My favorite Ice Movers (& Sometimes Shakers)

by wonderfullyrich on April 19, 2013

Last time I was down 7 years ago, I wanted to do an inventory of all the strange vehicles on station. I didn’t remember that I wanted to do that until just a few minutes ago when a friend back home asked me about the how a Pisten Bully–hereafter referred to as a PB as we do on station–differs from a Sno-Cat.  Of course the Ice does strange things to your memory, but I’m going to blame this on the intervening years and age.  Now I think I’m going to go over some of my favorite vehicles and add others as I run across them.

Thanks to Eli for this photoTo answer his question about the difference between a PB and a Sno-Cat, they are very similar.  The are both built for high grades, snow, can be equipped with a blade, and can carry passengers.  We have several Tucker Sno-Cats here on the base and throughout the continent (image right). We also have a plethora of PBs on station.  

Thanks to sandwich for this photo

Having now driven a PB (image left), I’m keen to drive a tank.  It would be interesting to compare how similar the tracks are.  Oddly, having also driven my grandfather’s small Cat tracked bulldozer, it’s entirely different than what I expected.  My grandfather’s Cat was steered by foot, the PB is a fairly normal steering wheel.  The PB a bit eccentric though as it’s hydrostatic so there’s gas pedal and an additional dial on the steering wheel that is a gear equivalent. It’s also slooowww… but steady.  I think it’s top speed is 15 mph, if that. 

I’m somewhat split between the PB and the Hagglund though.  We are using both a PB and a Hagglund for Search and Rescue this year, and the Hagglund is our primary vehicle (image right).  More specifically known as a Double Hagglund or a Bandvagn 206, it’s another tracked vehicle that’s very easy to drive as it’s just like normal vehicles.  That’s where the similarities end though, as it too is built for grades and snow.  It’s also designed to move over rough ground though.  Designed in Sweden, it’s also has military variants. It has two cabs and articulates in between the two of them.  Wear your ear protection though as it’s not a peaceful ride.

Thanks to Sandwich for taking this beautiful shot.Of course one of the other vehicles that is beloved by all is Ivan the Terra Bus (image left). Made by Foremost–a Canadian company–it’s most often used for transporting up to 56 passengers to and from one of the three runways near McMurdo.  The use Terra Buses in other Arctic climates as well, but I doubt they are as beloved.  

This might be a better picture on islandtoice.orgEspecially now that it’s got competition, although we avidly debate the asine background of his competition. I’m relating the story as I understand it, so understand this is from the rumor mill. They were looking to augment and probably replace Ivan so they put a request out and put it through the bidding process.  Kress bid and won the contract on some criteria, perhaps the lowest bidder, and then proceed to create and build a one off articulated vehicle.  From the start it was fubar’ed.  When it was delivered on vessel the tires had to be shaved so it could fit across the bridge from the Ice Pier (just this year we got new ones to replaced the shaved ones). I seem to remember this being followed by major mechanical issues (as this was tested in Kansas, as if that’s similar to Antarctica). Then they realized that even with articulation it was too wide to turn in town, so they had to move power poles (and the power lines on them), to allow it to go through town.  Sometime after that they found out you can’t turn the heater on in the back as it can cause carbon monoxide poisoning, as it’s too air tight. Having ridden in this thing, I can tell you it's a sea sickening ride.  It absolutely feels like they put a box on top of a flatbed truck without air-ride and sold it for several hundred thousand.  All this for an extra 3 passengers, when they should have gone out and bought another Terra Bus.  Nothing we can do about it now, we have two tractors, two flat beds, and a passenger module.  If they retired Ivan though, I think people might revolt.  Oh and it's known as Clifford the Big Red Truck (above image right).

More to come as I get time to research and ask about the different vehicles on station.  We have a new one that’s taking the place of the PB on our Traverses which sounds interesting. I would also like to write about the Deltas, Nodwells, Mattracks, and maybe some of the aircraft we get.   Thanks to Sandwich and Eli for there Creative Commons photos.


