concept.

After going to bed at 1:00 a.m., my alarm went off at 3:30 a.m.. I left the house a bit after 4:00 for my 5:20 flight to Houston. I was sad to leave The M, since she only arrived from her own travelling the night before. I feel like we are tag-team parenting. I am close with the boys right now, which makes it extra hard to leave.

I'm in the Houston airport. The President's Club is the swanky lounge for first-class passengers, and as such has free snacks, newspapers, and wireless internet. Please understand, I'm not actually in the President's Club. But if you sit on the floor outside the door you can get enough wireless signal to, say, post some unimportant information on your blog.

Now if they would just bring me some coffee...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Jono and I Pass Biogas

I have been experimenting with a "backyard batch biodigester" for a month or so. Essentially, it's a big barrel full of rotting food and water that is deprived of oxygen. Bacteria eat the food, and produce methane. The methane can be burned, theoretically, and can even run a generator to produce electricity. That's where I'm headed with this - electricity production for the developing world.

The digester is really producing now. I could see the barrel swelling this afternoon, so I bled off quite a lot of gas. I tried to light it, but I don't think that's going to be possible without a burner of some kind to control the oxygen mixture. I measured 8 liters and then got tired of measuring, so I let it just bubble away. My guess is we produced about 16 liters in 24 hours. The Texas heat is helping a lot. The optimum production temperature is about 95-100 degrees. It hasn't been that hot outside yet, but I leave the barrel in the sun, so I'm sure it gets plenty warm inside.

Jono helped me video some of it (video is now a verb), it was his first camera work! He says some cute things in it, listen carefully. However, what I say in the video doesn't make a whole lot of sense. What I meant was that I tried to hook up the grill to the biodigester, so I could provide cooking fuel to the burner. But I couldn't figure out how to disconnect the hoses without destroying the grill, and The M might have frowned on that!

Wez Trickee Bloginz

Wez taks ova blog uv da fat manz. Wez maks I zone storeez. Fat manz sleepzin, he don no! Wez trikee.
Mi namz Henry. I runz past. Reel past.

Iz kan cee da futr. Priz uv oil keep gozin up.

Bla, I no lyks diz fud. Iz celdum hapy.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Biogas Harvest, Sorta

Today the boys and I tried to harvest some more biogas from the backyard biodigester. It's a 55 gallon plastic drum that I filled with biodegradable materials ranging from old spinach, to oak tree leaves, to stale potato chips, to rotten fruit. Then I poured in enough water so that it was about 15 gallons. The next step is to seal it so that the bacteria inside are deprived of any oxygen (which kills them) and let it sit for a few weeks in the Texas heat.

Theoretically, metsophylic bacteria, present in our own digestive tracts, will grow in an oxygen free environment. There are actually two types of bacteria, one consumes the output of the other. The end result is, digestible biomaterials get eaten and biogas is produced. Biogas is about 2/3 methane (CH4) and about 1/3 carbon dioxide (CO2). There are also small amounts of N2, H2, CO, O2 and a bit of hydrogen sulfide (HS4). The hydrogen sulfide is the stinky part.

We were able get a few liters of biogas out of the system today! Unfortunately, we were unable to light it. Our only verification that it was indeed biogas was the smell. Oh yeah, it was biogas. Gag.

I think my haphazard harvesting method is flawed, but I only realized this after we filmed the clip above. I used a different method later, and though I got more gas, I was still unable to light it. I am going to have to arrange some kind of Bunsen Burner gizmo for future testing.

Friday, May 23, 2008

D's First Spanish Lesson

We are using the Rosetta Stone software to learn Spanish. We bought Level 1 and Level 2 which are beginner through intermediate Spanish. I used it for about an hour last night, and today D used it for the first time. I'm pretty impressed with it, and I like the approach. Once you get the software installed, the only English is in the pull down menus. Here is D practicing his pronunciation.

