Friday, October 30, 2015

Footwear, found.

I knew they had to exist somewhere. Of course, LL Bean. Bean Signature Maine 10" Hunting Boots. Standard "Duck Shoe" bottoms with a lightweight waxed canvas upper. I think they should be perfect.

I love that the upper can be completely folded down into the body of the shoe so it doesn't kill me for space in my duffel bag. They lace up nice and securely so that the mud won't pull them off and hopefully, my feet will stay dry. The basic design dates to 1912 so there's over 100 years of experience here.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Snakes and Lanterns

Had dinner with Chip and his wife, my former classmate Marie and her fiance Steven, and Gail up at New World Bistro in Albany followed by hockey at RPI. Nice night and good chance to talk to Chip about the trip and the plans going forward. Both of us have been heavily involved in most of the development aspects of the project, but there was one place in which we diverged a bit. As a newcomer to this type of thing I am a bit compulsive about doing everything according to the book. As a veteran, Chip is able to be a little less rigid than I. In reviewing the 525 document prior to it's submission I read every word of every page. OK, not such a big deal, 65 pages more or less. Executive summary of the project to date, rationale for expansion of water treatment, plans for implementation, design drawings, reams of calculations, budget for trip, so on and so forth. Not exactly Hemingway but, if it's in that document and I sign off on, it's the same as if I wrote it. Except one little hitch: The 525 itself does not include the HASP. Yes, the HASP,  the "Health And Safety Plan" document. This one is 92 or so pages. It includes the designation of a H & S officer, the location of the nearest hospital from the Island (as well as the length of time it would take to get there), an inventory of any dangerous equipment or materials to be used, necessary protective equipment ("PPE's" or "PeePees" as I was taught), the suggested vaccines we should get (most of which I disagreed with) and other things relevant to our safety. All of this jazz occupied 30 or so pages. The other 60 pages was a compendium of the venomous reptiles, insect and fish that have ever been found in, or around, Panama. Each page had a color photo of the offending creature, its habits, its habitats, the type of venom it inflicts, and how gruesome one's death will be after the bite or sting. It reminded me of two things. The first were those really neat, old-fashioned books about exotic animals in faraway places I used to read as a kid, the ones where the photographs were pretty scarce and were referred to as "Color Plates". Remember those? Cobras, Coral Snakes, Banded Kraits (rhymes with 'kites'), Pacific Sea Snakes and of course Fer-De-Lances.

The second is the old joke about the cowboy who gets bit on a certain part of his anatomy by a rattlesnake. The punchline is "Tex, yer gonna die". I told it to the students on the island last year. Figure it out for yourself. Anyway, Panama sure seems loaded with poisonous creatures.

On a different note, one of the big draws about a trip like this is that it is a wonderful excuse to buy a few new pieces of travel gear. This sort of a camping trip on steroids (and snake venom). This years new gadget is the "Lighthouse 250" solar charged lantern put out by GoalZero, the folks who make the portable solar panel and storage battery that I use.

The lantern is a pair of independently controlled LEDs, one in front, one in back with variable brightness. Charging time by solar is 7-10 hours; lighting time is 2.5 - 48 hours depending on level of brightness. It can also be used to charge small devices such as cell phones via USB, and can, itself, be charged from a USB source. Lastly, it has a hand crank, so if all else fails, just turn that crank for a bit.

It is quite compact, as you can see, quite lightweight, and has these nifty fold out legs so you can set it up on a table or night stand. There is also a top handle so it can be hung from overhead if needed. Now, this may strike some as silly or overkill, but I will remind you that there is NO electricity there and we will be there in January. One of the little details of life at lower latitudes is that the sun goes down directly over the horizon with very little twilight time. The sun sets right around 6pm and it is dark fast. This is right around the time we take our dinner and eating by light of a small headlamp (tough to use a knife and a fork while holding a flashlight)  is not as charming as one might expect. It also may help me avoid some of those venomous snakes mentioned in the HASP on the path to the latrine at night. I am really stoked to use this baby!

Admit want one.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Current Plans

So, as it stands, we have preliminary approval to return for implementation of  the addition of a pair of 55 gallon drums to the current pair of 600 gallon tanks. This allows the 55 gallon drums to be dosed with pre-measured amounts of chlorine (in the form of liquid bleach) to achieve the correct concentration to disinfect yet not leave an unpleasant taste in the water. (This cannot be done in the 600 gallon tanks as they are continuously being either filled by incoming rainwater or drained for utilization and there is no steady-state volume to dose). The physical scope of this project is smaller than last years but will be coupled with a more intensive community outreach and education component.

The  lineup of the returning team is not yet finalized; Mike is in the process of making those decision but will consist of two mentor engineers and five student engineers. I am one of the mentors; unfortunately Scott has scheduling conflicts (we are hopefully working on a well drilling project in Haiti later in the winter or early spring) and cannot go. For a few days it did not look as though any of the other mentors involved in the project were available and I am too junior to suffice on my own. Fortunately my long time mentor and professor, Chip Kilduff, was able to sign on. I am really looking forward to this! On the student side, Mike is definitely there and there are four students to be chosen. Very exciting!