The Sky is falling and the Ice is running away!

by wonderfullyrich on April 14, 2013

McMurdo is currently going sky crazy. The sun is barely up for 6 hours now, which means we have extend periods of darkness.  (i.e. walking out the door and the sun is down until I'm at work for 3 hours) We also have extend periods of twilight, close to 90 mins or more of the golden hour it seems.  Tis extremely beautiful as I mentioned in my last post.

If I was an ape, I'd probably think the world was ending. During the darkness we keep getting the Auroral Australias and now we have meteor shower over the next few days (the Lyrids).  It's been spectacular!  It's also been hard to get out and go view them at 2am during a work night and get out of town away from the lights. People are getting some photos and even a time-lapse or two so I'll eventually get it up on Facebook.  The long night sky and what fills it is yet another reason I'm willing to spend my winter here in McMurdo. 

Some of you asked what Fast Ice is, and I thought I'd also give a description for non-Ice people.  Feel free to ask about random Ice terms or situations as living within it sometimes framing topics hard.  As it turns out I had the wrong understanding of it too.  A quick geography lesson, McMurdo is the furthest point south you can go with a Boat.  Ross Island is not actually on the Antarctica continent, rather it is an volcanic island a few miles off the continent that lies at the junction between the Ross Ice Shelf and the Ross Sea.  The Ross Ice Shelf is a glacier that's several hundred meters thick and we call it permanent ice, even though it moves and isn't really just very thick ice.  The Ross Sea rolls right up to the edge of this Ice Shelf and obviously the water freezes to a depth of up to two meters (which is enough to allow jet aircraft of land on, and we do). This is called Annual Sea Ice for obvious reason, but I referred to it as the Fast Ice.  Fast Ice turns out to be Multi-year Sea Ice "held fast" by the land.  So no it doesn't go speeding away quickly, but it does grip well. 

There's still much going on around me and I contribute to it myself.  I'm teaching yoga again and organizing the previously mentioned Math Club (Saturday night dance).  It's also addicting to sit at the table during Lunch, Dinner or weekend Brunch for hours and listen to the wonderful and silly conversations we have.  It precludes coming and typing on a blog, taking a time-lapse, hiking up Ob-hill, sorting my digital database, or working on one of the several projects (such as consolidating and moving my websites which some of you may have notice).  It's not all going to get done and I'm okay with that as being social for me is much more important to my mental health, especially if it happens to be lying on the ground looking at the stars as auroras form and meteors turn to dust. 

I'll end with a list of things that are coming up in the near and distance future.  Today people were out building igloos on the Ice Shelf, and we have Burger Bar tonight.  This week is the same packed evening schedule, and forgot to mention I have Yoga on Friday.  Last friday it got cancelled as I drove a Piston Bully out to the Kiwi Square Frame, which I'll have to describe at some point.  Saturday is Math Club again.  Next Sunday I've got Hut 10 (the rental house on station) so I can cook my favorite recipes including, Ice Cream, Mexican lasagna, Cinnamon rolls, maybe funnel cakes. Our last sunset is coming up in two weeks or so.  Mid-Winter Dinner is already in the planning stages (it's kind of like christmas dinner for the winter, we celebrate it at the austral winter solstice).  As of yet no jello wrestling events have been scheduled… though I'm sure no one wants to get fired over it so it's not likely to happen.  More will pop up as the week rolls past.


A Sunset and a Quick Update

by wonderfullyrich on April 7, 2013

This is a recent view at about 5:30pm, frankly a stunning view that happens daily.

These last few days have been about as idyllic as McMurdo weather gets. We’ve had sunsets like this at about 5:30pm out my desk window (geting a little less then 8 hours sunlight these days). On Friday evening only about -13F wind chill and was -1F without it which is how calm for winds have been for the last several days. I wish I had the time to get up Ob Hill to take advantage of it, but being near the end of antibiotic has me drained of energy. Although perhaps I was saving it for Math Club (As the guest DJ describes it: “Dance aerobics workout no alcohol allowed”). It was fairly epic, I’m sure a good 10-15% of the station showed up, which is impressive. Our weekends-day (we get weekends once per month, otherwise we get one day off per week on Sunday). Was a nice reprieve from the office, and I finally got my room cleaned. (Not to mention had a chocolate chip waffle, thank you Liz!)