Prince Caspian

The M is back in Houston dealing with her father with Alzheimer's. There is lots to say about this subject: about the stranger-than-fiction family dynamics, about parent-to-child role reversals, and about the deep spiritual movements and searchings associated with the end of life, but I don't feel the freedom to write about them publicly. What should I do? Should I start keeping a private journal? If so, what is the purpose of this journal, if not to make public one day?

Anyway, I am having more good times with the boys while she is gone. Yesterday after school, we had a couple of frozen pizzas for dinner and then went to see Prince Caspian at the movies. There were a few parts where I had to cover Jono's eyes, but overall it was really good. They enjoyed it a great deal and came home so excited I had trouble getting them to bed. Jono, in particular, was going on and on, "...and my fourth-favorite part was...".

The screenwriters have taken some liberties to iron out the timeline, which in the book is somewhat non-linear. There are also a few simplifications to the beings reawakened by Aslan's roar at the end. In the book, Aslan calls Bacchus, the Roman god of wine (like the Greek god Dyonisis) to lead the attack on Miraz's army. Bacchus has underlings, the Maenads and Silenoi who were female and male worshipers of Dyonisis from Greek mythology. In the book, these characters controlled vines of ivy that could grow instantly that was used to destroy a strategic bridge. In the book, there were also Dryads, or tree-nymphs, that were humanoid spirits of trees, again from Greek mythology. All these characters are done away with in the film.

Today's audience (including myself) is not familiar with Greek mythology like the readers, especially Europeans, were in the 1950's. In fact, I remember being annoyed by these characters when I first read the book. So to relate to today's granola, all natural audience, Aslan simply awakens the trees to fight, and the river itself to destroy the bridge. The Dryads are again replaced with flocks of flower petals blown in the wind, which momentarily take on human semblances. The special effects for these characters, especially the river-dude, are absolutely fantastic.

The White Witch from "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" also makes an appearance. As Caspian struggles to survive, he is tempted to turn to black magic, or to employ witchcraft to help him in his cause. In the film, this is personified by an appearance of the White Witch, imprisoned in a sheet of ice, who calls out to Caspian and Peter for a drop of their blood. This would set her free from her imprisonment so that she could "help" them. Fortunately, they don't fall for it.

The dwarf Trumpkin is used for comic relief, as in the book. But unlike the hillbilly character of the book, the film's Trumpkin uses sarcasm and a deadpan delivery. He is very funny.

Well, this post has turned into a film review. Therefore, I must conclude with this: the Orangehouse gives it three thumbs up.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Drainage Infrastructure, Fatherhood, and Jean Valjean

Houston, the "Bayou City", is known for the many bayous that drain the flat, low-lying city. I grew up there. White Oak Bayou, Braes Bayou, and Buffalo Bayou were familiar names to me as a child, having heard weather reports giving their condition after many storms. There were forks of the White Oak Bayou that ran adjacent to my elementary school. I can remember standing at the school fence during recess, staring out at the bayous as they wound their way through the neighborhoods. I wondered where they went and where they were from. They were like mysterious roads to adventure in my mind, travelled only by vagabonds and, occasionally, teenagers with more freedom than me.

On my way to becoming a teenager myself, an occasion arose that presented me with a chance for urban adventure. As a boy scout, I needed to take a "city hike" to fulfill an outdoor activity requirement. So I asked my father if we could take a hike in the bayous. To my delight, he agreed, and my father, step-mother, and step-brother donned our hiking boots and sunscreen one Sunday afternoon and drove to a convenient entry point.
We hiked five miles, as I recall, and discovered many preteen treasures along the way. Abandoned grocery carts became spacecraft, sticks became light sabers, and skateboard-riding teenage yahoos became river-dwelling aliens of suspicious character. It was such an unusual and adventurous day that I have always remembered it fondly.

Fast forward 30 years or so.

