Maarten On the Move!

Maarten and Nedi Discussing Solar Hot Water Installation

Our all-star intern Maarten Graveland, hailing from The Netherlands and here as an intern for nine months, has had quite the week. Balancing his time between solar hot water modification and biodigester installation, he’s been quite busy. Today I joined him in visiting two outreach sites. The bike ride out to the first community, Llanos de Pinal, was 45 minutes, uphill (we’re hoping to raise funds for a truck soon).

In the community of Llanos is an outstanding community organization and project locally referred to as The Guarderia, funded jointly by two organizations–one US-based, and the other Xela-based, Pop-Wuj. The project provides day care for toddlers, and after-school homework assistance for a total of 42 children. AIDG was asked to build a water tower and solar hot water system, because there is both a lack of reliable water, and the cold climate presents a health hazard as the children refuse to shower in cold water. Water towers are not in the scope of AIDG’s outreach projects, but Jovenes Juntos was able to raise funds for the project, an AIDG intern (civil engineer, Kelli Horner) designed the tower, and I found a contractor and organized a few volunteers to build the water tower structure.

Maarten, as seen in the photo above, is talking to the contractor, Nedi, regarding the details of how the solar panels will be affixed to the cement roof of the water tower, and the associated plumbing. Immediately after meeting with Nedi, we peddled on to Tierra Colorada, to visit the Dona Lety outreach site. Dona Lety is a victim of domestic violence, and a local organization approached us to collaborate with her. We’ve installed a biodigester at her house to help her keep her fuelwood costs down and provide a good fertilizer for her small agricultural production activity. Today, Maarten and Candido (XelaTeco employee) demonstrated how the biodigester functions to a local organization, CDRO that is buying 6 biodigesters from XelaTeco. Assuming all goes well with the 6 installations, CDRO will continue to buy the kits from XelaTeco and install them in rural communities in need. If we had an award for Intern of the Week, Maarten wins.

Intern Collaboration

Intern Collaboration

Two of the 5 interns in Guatemala, Jochen and Corrado, are developing marketing materials for XelaTeco and the AIDG outreach program. Jochen, with his native Spanish ability and his business degree, is doing an excellent job in making suggestions to XelaTeco in how to best present XelaTeco products. Jochen has also been working with Corrado in developing a modified brochure in Spanish to present AIDG outreach projects to communities in need. In fact, Corrado is already using the brochure (finished yesterday) and is out assessing a community today. In this picture, three of the five interns living at the Intern House (from left to right Nick, Corrado, Elena) are reviewing the draft brochure and finding something funny about it.

Green Development & Media

If you are in Boston/Cambridge next week, check out this event:

Green Development & Media: and Plenty Magazine

Date: April 4, 2007
Time: 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM
Location: MIT, 7-431 (AVT)*
Featuring Speakers: Deborah Snoonian, Plenty Magazine and Simran Sethi, Treehugger TV & Sundance “The Green”.


Journalists play an important role in raising public awareness of green development. This session invites them to share their views on the evolution of the image and market for green development.

Please RSVP via the Web site:

Is the high tech/low tech distinction flawed?

A month or so ago, Pete met with Vikram Akula of SKS Microfinance. They had a fruitful conversation, but one piece of knowledge that Vikram shared really intrigued me. What I’m going to give you is a seriously second-hand paraphrase (think of the game “telephone”). If I got the gist correctly from Pete, Akula’s thinking/experience goes a little something like this. Folks tend to divide technology into high and low tech and assume that this division is directly correlated with how hard it is to learn. This is a fallacy. The ease with which a technology is mastered is more related to the number of individual tasks needed to get the job done and how straightforward each of those are. A good user interface also helps tremendously. The motivation of learning about something that is really going to change your life probably makes this process even faster.

I think Akula is so spot on. I’m struck by 2 experiences in my own life where folks have wrongfully convinced themselves that certain types of things were really hard to learn.

In grad school, I was a teacher’s assistant for a mathematical modeling and epidemiology class. So many students would get caught up in the “math is hard” mentality and assume that they couldn’t do it. A big thing I had to do as a teacher was to get students to see the easy individual steps that would let them write pretty cool differential equations that described infectious disease dynamics. “You have a big problem. Break it down”, I would say. “Use what you already know to figure out the next step or where you might have made a mistake.” In the end, pretty much all of them got it.

Another example was teaching my 68 year old mother to use a DVD player for the first time. Again she had that “technology is scary” thing going on. After 3 minutes, she looked at me and said “That’s it”. “Yeah mom, that’s it”. I even taught how to hook the DVD player up to the TV. “They’re color-coded. That’s so clever,” she said.

Another really interesting thing about what Vikram told Pete was that the Indian villagers SKS worked with did not know that cell phones palm pilots were supposed to “harder” to learn than the other tools that the NGO introduced. Without preconceived notions that are often huge barriers to people picking up a skill, many people just picked up cell phones right away.

Going back to the math example above, some of the worst of the “math is hard” offenders were women. Mostly because people, including the former president of Harvard Larry Summers, would tell them that girls were not good at it. Such nonsense and poppycock.