In other news, I should have shared the Fast Ice is finally sticking. I think it’s been there for 2 weeks or so, but I seriously wondered how long we’d have open water around here. Of course if there is another seriously windy storm, it could easily break up and float out again.

We are prepping for our next two day weekend next week, so this will be a nice “short” week. I know it’s monday, but as time does down here, this week is going to fly. As it is, Monday I’m teaching Yoga in the evening (restarted finally), Tuesday is Volleyball, Wednesday is Trivia, Thursday during the day is SAR training (which tends to drain me, though this week it is more indoor medical training) followed by watching Archer, Friday is the only day I don’t think I’ve got something preplanned. Then again as it’s a two day weekend, something will come up. Perhaps it’ll give me something to write about.

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The Tone of Winter’s Eve

by wonderfullyrich on March 30, 2013

For the first time in what feels like a month I feel unhindered by the feelings of lethargy, exhaustion, pain, and being brain fuzzy caused by my body’s battle with sickness.  The upside is that my abs are probably in great shape from all the coughing.  After getting the crud just before last flight and spending 3 weeks to get nearly back to useful again, only to be followed by a part deux of the crud (perhaps a relapse or a new mutation) which has knocked me out for the last week plus, maybe it really has been a month.  

It hasn’t been a wasted month mind you, as I’ve been busy with our 54 hour work week (on those days I can work) trying to keep up and catch up with the bang that is the start of winter here on the Ice.  I feel slightly behind, both socially and professionally because I’ve spent so much time in my room sequestering myself from the general population.  It’s been for the good as I’d rather not have a lingering sickness that lasts 6-9 weeks as it apparently did in past winters.  Still it is amazingly hard to say no potential new friends, or a social event, or even to leave a party early, especially when you are–inspite of a cough that rears up at highly inappropriate moments–enjoying the company of your neighbors.  Or for that matter when you are face with a wonderful learning opportunity at work, which defeats you because your brain feels like it’s stuck in the mucus you're coughing up.

Of course there is more empathy here, as most people get sick and you’ll see them every day in the galley (not many dorm eaters yet).  I’m guessing that’s helped me too, as getting 20 percent of the station at a single table and having a ab rocking laugh can help but be good for the mind and body.  

This is going to be a wonderful winter, as we have a decidedly positive crew this winter.  Yes I’m sure it’ll change, and people will slink off to hide from the social world after time.  Fights might erupt, or drama might ensue, but we all seem to be happy with each other right now.  I and other more experienced winterovers see a good tone starting this winter.  

For example, last night’s Beerster (beer and easter contraction) was as much a social event as it was a drinking event.  It started with a block party on the second floor of 208, or rather an open house, with decorated beer cans hidden in various places and it’s associated beer hunt. This was almost more a demonstration of the skua decorating skill people have applied to their rooms, then  it was to have an excuse to have a beer in hand. What’s more the craft skills people applied to the cans was quite amusing and ingenious.  Hopefully some will show up on facebook soon.  It then migrated into the 209 lounge for the more competitive beer hunt, that degenerated into dancing, silly pranks, wacky photos, and a generally wonderful time. At which point I went off to sleep well before the party ended (or perhaps even started).  It was a wonderfully rich first Beerster to have enjoyed, and a positively positive way to spend a weekend night.

At this point though you might be asking, why after so many years on hiatus are you attempting to rejoin the blogging community?  The simple answer is that I was asked to.  I feel like it would be good for my soul to write more this winter too, as this is another unique experience that I can share with people back home.  I put this in here with my yogic pursuits, my ration of exercise, and my attempt at eating decently.  Keep the mind in shape, along with a body, for a long useful and prosperous life. 

As the topics strike, and as time permits, I’ll put some words down and see what thoughts provoke.  Happy day all!