There is a creek, a bayou of sorts, that runs through our university. At one point it goes underground and reappears on the other side of campus where it soon joins the Brazos river on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. My boys and I were there the other day with some time on our hands. So when Jono asked me if we could go explore it, how could I say no?
Much of the creek is kept like a park. It was clean and lined with flowers. It was 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, so needless to say, the campus was quiet and void of all student activity. The world was ours, in a sense. Where the creek passed under a bridge we saw a colony of Martins. There were a twenty or so, flying in and out from under the bridge, presumably bringing food to their young or building their mud nests. They flew around our heads chirping and I acted brave, though I wondered if one of them might swoop down and peck me on my bald head.

At the point at which the creek goes underground, there is an arched tunnel. Our eyes adjusted as we entered the relative dark. At this point we began to see what I call college graffiti. College graffiti differs from its gangsta counterpart in that it is not territorial, obscene, or written in a made-up language. Instead, it's more philosophical or at least humorous. My point is, it was rated G. G-raffiti. Ha! I just made that up.

My thoughts alight on the story of Jean Valjean, carrying his future son-in-law through the sewers of Paris in Les Miserables. I decide not to burst out in song, despite knowing all the words to the musical.

After a hundred feet or so, the arched tunnel divided into three rectangular "hallways". We went down the only one that was dry until we couldn't see anymore. Adventure beckoned us further, but we were without lights or insect repellent, and mosquitoes were beginning to mock us. "Come to me, my pretty!"

So our bodies came back, but our imaginations lingered on and wondered about secret destinations underground, inhabited by half-troll philosophy majors who spent their days spray painting poems and social criticisms on the sewer walls, only to be read by Jean Valjean and the likes of me. I hope the boys still remember it in 30 years.

Monday, May 19, 2008

More Photos From the Weekend

I wasn't able to post these photos as part of the last post, so I'm doing it now. Think of it as "Extracurricular Pentacles 2.0". That's software humor, and will only be funny to a few of you. Who am I kidding? There ARE only a few of you.

In this picture, the guy on the left is not one of the Village People, but rather a member of the boy scout honor society, The Order of the Arrow. One of his duties/privileges is to take part in special ceremonies in the district. He was part of the special ceremony at Friday's pack meeting, complete with a campfire, ceremonial drums, and bows and arrows. Jono doesn't look happy, but he was just a little nervous being up in front of everybody.

After this, the mood lightened up a bit. They may have thrown something on the campfire, I'm not sure. This is Jono in his first ever cub scout skit. He's driving a race car, if you can't tell.

And someone snapped this shot of me while it was all going on. I must admit I was quite proud of my little guy, and filled with affection for him.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Extracurricular Pinnacles

We hit high points in the boys' extracurricular activities this week. D had his spring orchestra concert and Jono had a milestone Cub Scout meeting. I am a proud Papa, so indulge me and let me tell you about them.

Thursday night the school district had its spring orchestra concerts. D's group started out, the 5th graders, and it progressed up through the high school. Here is my favorite picture of D with his cello.

The 5th graders played three short pieces and were followed by the 6th, 7th, 8th grade, and high school orchestras. D and I stayed for the whole thing because I wanted him to hear the high school play. They were very good and he enjoyed it greatly. It was pleasant to see him appreciate classical music, perhaps for the first time. One of his favorites was a piece from the Narnia movies.

The first video is D's group, the second and third are the high school.

Then, Friday night, Jono's Cub Scout pack had a pack meeting. It was the year-end meeting, and several scouts had significant milestones. Jono is the only Tiger Scout (1st grade) in the whole pack. He completed his Tiger Scout requirements, and was receiving the Tiger Badge.

He was called to stand up in front of everybody and get "Tiger stripes" painted on his face. Each color represented a character trait meant to envision and encourage him. Then he stood aside while other, older, boys came and received similar recognition. At this point I looked over at him and saw he had turned his cap around backwards! I pointed my camera at him without being seen, and just as I was about to snap the picture, he looked at me and smiled. This is so rare, because it was a real smile, not the silly seven year old smile that normally occurs when he sees a camera.

