Monday, October 24, 2016

Chac Mool...He's Cool

Just to pug the slide show yet again:

But wait - check this out - not only have I found YucaPuca in Nicaragua, I think I have located his brother here in Ulster County.

I had to leave the one on the left where I found it but the one on the right will be presented at the slide show where for $5 a whack you can hit it with a stick to see what is inside.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Slide Show Nov. 2nd - Leftovers

Now, I suppose this is really corny but, when I was a kid, one of my favorite TV shows was a travelogue called "Journey to Adventure - With Gunther Less". To prepare for this I entry I looked up some stuff about it and it turns out that it was the second longest running show in American TV history on air for 39 years. Pretty impressive. Old Gunther died in Sarasota, Florida in 2011 at the age of 90. Not too bad. So what does this have to do with anything? Well, in sort of the spirit of that show I will host a slide show of my trip to Nicaragua on Wednesday, November 2nd at 6:00 at the Hickory BBQ on Rt. 28 in Kingston.

I figure it will run 45 minutes or so then we can hang out and socialize for a bit. Engineers Without Borders students will be there and we will also try to have some affiliated stuff from Aquasphere Water Group (the Panama Water project). Maybe even some amusements. Oh, and by the way, I am trying to figure out what culture made the statue up in the photo and both the Aztecs and the Maya were present in the pre-Columbian Nicaraguan central highlands. If you know about this, show up and tell us.

If you cannot attend but wish to contribute to EWB here is the link:

Anything you can do will help - we are currently managing two projects - closing out Panama water and preliminary assessment of Nicaragua - so costs mount quickly.

Thanks for the support - See you in a few weeks!

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Last Word

Natural History magazine used to feature a one page essay on its last page called "The Last Word". Very often it was authored by the late Stephen Jay Gould who had a profound influence on my thinking as a scientist and as a human. So in a sense, at least a part of how and what I do today is because of him. So here, for this trip, is "The Last Word".

I leave tomorrow morning on a 7:30 am flight that will have me back home, hopefully, by 8:00 pm tomorrow evening. I have done all of my gift shopping and am pretty much packed. I have redistributed things to shift small, dense items to my backpack and lighter but bulkier things to my main duffel. $100 charge for being 3 pounds over is just plain rude. But that is a trivial complaint, to be sure. I have started writing my preliminary report for the trip and I hope to have it complete by Sunday. My trip was fascinating, informative, productive and fun. I could not have asked for more. It is in this sense of satisfaction that I am filled with gratitude for so many things that I feel it only proper to share a few of them here, in the form of a "Gratitude List"'

I am grateful for:
1. Having the health, both physical and mental, as well as the stamina, to be able to do these kinds of things. Many do not or cannot.
2. The love and support of so many people, family and friends, too numerous to count, who encourage and believe in me and what I try to do.
3. The amazing education I have received all along the trajectory of my life, and especially, my most recent academic experiences in engineering, and my high school Spanish instruction.
4. The kindness and hospitality of virtually everyone I have met here in Nicaragua. At times, it was almost embarrassing.
5. All of you who have cared enough to follow this adventure with me. I hope I have informed and entertained without being dull or preachy.
6. The smarts to know when to keep a list short. No one likes those long, drawn out acceptance speeches at the Oscars. You get the point.

After I get back home I already have a long list of "next projects" to set to work on. I will not be idle but if possible, I would like to do some slide shows with this material, perhaps at a local restaurant with some appetizers and drinks, ask some of the students to join me. I much prefer writing in this venue than on Facebook, but I will post that idea there and see, via the "Like" button if anyone is interested. It would be kind of lame to sit by myself at a table with my computer and a couple of disinterested diners.

Lastly, a special note of thanks to my cigar-smoking buddy, Rich Maletta, who has always gone the extra mile to support me. He is the faithful Sancho Panza to my idealistic Don Quixote. Thank you my faithful page, as well as to the beautiful Dulcinea, for helping me Dream the Impossible Dream.

Odds & Ends - 5

This is just a photo of a papaya. A very big papaya. Like a papaya raised on growth hormone.

Hydraulic Luxury (Things Taken for Granted)

A small thing to be noted about Jinotega. While there is good municipal water, it is not present 24 hours a day. To conserve water and to repressurize the system service is shut off between 10 AM and 4 PM. Locals know this and work their day around it. it. As a visitor I was unaware of this until yesterday. After my long days hike on Wednesday up and down mountains on stone paved trails my ankles and knees were quite sore. Before heading back on my 3 1/2 hour drive to Managua I thought it might be nice to take a hot shower and run the water over my ankles and knees for a while. I climbed into the shower and turned open the faucet only to hear distant gurgling in the pipes and the hiss of air. No shower today. ( Don't forget, that means the toilets don't flush either ).
 A series of slides that I show in one of my presentations outlines the four cardinal features of our home hydraulic systems that I find defines the luxury that we enjoy. These are:
1. Point of use
2. Pressurized
3. Potable
4. Hot and cold
 It looks like I now need to add a fifth feature, continuous availability.
 It is really like they say: you never know what you have until it is taken away.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Buy These Photos!