Light Switches, Cars, Sirens, and Yes Coffee

by wonderfullyrich on October 14, 2010

So I know, I'm spoiled, but where do American get this coffee?  I was "raised" on coffee over the last year an a half in Eastern Africa as except for the smell of coffee in the morning, I used to hate coffee, preferring instead hot chocolate.  I thought it was bitter disgusting water, and couldn't conceive of how people enjoyed it so much.  And the smell teased me, hinting at a complex and sweet taste that made me try coffee occasionally in spite of my past memory.  

Maybe it's a bit of a fib to say that I was raised on coffee while I was in Eastern Africa, as I was a coffee lover before that.  I was converted based on Clover coffee makers.   It was the first coffee that I could taste the same smells I'd been teased by all my life.  It was extraordinary and it set me on the path of enjoying coffee rather then just drinking little bits for the caffeine.  But except for Clover coffee, I never really found great coffee here in the US.

Now don't get me wrong, East African's don't really drink coffee.  It's more of a Muzungu act.  They drink tea more often and "Fanta" in luei of that. (Used the same way the South uses "Coke" to indicate a soda/pop.)  So it's hard sometimes to imagine why a culture that doesn't really like it, prepares it and exports it to other cultures.  Then you remember the long history of colonialism and coffee that I won't get into.  It still begs the question of why I like East African coffee as compared to what you get from your local supermarket, or cafeteria, or etc.  (No I have not had a Starbucks yet, I'm still in price shock so 3-4 dollars for coffee seems idiotic).  

I can't answer it yet, either because I'm to jet lagged to think clearly or because this coffee just hasn't woken me up yet.  There is just something about freshly ground Burundian drip coffee that is the epitome of coffee love for me.  Mbale (Uganda) comes a close second, but this fair trade organic crap that I've tasted here is just that bitter water I used to hate.  No offense to the fair trade or organic nature of it, but it is really just diluted horribleness.  Maybe I will have to break down and have a Starbucks, if for no other reason then I can get a true espresso which at least might ease my taste buds.  So I admit to being another one of those odd coffee snobs.  Call me the Italian or Frenchmen who act appalled when you hand him a cup of joe.  

Oh might I mention, light switches are supposed to go on the outside of the room to which you are lighting (in the least nature place).  Cars on the road are supposed to run me down on the left side of the street, and what is this stopping business?  What do you mean there's a sign?  Is the sign carrying an AK-47 and blowing a whistle at you?  Then why are you stopping for it?  Oh you mean there are rules that I'm supposed to follow like staying inside the painted lines?  I see, wait no I don't get it.  You mean I'm supposed to follow the street lights and enter a roundabout without the guiding assistance of the previously mentioned cop with the AK & whistle?  That's just weird!

I'm supposed to be cut off in a queue by mothers with children on there backs and everyone else who ignore my and everyone seldom protests about cutting in line.  Sirens are supposed to indicate the occasional ambulance stuck in "The Jam" or some big wig who decides it's time to come in from Entebbe.  I keep being confused because there are so many sirens that fill the night sky.  Who are all these Ministers, and where's the armed guards? And what is this idea of having a bus that has a schedule?  No bus in Kampala ever leaves within 5 mins of when it was "scheduled."  Of course for the same amount it cost me to get from Chicago to South Bend, I could take two passengers and travel (for 18 hours) from Kampala to Bujambura.  It's all baffling.

Oh and one more thing, when did the Midwest become Antarctica?  The sun is totally in the wrong place and I swear it feels like it's a the same angle I remember when i was there.  I keep thinking that's why it's so damned cold, I mean I brought my long underwear and wool socks, but this is ridiculous.  It's 10 degrees outside (C not F), which is a good 10 degrees south of normal!  EEEK! And don't tell me it's a warm Fall, you are on a different planet!  I guess I'll have to keep drinking this wacky ass coffee to keep warm. (Until I think this is normal an am equally annoyed by Kampala weather.)

Needless to say I'm wandering around a little dazed, slightly confused, occasionally impressed, and slightly horrified.  I'm not sure if this is really home.  I remember it, but it's amazingly foreign to me right now. 