At one point I had to come stand behind him, and he was given a pin to present to me. He thanked me for my helping him, and gave me the pin just like he was told to do. But then he took my hand and gave it a big kiss, right in front of everybody. He is so affectionate!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Honduras Worries Lessened

I spoke with folks who know today, and our Honduras trip is not threatened. There is no unrest in the La Ceiba (north-central) area and our trip is not affected. This news comes from two conservative sources. The cancellation of the other group's trip (headed to southern Honduras) seems to be an isolated case of nervousness on the part of the Honduran church host. There may be more to the story than we are getting, but we have checked with reliable sources in La Ceiba and all is well.

Here is a photo of our team from last August. It was taken at a beach outside La Ceiba. You can clearly see there are no pirates, yahoos, or otherwise questionable characters. The fellow on the left, Juan, won the prestigious Goldwater scholarship this year. He's doing a summer internship at MIT this summer. Muy bueno.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Good News Bad News

The Good News:
The University Tenure Committee, the university President, and Provost have reevaluated the multiple tenure denials of this spring and have granted tenure to 7 of the 10 who appealed their denials. The three engineering professors, including two in my department, are now tenured! We had a celebration at one of their houses tonight. Whew.

Now that it's over, I can say something that I was not willing to say in public before. If they had not been granted tenure, I think it may have done irreparable harm to our department. We would loose our two most hardware-oriented researchers, great guys, and good teachers. Then, we would likely loose three more by retirements in the next few years. This would cripple our fledgling plans for a Ph.D. program in electrical engineering, and would likely make it difficult to hire new people. Why would new people come if they can't trust the tenure guidelines? They could invest seven years, get good evaluations, grow their research program, and get flushed at the end of it. And for those of you who don't know, once you have been denied tenure at a university, it is very, very unlikely that you will get a job at an equal or better institution. In essence, getting denied tenure is a career-limiting event. So it is possible, that if we had lost these guys, it would have been the beginning of the end for our department. But they got it!

The Bad News:
My trip to Honduras, planned for later this summer, is not the only one in which a group of engineering students from our school will travel to Honduras to do "compassioneering". A group of four other guys, three of which are core members of Engineers with a Mission, were planning to go to the southern coast of Honduras to design and install a rain catchment system for a rural village without adequate water supply. They were planning to travel with a team of education majors who were conducting a program in their school.

Well, today I got the message that the trip has been postponed until August (or perhaps cancelled), because the church with which we were partnering called and said not to come. Pastor Elvis (his real name, apparently) said that there is political unrest because of higher gas prices and food prices. They are not satisfied with the way the government is handling the situation.

At this point, that's all I know. Do they fear violence? I don't know. I have been searching the internet for stories about violence or unrest in Honduras and I have found none. Tomorrow I will call my own contacts to hear what they say.

The leader of their trip asked me to call the engineering students and tell them. Some had already heard the news, some had not. I felt really sorry for them. We have been planning and fundraising and brainstorming and dreaming about this trip for so long. I know they are disappointed.

I am concerned about my own plans for Honduras. Is there "unrest" in the northern parts where I plan to go? I know there is typically less violence and more stability there. Is this even real? If anyone is in Honduras, can you please comment?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Jono: Bean Farmer

Jono was studying plants in school, and he brought home a plastic cup full of dirt. A few days later, little sprouts broke the ground, so the cats promptly knocked it on the floor. We transplanted them into a pot on the front porch. They are growing like crazy, so I took a picture of Jono the bean farmer.
There is a nurturer in his personality. He is a protector and an encourager and loves little kids and animals. He can be strongly protective of his mother! For instance, he and D used to race to the car and say "Last one there is a rotten egg!" - well, actually that's what D said. Jono said "Last one there is a rockin' egg!" because he didn't really know what "rotten" meant. Anyway, one day The M (mom) was racing too. She came in last, but Jono declared her to not be the looser. He said "Mama is never a rockin' egg." He was watching out for her feelings, you see.

