Life These Days

1. Solar
Our solar installation from our solar contractors is nearly finished. Two weeks ago, a group of three Nepali welders showed up at our house to install the structure of the solar installation. A lot of debate had gone into this, because the contractor wanted to put all twenty panels in one big array. This setup is ideal because you eliminate the risk of shading, and the structure is easier to build. It would have been a massive, 20’ x 26’, array, though, stretching up to a height of 15’ above the top roof and blocking much of the view from our poop deck (our house is the tallest in the whole neighborhood, and the view of the rest of the valley is fantastic. I had originally wanted to put 5 or 6 panels on top of the pergola, but found out the panels had to be put in groups of 10, and both arrays needed to be equidistant from our batteries. I’ve learned a ton about solar PV installations during this process.
With the pergola out of the question, I came up with a different layout for the solar panels – one that would sacrifice a small amount of shading in the winter months (when our load is way less due to the lack of ceiling fan usage). When the welders showed up, the plans from the structural design team were utterly useless – they had the wrong sizes for the solar panels, the wrong orientation of the arrays, and even the dimensions of the roof were wrong. So… I designed the structure myself.
I only loosely supervised its construction, though. And though the overall structure came out well, the welders didn’t put the required one-inch gap between around each panel to allow for heat flow and wind reduction. Afterwards, I noticed and asked about it. The head welder smiled and said it didn’t matter. He was incorrect, and much of the mounting structure has to be redone (with the substructure remaining intact).
The batteries arrived safe and sound, and the solar subcontractor hadn’t hired laborers, so our Uncles had to individually carry the 225 pound batters up the 5 flights of stairs. Nepalis carry things strapped to the top of the head, so the neck/spine carries all of the weight vertically. It looks absurdly damaging, but it’s also incredible what they’re able to carry this way.

One of twenty 210 W panels.

One of twenty 210 W panels.

The little shelter under our Northern Array.

The little shelter under our Northern Array.

#Safety first.

#Safetyfirst.

2. Laundry Racks
With my free time, I’ve found myself focusing on fun projects inventing or making things for the hostel. The most recent of these is a multi-tiered laundry rack design that I drew in SketchUp and had my welder make. The previous laundry system was a series of wires strung haphazardly over all the roofs, hung at the perfect height for me to strangle myself on as I walk the premises in the middle of the night. I had had enough of suffering the most obvious solutions to menial problems.
Here’s the laundry rack design :

The AutoCAD drawing of the laundry rack design. AutoCAD is the bomb diggety - I'm thoroughly thankful I took CAD design classes at Tufts.

The AutoCAD drawing of the laundry rack design. AutoCAD is the bomb diggety – I’m thoroughly thankful I took CAD design classes at Tufts.

Because galvanized wire would pull the two racks together, we cut down small lengths of bamboo from the land and put these between racks. We chose bamboo because 1) it’s sustainable, 2) it doesn’t rust, 3) it is strong.
So far, so good. There is a small shading issue, depending on how you choose to orient the racks – I like it oriented North-South is best, so one side receives morning sun and the other gets it in the evening. The Aunties are having difficulty accepting the idea that there is as much space as there used to be. The idea that 6 racks at 8 feet each equals 50 feet is elusive.

The laundry racks, built and painted.

The laundry racks, built and painted.

3. Sample Maker
When I say “my welder,” I’m referring to our gate-maker, Shalman. He is the best welder in Surkhet, and charges much more than anyone else. I’m determined to learn myself how to weld, but in the meantime, I have had fun drawing designs in SketchUp or AutoCAD and bringing them to Shalman knowing they’ll appear the next day exactly as I’ve drawn them. Until now, I had not fully appreciated the power of metalworking, and what you can create with a good welder and thoughtful design work.
I need a good way to create consistently sized samples of rammed earth cylinders for doing my own strength testing. This is as much to satisfy my own curiosity, and expand my capacity to experiment, as it is to create something with legitimate scientific, engineering potential. I had Shalman build this sample maker with an attached bottom plate for the person ramming to stand on, and stabilize the process.
Update: this didn’t work. The rough bottom of the sampler pulled apart the rammed earth as I tried to separate it, and the whole thing crumbled.

The cylinder formwork. This didn't work.

The cylinder formwork. This didn’t work.

4. Sample Crusher
The minimum RE strength, according to US and New Zealand standards, is 300 psi. That means that a cylinder with just a 3” diameter would need to carry over 2 tons of weight. How can I measure this? With the sample maker, we’ll get an accurate, consistent cylinder size of a 2” diameter. With the following machine, we’ll be able to use leverage to our advantage and slowly fill a large bucket with measured amounts of water until our samples get crushed. Taking into account the weight of the lever arm, we’ll simply divide the total force applies (weight of load x the ratio of distance from the pivot point to load vs distance to the crusher plate) by the 2” diameter area (3.14159 (pi) square inches). Easy peezy! Even if we’re not getting accredited numbers, we can at least build tons of different samples, varying composition of cement, stone dust, sand, and clay, and find an optimal composition range. We already have a structural team that has done this in KTM, I just want to try doing the work myself.