I’d be really interested in knowing what a cognitive psychologist would say about the sorts of tasks that humans learn most quickly.

fountain_of_z's News for 2007-23-03

  • His energy bill is $0.00 from Yahoo! News

    Mike Strizki lives in the nation’s first solar-hydrogen house. The technology this civil engineer has been able to string together – solar panels, a hydrogen fuel cell, storage tanks, and a piece of equipment called an electrolyzer – provides electricity to his home year-round, even on the cloudiest of winter days.

  • Make your own biodiesel from Journey to Forever
  • Top 50 Things To Do To Stop Global Warming

    #48. Tell Congress to act
    The McCain Lieberman Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act would set a firm limit on carbon dioxide emissions and then use free market incentives to lower costs, promote efficiency and spur innovation. Tell your representative to support it.

  • America’s Greenest Buildings from Forbes
  • City tries to cut energy bills with LEDs from CNET News
    Raleigh, N.C., wants to become LED City.

    The city, which is in the center of the state’s tech hub, is conducting experiments to see if it can cut energy consumption and maintenance costs by replacing conventional public light fixtures with ones based around light-emitting diodes.

  • Offshore Wind Farm Could Blow Away Energy Needs from

    Wind power could supply all the energy needs of much of the East Coast and then some, if a phalanx of wind turbines running from Massachusetts to North Carolina were installed offshore, a new study concludes.

  • Free* WIFI Booster Video
  • Turning sewage sludge into gasoline from CNET News
    BioPetrol gets the award for finding the most novel way to get gas for cars.
  • FAQ: Guide to alternative fuels from CNET News
    Here’s a handy guide to the major players in the alternative fuel world.

More Links from Pete Zink

Link of the Day The Starfish TV Network

Starfish Television NetworkYesterday I traveled down to Swarthmore for their annual Lax Conference on Entrepreneurship. I met some really great alumni there who I will undoubtedly be talking about in future blog posts. In particular, I met Ken Leith, senior veep at Bank of America, who is currently working on the finance side of a team trying to launch of the Starfish Television Network.

The Deal: All Charities, All the Time

Charities do good work, have good stories, and need help getting the word out. Starfish TV can help them do just that. Starfish will air your broadcast-quality NGO TV program FOR FREE.

Where and When

The launch date of the network is March 28. The station is part of the Dish’s 1000 high-definition package. Dish 1000 has about 1.5 to 2 million subscribers. A few weeks after launch, they will start simulcasting over the web. They are very interested in web 2.0’ing it up, being innovative and appealing to the masses. It should be a really good experiment.

How to get involved

The story behind the name:

Adapted from “The Star Thrower” by Loren Eiseley

The story is told of a man walking along a beach the morning after a storm had passed through. The sand was littered with starfish that had been washed ashore. Down the beach he noticed a young boy picking up starfish and throwing them into the water. As he approached, he asked what he was doing. The boy didn’t hesitate as he explained that the sun was coming up and it would kill the starfish if they didn’t get back into the ocean. The man laughed and said, “There are thousands of starfish on miles of beach, you can’t possibly make a difference.” As the boy picked up another starfish and threw it back into the ocean he said, “Made a difference to that one.”

Non-profit and cause-driven organizations operate under a type of starfish principle. They know they can’t fix all the problems in the world, but most do their best, with what they have, to help as many people as they can. Unfortunately, far too many starfish are left on the beach.

More media coverage for good causes, more donations, more good work, fewer starfish on the beach.

Cause Related Marketing’s take II
Take I

Appropriate Technology Roundup #5 [3/23/07]

Tiny, Plastic Wind Turbines Suitable for City Dwellers
  1. Tiny, Plastic Wind Turbines Suitable for City Dwellers from Treehugger

    Like many places in the world, Hong Kong does not have strong wind speeds, so wind turbines have not been widely installed there. But now engineers at the University of Hong Kong and a private renewable energy company have developed a new micro wind turbine that can generate electricity even if wind speeds are as low as two meters per second.

  2. My favorite story of the week: Berkeley’s tool library from Boing Boing

    The Berkeley Public Library maintains a tool-lending library open to all residents and property owners of Berkeley. The library lends out everything from cabinet scrapers to rotary hammer drills to portable workbenches (!).

    Other tool lending libraries (mentioned by other Boing Boing readers):
    The Oakland Public Library at the Temescal branch
    Thompson Public Library in Thompson, Manitoba
    North Portland Tool library in Oregon
    Burlington, Vermont’s Fletcher Free Library has a similar program with garden tools etc.

  3. Video, Tiny Wind Turbine from Hugg

    Treehugger highlighted their AirX turbine which retailed at $520. Unfortunately, I think that that is just for the turbine an does not include the mandatory tower and battery bank. For more info, see comment section on this Treehugger post

  4. Composting with Worms in Martha Stewart Living from Treehugger

    We already know that vermiculture (composting with worms) can help dispose of and “reuse” your garbage and fight climate change; this month, Martha Stewart is helping show that it can be part of anyone’s gardening regiment. The domestic diva helps dispel the rumors that composting and vermiculture smells bad, offers a handy troubleshooting chart and shows us how to do it ourselves with an under-the-counter compost bin (with pictures).