Bike Trouble

Now that the spring semester is over, I have decided to start riding my bike/bus to the office as much as I can. This is primarily to get some exercise and build my endurance for our upcoming trip to Honduras. It's also to save money on gas. I costs $2 round trip to bike to the bus stop, ride the bus downtown, and then bike another mile or so to the office. If I get in better shape, I may try to bike the whole way (24 miles round trip). This costs about half what it takes to drive.

So anyway, I had to get a new bike. I don't mean brand new, just new to me. I called one of my bicycling-enthusiast students to see if he would sell me one of his old ones. He happened to be moving to a new apartment and, long story short, his roommate GAVE me an extra bike. I was pretty excited about it. I came home, aired up the tires, rode it around the block a few times, got the seat adjusted for me, and tried to fiddle with the brakes which weren't working quite right.

This morning I gathered my gear in an over-the-shoulder bag, put on my spandex bike shorts (under my other shorts!) and took off with a pocket full of bus fare. I got about four blocks away and something started feeling funny (with the bike, not the shorts). I looked down to see my left pedal and crank arm about to fall off. Rats! The securing nut had come off, who knows where, and there was nothing to do but coast/walk back home - and take a picture for the blog! This is my disappointed face.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Cactus Without Chlorophyll

I'm not sure how the genetic engineers at HEB did it, but there are now cacti that don't have chlorophyll in parts. One kind has a green stalk, and a round red top. The red part has no chlorophyll. I call them redius headius, which is Latin for "cactus altered by genetic engineers at HEB to have a red top". I got three of them for the back porch, because it gets lots of afternoon sun. I really like them; they're like a little flower, but with thorns on the pedals. I had three of them, each in their own little pot, but one died over the winter. Actually, I think he was murdered by one of the others: the tragic, but inevitable result of a redius headius cacti love triangle.

The other two, perhaps thriving in their new love, are doing well this spring and putting out new little red bulby things. Can you tell I know nothing about biology? It's true. So I went back to HEB to ask the produce guy what he thought about genetic engineering, about redius headius, and about other things of cosmic significance.For those of you who have not met produce guy, he is a skateboard riding, eyebrow ring wearing, master of produce, philosophy, and all things spiritual. Rumors of his being a fictitious product of my imagination are purely a fictitious product of my imagination.

Me: Hi Produce Guy, how have you been?
Produce Guy: Like, woah dude, you've been MIA for like, many moons.
Me: I know, I know, I've been blogging, you see. Takes up all my spare time.
Produce Guy: Here to pick some fresh vegetation, yo?
Me: No, I came to ask you a question. You see I have these cacti without chlorophyll...

I went on to explain my confusion about how a cactus, or any other plant, could be bred or mutated or nuked or whatever, so that it would be "like, all red on top". The conversation went on for some time. I asked him where the genetic engineers were and he said they did most of their work in the ice cream cooler behind sporting goods.

Me: Of course! That's where I would do my genetic engineering, if I ever did any.
Produce Guy: So dude, is something else like, troubling you, yo?
Me: Yeah, it's just that I'm not sure what to think about genetic engineering. I mean, is it safe? I don't think eating genetically engineered foods is going to make you sick or anything, but as an engineer I know that there are often unintended consequences of our technologies. These can be, but are not always, harmful to people or the environment or... I don't know. You just never know I guess. That's the point.
Produce Guy: Man, you worry too much dude. Every time you come here you're like, a big sack of potatoes all full up. But instead of potatoes, you're like, full of worries. Dude.
Me: I know, I know, I just don't have the wisdom and peace that you have.
Produce Guy: Look dude, a wise man with long hair like mine once said, "Do not worry about what to eat or drink, or about what to wear, yo. Consider the lilies of the field, and dress like them, or something like that..."
Me: Huh?
Produce Guy: Look man, I don't have any lilies in produce, see the floral department for them, but consider this instead. I have a fine selection of genetically engineered cassava roots, yo, and do you see them worrying? No way, man. So take some schoolin' from them, yo, and...