First Trip Abroad Advice

by wonderfullyrich on September 30, 2010


I've still got the last of my burundian water posts to put up, and it's more or less finished, but needs some rethinking due to problems with the filter and original line of thought. In the meantime I was asked by to give some advice, due to my notorious traveling, to write a piece of travel advice on "your first trip."  I wrote up what struck me, and with Angela's proofing and a notion or two, I sent it off.  I found it was an amazingly useful exercise for me right now as traveling has become such a part of my existence, as well as the existence of most of the bazungu–literally meaning white people, but also used for upper class locals–that to consider what I would tell someone in the weeks before they get on a plane to someplace wholly different put things in perspective.  I have to admit, my thoughts where inspired by those around me and what I've read before and are no doubt a bit of a reinvention of the wheel.  Still good advice, but perhaps somewhat repetitive. (Although, it does take around 3 times to remember something…)

In anycase, go check it out.  They split it up into Part 3: Traveling on your Own, and Part 5: What experts have said.  Feel free to critique me and pester me with better info. 


The context of projects in Burundi

by wonderfullyrich on August 9, 2010

Previously I talked about what I was doing in Burundi talking about CAWST and the stages of clean water. I want to back up a bit and talk about Burundi for a bit in order to give you a context for the CAWST water filter project in Burundi and why it has to be cheap, ubiquitous, and darn simple.  Burundi is a very harsh economic and very different cultural existence to the biological and physic trick that originates in the west.  The context is extremely useful to know because although it doesn't change the biology or the physics, it does change how you introduce it and get buy-in.  This is all based on my experience so I'm sure some of it's debatable.

First off many things are going on in Burundi.  Eastern Africa (i.e. Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Burundi is dominated by a trade language of English and Swahilli (with English becoming more dominant), but Burundi is a Francophone country and speaks mostly French as a trade language. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) speaks French, but the DRC has it's own very large problems (being a very, very large country).  Technically Rwanda only started teaching English last year, so it to still speaks French, but you should get my drift.  Swahilli isn't used much are associated with some bad historical connections, so they aren't generally trusted.  

Burundi, is a landlock country.  Think of it as an island, as the same principles apply.  It requires at least one country to get to a shipping hub, but more likely three (Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, as Tanzania has less industry then does Kenya).  Effectively this means (and is also true for Rwanda) that to get a Connex box (large metal container) of goods, half the cost is to get it to Kenya, then the other half to transport it through multiple customs/bribe barriers.  It's tough to get material in, and the country is very small so resources are a problem.  This translates into very little processed goods being created and very little general manufacturing capability.  (As a reminder Processed goods are where the money is, if i.e. get raw materials from somewhere at 1 dollar, process it, and sell it for 40 dollars.)

A civil war was recently fought here.  It was an ethnic war, one that we all know about in Rwanda, but which also happened twice in Burundi (once in the 70's and once in the 90's).  Add this to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the population along with it's demographics is very young and dies young.  

Corruption, civil strife, and demographics basically make this a relatively unstable environment.  Things are improving, fast and dramatically even.  (One random example 2 years ago chocolate was available at nearly 9 dollars a bar, now it's 2.5 dollars a bar.)  These elections, although they aren't nearly perfect seem likely not to end in outright civil uprising and a military coup de ta.

Land is (like Rwanda) both over allocated and under-utilized. Although many of the diaspora are returning due to the improved stability, the land isn't there for them.  For that matter try sub dividing a plot of land 5 times, then another 4 times, and etc, one round for each set of children (even assuming a high mortality).  It doesn't really go far enough, ever.  Consider that they also use the same techniques that have been used for many many generations, but that health has improved (in spite of various epidemics).  Modern techniques of industrial farming, organic farming, permaculture, whatever really doesn't exist here on a useful level.

All this adds up to the picture without the subject.  The citizens of Burundi, up country (i.e. not in Bujumbura), are very poor.  Many transact less then 80,000 Burundian Francs per year (a current value of 66 USD) and mostly live off of (non-transacted) subsistence farming in a clan/family where they survive as a group.  Kurundi is the dominate language even though French is generally taught in schools as well.  Schools in general are expensive as school fees are proportionally high.  Medical for children is free, but adults who go in for a doctors visit pay 10,000 to 40,000 for a visit (and get drugs).  

