Friday, May 30, 2008

Leaving Meerut - Rajni Radio shop

Almost every day I rode my bike down to a little tiny electronics / radio repair shop called Rajni Radio. While nobody that worked there spoke English fluently, we were always able to communicate - even when it came to tough subjects like electrical engineering. I was able to describe what I had, and what I needed, and they did the rest. It was face-to-face, international, language barrier outsourcing at its best. We shared cups of chai masala (spiced tea) daily, and to me, it was the best 6 foot wide, 3 story tall shop in Meerut.

Mostly these guys repair various types of radios (hence the name) and audio systems, but they went out of their way to help me more than once. When I wanted a part that was not available anywhere here in Meerut, they had it sent over from Delhi the next morning. It was great to hang out and watch the different workers do their tasks -- rebuilding speakers, opening televisions, running out to fetch some tea, etc. The difference between "shops" around the world will not stop surprising me. All so varied, and yet all so ignorant that things could be done any other way. Here's the tour of the firetrap / electrical wonderland that is Rajni Radio:

[[Video Not Uploaded!!]]

(I know, I know, my commentary needs work. I've found when I'm in survival English mode it takes a few days to get back to my normal, vocabulariffic self.)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Leaving Meerut - Parties in the streets

Recently I posted regarding my love for bicycles, how I like to make the most of them, and what it's like to ride in India. It can be much more special, however, to stumble upon a party in the streets, than the everyday intersections.

It's so much fun to be riding down a crowded alleyway looking at all the shops and run into a wedding or random other party. Here's a bridegroom on his way to gettin' hitched! Talk about a wild bachelor party! (He's in the back of the video, picture below.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Leaving Meerut - the Mela

Besides gaining fame for starting the revolution against the British in 1857, Meerut is known for its Mela, or fair. "The Nauchandi Mela has been a tradition of hundreds of years. More precisely, it started way back in 1672 AD as a one-day affair, mainly for cattle traders... Significantly, the mela is a rare symbol of communal harmony with Hindu and Muslim shrines – Nauchandi temple and the dargah (shrine) of Muslim saint, Bala Mian – lying close by. Visitors pay obeisance at both the shrines irrespective of the religion they belong to."

Unfortunately I didn't know about the shrines, or even the reason for the fair until I got home, but I did get to "enjoy the moment" by learning about two awesome fair foods that we don't have in the United States. The first is a solid cylinder of ice cream, about a meter long and half meter in diameter that is manually spun about its axis and shaved off into little cups. Wonder if Zamboni makes a full-serve version? Love it. Here's a picture for now:

The second food I don't remember the name of, nor can I describe well. It's a meter wide, 1 inch thick (just for you fans of the English measuring system) flaky fried pastry which you use chunks of to scoop up semi-sweet translucent brown paste. Tastes awesome. Hard to remember the name, and hard to describe the taste. Once again, all I can offer are pictures.

Gotta love the 8 foot long fire logs that they have sticking out into the busy aisles. Talk about a fire hazard. Although I'm sure the bare-footed cook here has a charged fire-extinguisher close at hand for all the hot oil and flames. Sure.

Plenty of ultra-safe rides there as well. My favorite is a manually operated ferris wheel, which the operator climbs up / scales the outside rim of the wheel and sometimes the cars, to cause the wheel to spin. Then he just rides down in order to advance the cars to let people on and off. Like I've noted previously, labor is cheap in India.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Leaving Meerut - Bike Riding

No single image or video clip can really convey what it's like to ride a bike in India, it's just got to be experienced. The movie below manages to capture a bit of the confusion, however. I shot it while riding through an intersection here in Meerut (Begum Bridge). This (not quite perpendicular) intersection has a roundabout in the middle, but it's more of an optional installation than a rule. My concentration was on my left hand operating the handlebars / brakes, and so I apologize for the shoddy camera work. :-)

I didn't have a camera mount, so I had to shoot video holding the handlebars with one hand, the other on the camera, sorry it's not a better shot. The photo below is one frame of a video taken while riding, note the shadow in the foreground.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Renewable Energy (Re)Sources

The Challenge:

In my last-minute lesson-planning preparation for this past Earth Day, April 22nd, I was desperately searching for some good simple graphics to demonstrate the various forms of renewable energy. Having a captive audience (e.g. 6th, 7th, and 8th graders), and a legitimate platform (Electricity Chapter), I figured that the least I could do was to give them a bit of history on renewable energy, and have a discussion on why all this magical "free" power from the sun, Earth's core, wind, and water (unfortunately) plays such a small role in our current energy sourcing.

I figured that the intermittent and irregular power outages here in Meerut would be some inspiration for these budding young scientists to improve the situation. (The newspaper last week pegged our power outages at 18 hours a day, but this is sensationalist reporting. Honestly we rarely go above 8 total hours without power (one outage each morning, afternoon, and night).)

The heart of the issue is population, in my mind, but family size is a religious affair here in India, so I thought it best to leave that alone. At its most basic level, the real reason we have outages is insufficient supply to meet current demand levels. With a State-run power system, free markets haven't been able to provide alternatives. The State is in a tough spot as well, and claims they can't afford to increase infrastructure because people aren't paying their electrical bills. It's not hard to imagine that folks are stealing electricity.

(All this is only my opinion, based on 4 short weeks in a land that has been inhabited for 4500 years. I know I'm a newcomer, so please correct me by leaving an insightful comment!)

But I digress.

The Challenge: (really this time...)
Where are the education materials? I searched for a single set of coherent, simple diagrams to help convey the underlying concepts of how these different methods generate power, and I just couldn't find any. There needs to be a good, complete set which discusses renewable/alternative energy options!