At that point, one of the cassava roots split in half with a crack like a whip. A long, purple tendril shot out of it and wrapped itself around the neck of produce guy. It started pulling him towards it, constricting and choking my insightful friend. Produce guy fought back with a box cutter, but the tendril was too strong. More cassavas started opening up and lassoing produce guy's arms and legs, not to mention an old lady that had been picking out tomatoes.

It was all happening so fast I didn't have time to think. I just reacted with instinct. Anyone would have done the same thing, really. I ran to the home and garden section and grabbed two big bottles of Roundup. Riding a shopping cart like a Humvee, I crashed through a display of bananas and did an aeriel summersault over the red tipped lettuce. With both barrels blazing, I peppered the cassava with blasts of Roundup until they released my friend with a hiss.

The store had to be evacuated. It was all over the news. The SWAT team came out with their riot gear on. The old lady is suing. Produce guy is in stable condition. As for me, I got an endorsement contract with Roundup - I'm their new spokesman. But I still don't understand biology.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Christmas in May

I have been carrying some Christmas presents around in the trunk of my car for a couple of months. My father and step mother (a.k.a. Pops and Mimi) have had some health problems that prevented them from travelling lately. Our plans to get together for Christmas kept being postponed again and again. So when I was in Houston on business (back in March) I took the presents and put them in my trunk to bring back to the family. Well... I forgot about them.

Long story short, we had a belated Christmas this weekend! The boys were very excited about their new books, jigsaw puzzles, and especially their new tackle boxes. I suppose they have picked up a love for fishing from Pops and Mimi, certainly not from me. They came with hooks and bobbers and stringy things and weights. They loved them. Jono, in particular, has been carrying his around, taking it to church ("No Jono, we have to leave that in the car.") and even taking it to bed! Last night The M went in to check on the boys and there it was, right next to his pillow! I had to take a picture. The flash didn't seem to bother him.

New fishing poles had also been part of their gifts, but I had remembered to give them those weeks ago. Sleeping with fishing poles was not allowed!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Happy Mother's Day, Mom

Here's a partial list of things my mom did right. Happy Mother's Day Mom! I love you.

1. She encouraged me to be myself, not to be a conformist, but to be comfortable with who I am, and not to worry about what other people think.
2. She allowed me to argue my case when I thought she was being unfair or when I thought I was misunderstood. She listened to my points, and when it was appropriate, gave my words credibility. I could say anything I needed to, as long as I was respectful. I try to emulate this with my own children, because I think it values fairness while acknowledging that the parent is in charge, ultimately. It has also given me a great skill with which to work things out with my wife.
3. She sent me to camp in the summers. I went to Camp Lone Star for four or five years, and to boy scout camp. As I look back on my childhood, my times at camp stand out as mountaintop experiences. I think they taught me independence and a measure of responsibility.
4. She knew my friends, attended my school functions, and listened to everything I said (or at least convincingly pretended to listen!). She made me feel important. Ha! She still reads my blog every day!
5. She taught me to value music. In later life, this has bled over into other areas. I have an appreciation for photography, for art, for dance, and for creativity in general. It has made my life richer. I think I can trace this appreciation back to days listening to Simon and Garfunkel albums, or Johnny Cash, or Tchaikovsky.
6. Speaking of richer, Mom taught me that money doesn't make you happy. She taught me that relationships were ultimately the most important thing we have on earth.

Thanks for being a great mom, Mom. I love you.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Boxing Day (or Schrödinger's Cat)

Henry the cat is one funny animal. Yesterday he found this empty box and crawled inside. The boys would stick their fingers in the openings and he would attack them. The game was to see if you could pull your hand out fast enough! It was like a game of feline Russian Roulette. The boys were laughing so hard! I love to hear them belly laugh from another room in the house.When he gets wound up like this, he will claw you to the point of bringing blood. But he's a good cat, and he knows when the game is over. He won't hurt you if he can see that the hand belongs to you. But if he thinks your hand is a little mousey critter, his hunter instincts kick in.

(Click here for more information on the paradox of Schrödinger's Cat.)