    Hurray for Martha! The article isn’t available on line so you have to get from your local book or grocery store.

  5. Solar Plant With Cow Backup – Things Are Getting Interesting from The Sietch Blog

    It seems the California Public Utility Commission, has unveiled a plan to create solar power plants with cow based methane as a backup fuel. While this is not the first time we have covered the awesome power generation capacity of the lowly cow patty, it is the first time to my knowledge that is has been combined with a solar plant to produce round the clock power.

  6. More on manure: Big, Mean, Manure Eating Machine from Green Options Blogs

    A large power plant is nearly complete near the rural community of Benson, MN, in the heart of turkey-growing country. But this isn’t your traditional coal plant: This is a biomass plant able to power about 55,000 homes using 700,000 tons of turkey “litter” (a.k.a. manure), with some woodchips and sawdust blended in.

    Once completed in June, the plant will be the first of its kind in the United States. Its operator, Fibrominn, is a subsidiary of Fibrowatt, a company that already operates three similar facilities in the United Kingdom. Biomass plants make electricity by burning organic refuse (plant and animal waste) that produces steam and turns a generator.

  7. ‘Crush and zap’ recycles circuit boards more cleanly from New Scientist Tech via MAKE

    Only a small numbers of PCBs are recycled. They are typically put into copper smelters, which risks releasing harmful toxic fumes. Most circuit boards are simply incinerated or thrown into landfill, which releases toxic pollutants such as heavy metals and dioxins into groundwater and the atmosphere.

    Researchers from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China, believe their recycling solution could reduce these problems. It involves crushing boards and using a high-voltage electric field to separate metallic and non-metallic materials. The metals can then be reclaimed by distilling in a vacuum while the non-metal components can be compacted into plates for use as building materials.

  8. Ten things you can do keep an old computer useful from Motho ke motho ka botho via Digg
    Good post, lots of good info. Somewhat a pain though if you aren’t already on your way to being a supergeek.
  9. The Hexayurt: Efficient Emergency Shelter from Treehugger.

    A Hexayurt is an emergency structure which is cheap, self-contained and easily packed for transportation. Hexayurts cost only$200-500 plus another $100 to add a utility package for water decontamination, communal composting toilets and solar power. Based on work done at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Hexayurt village is intended to replace all the infrastructure which might be damaged after a major disaster such as an earthquake or flood–in other words, it is an autonomous building suitable for a family.

    Also note: Yurts are not just for hippies anymore.

  10. An oldie but goody. Low-cost lamps brighten the future of rural India from Christian Science Monitor (Thanks, Ben)

ICT, Google and Africa

Google announces partnership with Rwandan Government and Kenya Education Network to provide free communications applications

Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) today announced separate partnerships with the Rwandan Ministry of Infrastructure and the Kenya Education Network (KENET). As a result, Rwanda’s educational institutions and government ministries, and Kenya’s universities are starting to use Google Apps™ – Google’s set of hosted and customizable communications services. Students in both African countries as well as Rwandan government officials will have access to free communications tools including email, shared calendars, instant messaging and word processing under their institutions’ domain names.

I do declare. Google is throwing down the gauntlet to Microsoft and making a sensible bid on two African countries that are probably on their way to halfway decent growth in coming years. It’s smart business and an expansion plan to ensure that as poor countries develop, their first stop is Google.

PC World’s take:

The partnerships announced Monday are designed to make computing services more widespread in developing countries. They are also the latest sign of Google’s increased competition with Microsoft Corp., which is also promoting its software and services in developing countries.

And in case you are wondering if you should the the plunge as well, Wired offers this review: Google Apps: Should You Switch?

Global Warming and Maple Trees

Tapping the Trees

The NYTimes recently put out a piece called: Warm Winters Upset Rhythms of Maple Sugar

Warmer-than-usual winters are throwing things out of kilter, causing confusion among maple syrup producers, called sugar makers, and stoking fears for the survival of New England’s maple forests.

”We can’t rely on tradition like we used to,” said Mr. Morse, 58, who once routinely began the sugaring season by inserting taps into trees around Town Meeting Day, the first Tuesday in March, and collecting sap to boil into syrup up until about six weeks later. The maple’s biological clock is set by the timing of cold weather.

For at least 10 years some farmers have been starting sooner. But last year Mr. Morse tapped his trees in February and still missed out on so much sap that instead of producing his usual 1,000 gallons of syrup, he made only 700.

Sigh. Well while there is still maple syrup to be had in New England, we should enjoy it. Our NGO pal here is Weston, MA, Land’s Sake is having its annual Maple Syrup Celebration tomorrow from 10am – 2pm at the Sugarhouse at Weston Middle School (456 Wellesley Street Weston, MA 02493). The Executive Director from Land’s Sake, Grey Lee, is also an esteemed member of our board of directors.

They hung the buckets

They boiled down the syrup

Here is the scoop from Grey:

Come join us for this seasonal tradition. Although the weather hasn’t been great for syruping, we’ll try to make the most of it. We’ll have plenty of pancakes and pickles to keep you happy. Nominal prices and we’ll even have a little syrup for sale.