Please post a link if you have one!

Wikipedia page about India's sources of power:
Thermal (coal, gas, oil): 65%
Hydro: 26% (awesome!)
Nuclear: 3% (not renewable, but a safe alternative to oil, in my opinion)
Renewable: 6% (must be wind and solar?)

(Of tangential relevance: "The government of India has set up a "Power for all by 2012" goal" [wikipedia] Does this mean constant power, or intermittent, shut-your-business-down-for-hours-each-day power?)

Major Contenders:

Depending a full 70% on renewable energy, of course our Kiwi friends in New Zealand have some resources about Wave, Wind and Solar Power. (They even have an education initiative to combat climate change & peak oil!)

(Above three images from NZ Gov't Website.)
(I think I can post it. Anyone a lawyer?)

New Zealand's "West Island" (Australia) seems to have some abnormally high heat flows, making Geothermal power an attractive option to private entities there.

(Above two images from Geothermal Resources Limited)

Meanwhile, a voluntary 'Friends of the Earth' group back in the motherland of the UK clearly understands the cons of renewable Tidal power. Hopefully they are helping to work through these for the betterment of the Earth's total state, rather than just blocking them to save one ecosystem!

(Above image from and originally Swan Turbines.)

And finally...
We get to two groups who seem to offer what I was looking for, although even this is a bit complex for a 1 day introduction. Perhaps either group is interested in developing a condensed primer?

The first is from the BBC, and is almost complete, but could use a few more illustrations.

The second is an excellent resource, even though I hardly know who is responsible for it! I wish I'd found this generic teacher's resource a few weeks ago. (Maybe appearing on tiny blogs like this one will help it gain popularity? Ha! Doubtful.) Anyway, I wish them luck and continued quality content! Seems like the World Association of Technology Teachers is a pretty cool group!

(Above photo from

And another "good" site about alternative energy by an Italian University could use simple graphics to complement their thorough work.

I had heard there were some good California government sites, but found only two worth reposting:

And the winner is:
None so far! I envision an "Introduction to Renewable Energy" information kit for teachers looking to break into this market. A primer, of sorts, for teachers and students to share. Format might be as follows:
  1. A single sheet about each (main) type of renewable energy (I know I've left some out above). This would explain at a basic level how the power is generated, give a few key facts that differentiate it from other energy sources, and have some links to further information on the web. This would be for teachers to use, and might never even get printed out (fewer trees wasted).
  2. The second item would be a single sheet with a simple illustration that graphically shows the differences between each renewable power generation method. This might be something that students can copy down in their workbooks quickly during class, to talk about with their families as homework.

A rough draft example of what #2 (above) might look like.
(Click for larger.)
Note the lack of words that clutter, and common themes: each box has an arrow showing the source of energy, and the generators/turbines are all uniform so one explanation suits most. Commonalities between various forms help with understanding at an introductory level, I would think.
(One might also note the lack of understanding on some -- especially the thermal solar power. I got lazy, I admit it. Also, anyone have an "exciting" and simple way to show how PV's work?)

In Closing...
Our friends over at Iridescent Inc. have agreed to take a look at developing some materials, if some excellent ones don't surface soon. Please leave a comment here or simply visit the Iridescent Blog and leave a note! Also, if you're an illustrator, writer, translator, educator, or even random person interested in helping these and similar efforts, please get in touch with either of us! We'll find a way to utilize your skills!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Bike Upgrades: Audio & OLPC Charging

One of my favorite things about staying in Meerut, India, was that I could explore it by bicycle. You might remember my post about my shiny new, ultra-durable and practical bicycle a few weeks back. Friends of mine will know that when I have two wheels under me, there's bound to be a customization hack in some form or another. For my jaunts around town I knew I'd definitely need some tunes, and I'm not the type to keep them to myself!
The (hard to see) speakers on the back bikerack worked wonders and I was getting smiles all over town when I pumped my party playlist (anything from Jamiroquai's Virtual Insanity to Armstrong's Stompin' at the Savoy). The computer speakers are directly powered by the dynamo (generator) on the side of the cycle. More on this later. One side-effect of this no-battery setup that I actually really like is that when I stop completely, I have about 2 seconds of fading music. Starting up, the volume naturally has a nice ramp up so it isn't annoyingly loud at the outset (but it is when moving?!).
Unfortunately despite a few half-days of effort, the XO laptop charger never reached its full potential, although I gave a good effort (with lots of email help from friends in distant lands!). Hopefully someone can finish the design with minimal, inexpensive parts. My condensed writeup can be found here on the OLPC wiki (for now). (About the above photo: it turns out that the "charging" light being on doesn't always mean that the laptop is charging. Bummer.)

The above photo has four jacks/plugs facing each other. On the left there are two 12 Volt DC power sources: AC to DC wall adapter and clips to AC bicycle dynamo/generator with rectifier circuit. On the right there are two power sinks: OLPC laptop and computer speakers / audio player. Using just RCA jacks was very convenient, as a splitter (not shown) could be used with the extra jack going to a multimeter for live voltage monitoring.
Same devices in the 'lab' (secret code for the front yard).
The "alternative" source of power (compared with the AC adapter that plugs in the wall): a bottle dynamo for a bicycle. This is actually a generator that produces AC power, normally used to power a front and rear light. I think it's a fantastic, low cost, readily available power source in third world countries.

My time in India would not be complete without some sort of work outsourcing, and so I embraced globalization (well, down-the-street-ization) and had the resident engineer at Rajni Radio design the solutions to my problems. It was an iterative process, to say the least. :-) And I can definitely attest to the notion that labor is cheap in India as a result of my outsourcing!