I think I live in a box sometimes. My perception of what is significant or threatening is sometimes skewed. Do I trust the hand of my owner, or do I view it as something to be defended against?

This analogy is theologically poor. I don't think God plays games with us, belly laughing at our attacks on his wiggling, mocking fingers.

Wake up Henry, the Matrix has you.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Blowing off Steam

The M came home this afternoon! Yea! She has been in Houston for eight days getting her father into an Alzheimer's care facility. It has been an emotional ordeal for her. But we were all so glad to see her again.

Frankly, I was getting to the end of my rope. The boys were off from school today, but I was not. This meant I took them with me to my morning class. And it was raining. And there was a big wreck on I-35. And we waited in the traffic for twenty minutes. And this caused us to have to skip breakfast in order for me not to be late to class.

So I'm under a little extra stress right now. OK, quite a bit of extra stress. And I take an antidepressant. And I have been out of my prescription for three or four days but can't seem to get to the pharmacy before it closes. So I'm feeling a little wacked out.

All this to say, I decided to blow off some steam at the gym today. I used a half dozen machines and rode a stationary bike. The bike was boring. But the weights really helped. When I started getting tired, I would focus on the things that were making me mad. It went something like this...
21. Alzheimer's
22. Traffic
23. Wife out of pocket
24. Raining
25. No one comments on my blog
26. Cats pooping in garage
27. Cats pooping in garage
28. Cats pooping in garage

and it went on like this until I was in the eighties or nineties (on account of me being so strong).

And you know what? It worked! I feel so much better. I'm going to do it again tomorrow. I need the exercise anyway (on account of me being so fat) . And I need to "train" for our time in Honduras this summer. Our work there will be somewhat physical, and I don't want to slow down the students too much.

My Cats

This post is in celebration of my cats, even though they pooped in the garage which made me really, really mad.

"What's the deep, insightful comment you can share with us?" you may be asking. Here it is. I don't like it when the cats poop in my garage. That's it. I got nuthin'. They're just my cats.

I promise more substantial content later.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Trust the Midas Touch

The following is a video of a Danish wind turbine by a manufacturer called Vestas. From what I can read about the incident, the braking mechanism failed so that high winds caused the blades to spin out of control. Eventually, one of the blades comes apart. This causes the other blades to pitch backwards and a second blade strikes the tower with enough force to cause it to buckle. Yahoo.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Wind Turbine Project Part 10 (Tower Raising, Take 1)

Jonathan, Brittany, Ryan, and the boys and I spent about nine hours at the World Hunger Relief farm today trying to get our wind turbine tower raised. Cole, Anna, AJ, JT, and Katy also helped out too. Thank you to everyone for the hard work! We are tired, dirty, and sunburned.

The vertical pole is called a jin pole. Its purpose is to provide a lifting mechanism so that the tower can be raised without a crane. It alows us to use a tractor to pull the tower up.

Here you can see the 41 foot tower laying down, and the jin pole being prepared for the lift.

We call this the pivoting base. It's essentially a big hinge where the tower and the jin pole meet. It sits on the concrete slab we installed in the last few weeks.

We were able to get the tower raised to nearly vertical, but some of the cables pulled too tightly and we had to lower it back down. Here is a low quality video of the tower raising halfway. We had to stop because the tractor we used to pull it stalled.

We restarted the tractor and kept pulling. The tower made it to a near vertical position, but several of the guy wires were pulled too tightly and we couldn't lock it down. At the end of the day we lowered it back down until we can leave it in a safe condition.

Ryan and Jono attach cables to the tower flanges.
Tower flange and cables.

At each of the four compass points, we have a ground anchor connected to three guy wires. Here you see one of these anchors with three sets of guy wires coming from the turbine. Are you impressed with our handiwork with turnbuckles, thimbles, carabiners, and U-clamps. (We now speak all the lingo.) Looks pretty professional for a bunch of amateurs, eh?

Brittany and Anna are being a dead weight on the end of the tower as we hammer the other end. (It looks like they're not working but they are!)