The bottom line is that it's a tough environment that needs a lot of work in it's infrastructure, with psychology, in spurring economically,  in improving the quality of medical care while lowering it's cost, in reducing the birth rate, etc.  The basics of food, water, shelter, and health (mental and physical) are key, but as it's all intertwined it's hard to see a start point.  Perhaps though, you can see why I initially thought the BioSand filter is too expensive and too complicated to work.  I think it might be the best option for the area, but I feel it needs to adapt to local goods to be cheaper and easier to build.  

Next I talk about what I'm trying to do on that front.


Updating water ideas

by wonderfullyrich on July 26, 2010

Three years ago I wrote an blog based on my research around water and making it clean. Coming up in the next several days are a few follow ups on that idea, followed by my first solo attempt at building a cheap filter.The holes up close by wonderfullyrich, on Flickr
If you've been keeping up with me, I'm in Eastern Africa these days.  Mostly spending my time in Uganda, but right now my brother is back in Burundi for the elections, so joined him as a technical consultant working on SMS stuff.  I have gotten side tracked by water as a CAWST is training people to build a BioSand Filter in 3 locations in Burundi (associated with the Quaker church).  Prior to coming down to Burundi I also met a fascinating guy in Uganda who's an electrical engineer and programmer who's house has, a house water catchment system, 5 level filters, multiple solar panels that run a whole house inverter, two internet connections, a boat with it's own set of solar outfitting, and out paces my hard drive storage capability (a feat I rarely see while traveling here).  

Needless to say I've learned a bit from three years ago.  I have a few thoughts to add about water and making it clean, with the added slant of think about low cost, simple, very user-friendly, locally built, technologies for the developing world which (hopefully) can be income generating.  

I'll mention a bit about the tech I witnessed during the BioFilter training, then talk about some of the other problems and solutions I've found and considered, an then talk a bit about the reason I'm an "appropriate technology" fiend now.  

The Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CWAST) is a Canadian NGO that focus on the impacts of water on life.  There hallmark is a device called a BioSand Filter, which was created by a Canadian Doctor in the 1990s.  Since it was developed, it's gone through 10 revisions and it's a open patent and they use CreativeCommons for documentation.  It's now a 120 pound concrete pedestal that uses a combination of biological predation, natural death, mechanical trapping, and adsorption to *Filter* water.  I was skeptical when I first heard about it because I was used to a paradim of screening and adsorption via things like Reverse Osmosis, or Carbon based filtration, or clay filtration, etc.  This is what you'll see in most modern filtration and purification (the difference being that filters don't remove viral and small bacterial particulates).  A BioSand filter has no such items, as the pedestal is more or less filled with two types of larger rocks at the bottom, a bunch of sand above, and a diffuser plate above the standing water (to aerate the water).  I was asking myself how this can produce clean water when things like Cryptosporidium, viruses, and cysts can be near .5 microns which even things like Reverse Osmosis don't always stop.  The answer is that it plays the small and large waterborne pathogens against each other.   The "Bio" portion of the filter is a biologically active layer that allows, nay encourages, these pathogens to eat each other.  Like in the ocean, where light doesn't penetrate below a certain depth and things grow differently, the sand naturally layers into a non-biological layer where (with time) the carcases create that smaller and smaller space that physically filters more of the pathogens out and which leaves you with water that is extremely clear and more importantly more or less drinkable.  

Now one of the big things I didn't cover in my previous blog post was the notion of the stages from dirty to clean water.  Think about as if you were camping or not in an urban environment.  To treat the water, you first need to get water that's not apparently coming out of a mine or industrial plant (maybe get the sticks and big stuff out of it), transport it, then you need to remove a majority of the particles (inorganic, organic, metals, and pathogens), but it's not clean as some of the real small stuff can cause problems yet so then you need to disinfect the water before you find a clean place to store it.  One useful set of technical terms for this is: Source Protection, Sedimentation, Filtration, Disinfection, and Storage.   