Now, for a limited time only, you can buy any or all of these photos. Just donate to the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) online fundraiser.

Here's the link:

Just tell them you're an "FOP" (Friend of Pags) and you will receive the special "FOP Discount". You will be able to view all of these photos.

Oh... you already can. Hmmm. Need to think of something else. Seriously, please consider donating. Either way, here are some of the better shots taken over the past three days, either in Sasle, Jinotega, or on the drive back to Managua.
El Tico - My Preferred Dinner Eatery

Street Table with Jochote (bags of green stuff)

and Fried Banana Chips

Side Street in Jinotega Facing East

Yucapuca - Mountain Between Jinotega and Sasle - Supposedly Where General Sandino Bivouacked

Lake Apanas - Man Made Lake, Part of a Hydroelectric Facility

One of Those Damned Barb Wire Fences

Me with Barb Wire Fence in Background

Bulls**t - Can Actually Be Added to Biodigester to Improve Gas Production

More Bulls**t
Juan Carlos

High Mountain Meadow - Elev. 3740'

Francisca, Me, Racquel

Totally Unexpected

You Find the Neatest Stuff When You Look for Latrines

Highest Point on our Trek - 3900'
Tree Covered with Epiphytes

Juan Carlos Sanchez
Misty Mountain Forests - 4800' Elev.

Misty Mountain Forests - 4800' Elev.

Coffee Bushes on Mountain Side - elev. 5140'

At About 5100' Elevation - Highway Outside Jinotega - Volcano in Distance

Just Beneath Summit (5150') - Outside Jinotega

Just Beneath Summit (5150') - Outside Jinotega

Just Beneath Summit (5150') - Outside Jinotega

Descending Summit Outside Jinotega

Descending Summit Outside Jinotega

Descending Summit Outside Jinotega

Heading Back to Managua - Mountain Peak Between Jinotega and Sebaco

Wednesday - Final Immersion

So, the whole point of this trip was to make a survey of the latrine situation here in Sasle. The four us, Juan Carlos, Francisca, Racquel and me, made a start of it at best. My estimate is that over 4 hours we covered about 15 km making a large loop with a considerable number of side digressions to see various home both with, and without, latrines. For sake of brevity I will post a bunch of the latrine photos as I know that that is the only reason you are probably following this. so for all of you have been patient, here is your reward.

This house is equipped with a simple latrine that discharges into an underground septic pit. It is a rare exception in this area as, for the most part, the soil is too rocky to excavate. Think about it - you need more than just a toilet - the stuff has to go somewhere. The solution that is currently being implemented is the development of latrines with above ground biodigesters. The waste stream leaves the latrine itself and is piped by gravity into a small building that houses a large plastic bag in which the waste natually degrades by bacterial action. This is basically what happens below ground in a septic tank. One of the byproducts of this process is the production of methane which can be used as a source of energy for cooking and heating. The next slides show examples of these structures. I know, I know...too much fun.

Latrine Building

Biodigester Building

View of Latrine from Biodigester Building

Effluent Connection Between Latrine and Biodigester
One of the biggest hurdles to getting this done is the excavation. Neither the phtos nor words adequately describe how difficult this terrain is to excavate. There is no heavy equipment available - it is done strictly by hand with shovel and prybar. Even if heavy equipment was available it would be virtually impossible to get it into the positions needed for placement of the biodigesters. As one can see, the biodigester must be lower than the latrine itself since there is no water for flushing other than a can poured down the drain after use. Which brings us to our next shots.

Simple. But effective. That's all I will say. You do the rest.

The biodigestion process occurs spontaneously within the bag. Solid waste settles to the bottom, excess fluid flows out through an overflow valve and the bacteria go to work digesting the solids and producing methane.

The PVC pipe fitting seen is the exit pipe for the methane. For some reason the locals refer to is "butana" or butane, but it is predominantly methane (single carbon) with lesser amount of ethane, propane and butane mixed in. It's all combustible anyways. The plastic bottle is full of water and serves as a water trap (just like the U-pipe in a kitchen drain or toilet) and prevents backleakage and loss of gas. The average daily rate of gas production for a family of four yields approximately 40 minutes of flame on a single burner stove. For many of these people it is a significant improvement. Obviously, though, it does not eliminate their need for wood or other fuel for cooking. It just helps out.

Lastly, here are a couple of shots of a new installation going in, courtesy of Bridges To Community. The supervising hand on this is one of the BTC volunteers Jorge Valdivia who lives in the community.

The most time consuming aspect of the whole process is the excavation. Once this is done by the homeowner, Jorge and his crew and get the unit built in two days.

So, how can you top that, huh? You can't. Really. But, if you are interested in doing something to help me and my group of stout engineers, please consider checking out the EWB online fundraiser:

Here's the link:

Anything you can do would be greatly appreciated.

Odds & Ends - 4

Here we see one of the local radio stations, "Radio Dynamica". Now, once a month I do a radio show at our local radio station WGHQ. It DOES NOT look like this one. I must talk to our station manager pronto - I want concertina wire and bars on our windows too!

Who says radio isn't dangerous...