We have spoken with Ambrosio and placed our order for the lumber necessary for the stands - realize that there is no milled lumber on the island - it is all hand cut by chainsaw by Ambrosio and other men in the community. Imagine working with 2 x 4 s all hand cut, yet amazingly true. We also have our shopping lists ready for the necessary hardware from Maderas Richards on Isla Colon. One of the hard lessons we learned last time was that the nispero wood on the island is so hard and dense that regular nails bend and screws shear their heads off even when pre-drilled; we will bring our own supply of heavy gauge timberlock screws with us. I also want to schedule a little tutorial time with Kyle before the trip to make sure I am good on my use of PVC, in particular, the flanges of the spigots where they seal to the sides of the drums. The fact that we were there once before doing construction is a huge advantage and I hope to avoid many of the small problems that dogged us last year. Which brings me to the topic of footwear.

Last January during the installation it rained. I mean it really, seriously rained. Every day. Which turned the work site to a morass (yes, I used the word morass in a sentence) of mud. And, let me just say here, this was no ordinary mud. It was mud on 'roids. The base soil is a dense clay which, when wetted, produces an extremely thick and sticky paste that will easily suck a conventional sneaker or work shoe off of ones foot. At one point last year Kyle became so frustrated that he elected to work shoeless but paid for it with a laceration on the bottom of his foot.Two schools of thought emerged as to what would work best: 1) conventional big old rubber wellingtons, or 2) perforated slip-ons like Crocs. Both of these have their merits and their drawbacks and I am still inclined to try to find other choices. I will develop this topic further as travel time approaches and I will need to make my decision. It will also be a good place to discuss other good gadgets for such and expedition. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Heading Back to Isla Popa

So, after a nearly 10 months hiatus I am returning to the blogosphere. EWB-RPI and I are full speed ahead to return to Isla Popa in Panama to expand upon last January's project. Getting to this point has taken a tremendous amount of effort by a handful of dedicated people with a few ups and downs. I will provide a quick synopsis of the past 10 months and then 'splain where things stand right now, and then talk about footwear.

After we got back from Panama in mid-January Scott (Underhill, my co-mentor) and I returned to our busy work schedules and our student companions resumed their classes. It appears Scott scored a serious coup by getting Kyle Geisler in to AECOM as an intern while he completes his co-op program for his combined Bachelors and Masters degrees. Mike Kubista took over as project lead to develop the next phase of the project. What did appear to be fairly apparent was that the folks on Isla Popa did not like the individual biosand filters and basically, had no intentions of using them. This factored largely in the development of what we thought would be the new project, but I get ahead of myself. 

In mid-March the gang came down to Kingston from Troy and we held a dinner fundraising program at the YMCA. It featured multiple slide presentations and a catered buffet dinner; it was very well attended and the students did a great job presenting and narrating the slides. Overall, it was a very successful evening, and aside from raising money, generated a good amount of "buzz" in the community.

Throughout the late winter and spring the group developed the next phase of the project which was to design and install a second rooftop rain collection system on the roof of the school kitchen ("comedor") building with an integrated slow sand filtration system connected to internal plumbing to essentially provide filtered clean "tap" water on demand.  Design of such as system was seriously constrained by the fact that the entire system had to be a gravity-flow system with the roof of the building between 8 and 9 feet above the ground level. The inherent difficulties with this lead us to look at a number of different design options, one of which was to eliminate sand filtration and return to the idea of chlorination. As events would later show, this proved to be a fortuitous development.

 The semester ended and most of the students headed out, either back to their homes, or to summer internships. Mike stayed behind to do research and he and I took over the weekly (or so) calls to Ambrosio to maintain contact and keep him up to date with the plans as they progressed. Ambrosio was very enthusiastic about the plans for the new project and we really began to develop a good rapport as we moved (so we thought) forward.

The students returned to campus in late August and by early September the preliminary plans for the new system were submitted to EWB national headquarter in the form of the "524" document. The 524 submission was followed by a conference call with the coordinating engineer from HQ who queried the current water situation. The decision came down in late September that the current system was adequate in terms of provision of water and that the group should refocus their effort on quality, not quantity. While I agree with the need to improve the quality of the current stored water, I also strongly believe that the community on Isla Popa still requires greater water acquisition and storage capacity than it currently enjoys. (I will discuss this in greater detail at a later writing). The saving grace in all of this is that when we made the move away from sand filtration to chlorination it became apparent that such as system would be a relatively straightforward retrofit onto the previously installed system. When HQ (aka National) KO'd the new system on the kitchen building the default plan became the addition of a pair of 55 gallon drums to the current pair of 600 gallon tanks to act as reservoirs for chlorination of water coupled with education and training in water disinfection practices. It is certainly a smaller scale project than originally planned, but it goes a long way in improving the quality and safety of the current drinking water. Still, it sent us several giant steps backward and Mike and the team had to scramble to revise the documentation in order to meet several tight deadlines. We currently have cleared most of these hurdles and have tentative approval to proceed.

And that's where I will leave it for now with a promise to write more later. And discuss footwear.