What a CAWST BioStand Filter does is specifically to Sediment and Filtrate the water.  It's not disinfecting the water, although it will remove between 85% and 100% of Bacteria, Viruses, Protozoa, Helminths, Turbidity (Dirt), and Iron.  Not perfect, but an order of magnitude improvement over drinking it straight from a bore hole, river, lake, or tap out here and it's not overly expensive (developmentally speaking).  It means you aren't going to get nearly as sick (diarrhea reduces to 10% of previous levels).  

That's just the tech.  They also do a training on sanitation, including things like germ theory, how to use soap, the important of latrines/toilets, etc.  This is both Source Protection (i.e. feces draining into the water supply) and Storage (A clean jerry can stays clean with clean hands, etc).  There are methods of disinfecting the water cheaply (Solar Disinfection using natural UV in a P.E.T. bottle, or wrapping bottles in black and leaving them to heat to disinfection levels over hours, or boiling, or if you can get it Chlorine).  
I didn't attend the entire training, as (big surprise) I was more interested in the tech.  I did however spend a fair amount of time over the last several days reviewing the water info I previously understood and added to it.  My point of view has dramatically changed.  I am still a clean water nut, but now I want to find an use water tech that is cheap, ubiquitous, and darn simple.  

Tomorrow I talk about why that last bit is extremely important to me these days.


Blowing the world cup

by wonderfullyrich on July 11, 2010

I have to say the Netherlands screwed the cup, but that's not the blowing I was thinking about.  It's about 2:30am as I start writing this, and here is what I know.  At least 23 people probably closer to 50 people have died in what looks like 2 probably 3 bomb blasts of an unknown origin.  We were a friend of Katka's watching the world cup on a projector and enjoying pizza from a home made pizza oven.  

Literally right after the game, as I was writing my comments on the game ending, someone indicated there was a bomb blast in Kabalagala, just mins away from where we were. The taxi that we prearranged was stuck in the industrial area going cross town to get to us because of it.  We diverted to another cab and took the long way round, but had to go past the Rugby club (and we hoped we could).  By that time we knew of two blasts and that one was in Kyondo at the Rugby club and another in Kabalagala.  As we past the Rugby club, we saw a large crowd of people on one side of the road, and plenty of armed men both police and military, some interviewing people others looking at the crowd.  Thankfully we were able to move right along and get home.  

Arriving, we booted up and I can say that facebook is slammed right now. It took a while to dig up the Somali connection, as I've been in Burundi for the last month and haven't heard about the threats from Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen on both Uganda and Burundi based on the troops they have in Somalia. The reports varied all over the place and the third attack in Ntinda surfaced and still remains vague.  Later via the AP, CNN, and the local paper call the Daily Monitor I managed to piece together one bomb hit a restaurant called the Ethiopian Village in Kabalagala was attacked leaving 13 people dead, the Rugby club had 10 dead, and including the vague Ntinda attack the wounded/dead totals near 100.

I noted in a comment on Facebook, that I was confused about the targets.  Even with the alleged al-Shabaab connection, I'm not sure I understand why they choose there targets.  I don't really have enough to speculate, but I wondered about a relation between the Ethiopian restaurant and the rivalry between Somalia and their neighbor.  I saw pictures of the Rugby club, which lead me to believe they were after the international crowd and an easy target, but again this is speculation.  

I suspect that being in Burundi could be safer then being in Uganda for a time, but I'm worried about Burundi because of it's involvement in Somalia too.  Andrew & people are still there, but frankly I'm no longer worried about internationals in Burundi relating to the election (unless they are plain stupid).  The grenades and alike that are going on there are related to internal politics and they don't want international incidents like what we are seeing here in Uganda.  (Just to underline what International attention brings you.)  I am now worried that the bombers will be dumb and try and work on Burundi during this already high security time in Burundi.  Not an easy target, but not an overly hard one either.

I'm very curious to see if we will get sensible reactions out of the International countries who lost citizens tonight, and I'm very very curious how Uganda's government will react.  I'd like to see something smart about trying to fix the food, drought, general security issues that has driven Somali's to both become pirates and be inclined towards terrorist with money.  I fear I'm likely to see something about pulling out (in 6 months), or a retaliation, or strange security precautions taken in and around Uganda which seem unlikely to do much to hinder the motivated.  

In that vein, I'm somewhat curious if this was a one time shot, or if more bombs seem likely.  Obviously the city is going to be flooded with police and troops, but are more already in the pipe line?  

I have to admit that, although I thought what Alex and I saw at the embassy briefing in Burundi was a bit silly when you start mentioning wine and speed scrabble, the whole bit about not going to clubs, bars, or public places might be sensible for a while.  There are to many residences to hit simltaniously, and bombers want crowds.


1 Phone for HROC = Two Royale with Cheese meals

by wonderfullyrich on June 21, 2010

I'm a cheap date, all I want is a $12.50 phone, okay so I can't eat it and it might not be as tasty as a Burundi Royale with Cheese, but it might help calm things a bit here in Burundi.  We've got 75 more phones to purchase for the Burundi election monitoring HROC is doing.  Donate via AGLI/FPT, and designate the donation "HROC Burundi Phones."  AGLI as part of FPT is a 501(c)3 US supporting partner of HROC Burundi.

Quick update on affairs here in the land of the great lakes (African Great Lakes that is), Burundi is nearing it's next election.  HROC is preparing to finish it's training of it's 120 observers/citizen reporters/Peace & Democracy group members and hopefully we are going to distribute cellphones next week.  The catch is that we could use some more cellphones.  We have a goal of 75 cellphones worth in donations, and we'd like to get it distributed by next week.  Although if we don't get it in time for the Presidental election, there's still 4 more elections in the coming months to go.  (Yes months, not days, or weeks but months.  It's a long run of elections).  

Although we are distributing the cellphones, HROC still owns them and will be getting them back from the people.  I've spent way to much time inventorying some oddball and wacky phones that have been donated.  For the time it took, the dwindling percentage of phones due to wrong frequencies, the not unlockable phones, the bad batteries, and the ones missing chargers, as well as the hassle of a bunch of phones that aren't translated into french (or kurundi), and the cost of unlocking those not already unlocked, we probably should have just bought the cheap phones Leo is providing.  At 15,000 Burundian Francs or about 12.5 dollars, it's hard to argue that spending 4-5,000 on unlocking plus the ones with missing batterys, bad batteries, and the time it takes to organize it, plus trying to teach new-to-phone users how to use a Sony phone that predates the Sony-Ericsson merge, a nokia sliding phone that took me an hour to find the sim slot on, some a random NEC, etc, etc, etc… you get my point.  

Anyway, for two Mickey D meals, you could buy HROC a phone that will help us keep informed of what's happening on election day, help us keep our citizen reporters them informed, and help them coordinate in their own communities (as I partially explained in my previous post).  Please donate a phone or two if you can spare a few dollars for keeping this far flung country a bit more peaceful.  

Assuming we get enough phones, during the next two months they Citizen Reporters will be able to call the other 120 people for free, text them for free, text in to "Bureau HROC" our SMS information center, and generally become more engaged in the wider world.  Via another portion of the budget we've already got the funding to place all the phones on a group plan which facilitates this (for 11,000 Burundian Francs per month per person! You try pricing a plan like that anywhere else in the world. Of course most burundian's don't have nearly 1/3 of that as disposable income per month.) This is an immediate project, but that has a long term vision of being used to help tie multiple communites in this war torn country together with each other.  We have a few other programs in mind that involve cellphones, trama healing, income generation, and general community building.  The more phones the better. Leveraging twitter like chatting within more distant communities to help dispell rumors and improve relationships, as well as slowly (due to the learning curve) introducing new options like information menus, health updates, gather useful statistical and market information, etc we hope to help bridge the gap in the few communites that HROC is able to work with.  

It's a small difference to make, but it's one that HROC (and FWA) are good at making in the people they reach.  More updates soon. 

You can also donate to AGLI (and tell your friends) via the HROC Mobile Peace Building Facebook Cause