[caption id="attachment_764" align="aligncenter" width="640"]My SketchUp rendering of the block compression tester. The cylinder goes right near the pivot point, and a big bucket goes 10 feet away at the end. We can slowly fill it with water (measuring liter by liter) or bricks. My SketchUp rendering of the block compression tester. The cylinder goes right near the pivot point, and a big bucket goes 10 feet away at the end. We can slowly fill it with water (measuring liter by liter) or bricks.

The built and painted block compression tester.

The built and painted block compression tester.

5. Fence
Yesterday, we restarted our RE fence project. I’ve worked out the cost per foot of length, and compared with brick it is 70% of the cost and 30% of the CO2 emissions. We’ll see if the actual costs end up with this ratio. Per foot, the fence should cost $20, including all labor. The emissions per foot should amount to about 3 kg, as opposed to 10 kg for a brick fence.

The old RE fence, 1 summer-aged.

The old RE fence, 1 summer-aged.

Right now, we’re just digging the holes for individual RE pillars. In a few days, we’ll starting building the foundations. Once these have properly cured for 4 to 5 days, the ramming will begin. Kopila is buying yet more land on this side (where the Vocational Campus will eventually be), so there is many months of fence building to be done. With Laxmin as the foreman, I’m confident we’ll end up with a beautiful fence and a crew of 6-10 workers that know intricately how to build with Rammed Earth. They will make up a large part of the crew to build our Pre-Primary campus, starting in February or March of next year.

Digging holes for our new RE fence.

Digging holes for our new RE fence.

6. Passionfruit
The passionfruit season refuses to end! It’s amazing to have this fruit everyday. When I returned from SouthEast Asia with an uncertain future, I spent a full day once writing a business plan for starting a Passionfruit growing/importing business in Vermont. The whole world would be happy if they ate Passionfruit every day. I even had an advertisement thought out (though it maybe is not PC): a group of terrorists boards a plane, their eyes full of malice and hatred to the Westerners around them enjoying their freedom with wine and snacks aboard the flight. The stewardess comes around and offers one of the terrorists a passionfruit. He says “Oh well, I guess I might as well since I’ll never have the chance again.” He bites into it. His eyes widen. He looks around at his terrorists brothers, prepared to die together for their jihadist cause. He’s in shock. He passes over the fruit to his right. Each of them takes a taste. They mimic his wide-eyed shock. Then, they all break out in song – “Don’t worry, be happy” might be fitting.

A day's passionfruit harvest. I can't get enough of this stuff. I wonder how my dentist will feel about it.

A day’s passionfruit harvest. I can’t get enough of this stuff. I wonder how my dentist will feel about it.

My passionfruit source - old grandpa with two friendly baby goats. One of them fell asleep in my arms last time I went.

My passionfruit source – old grandpa with two friendly baby goats. One of them fell asleep in my arms last time I went.

7. Relaxed now that we have contractor
Now that we have Hemendra as a contractor for the main campus (excluding the Pre-Primary building), a ten-ton weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I don’t feel like I need to skip meals to work on the design plan or think about the campus as I climb into bed. I have been making homemade cheese, laundry racks, working on RE-strength testing, redoing the hostel’s water system, and doing trips to Rara. Life was beautiful last year, but stressful as shit. Now without the stress, I am flying high.

8. Water system
The hostel’s water system is entirely gravity fed. We have our own well (a blessing, as the government water only flows once a day), and a pump down at the bottom of the 60 meter bore. Up until two weeks ago, an uncle would turn on the pump, climb the stairs to the roof, and fill up each of the 18 tanks on the roof, moving the hose from one tank to the next when each was finished filling. Needless to say, overflowing tanks and wasted time were an issue, not to mention that the Uncles frequently turned on the generator, rather than wait for the power to come on. I fixed this problem in three ways:
1) I bought bigger tanks, to reduce the number of tanks by two thirds. The biggest tank size in Surkhet was 1,000 L, and we use far more than this per day. I bought a 3,000 L, and two 2,000 Ls.
2) I linked all the tanks with overflow pipes in such a way that they form a chain. The water from the pump flows directly into the top floor’s hot water tank. When this fills, the water goes out into a 2,000 L tank. When this fills, the water overflows into the next roof into all of those tanks. In this way, no more Uncles need to come up to the roof and move a hose from one tank to the next. But overflowing would still be an issue, as well as wasting fuel with the generator.

3) I purchased and installed an automatic water level controller (AWLC). Even though the plastic case says “Made in Nepal”, the electronics are all from India. One of the Uncles dropped it as soon as it was delivered and broke the plastic case. The electronics survived, though. The systems sense when your water level is low and automatically turns on your pump. When the water level in your tank is full, it turns off the pump. You can adjust the sensors yourself – I put them in the last tank, because when the water coming through the overflow chain finally fills the last tank, you know with certainty that all the other tanks are full.
The sensors are literally electronic plugs dropped into your tank that, when surrounded by water, short out and complete a circuit with the sensor. It’s a little primitive, but it’s simplicity and abstention from expensive, specialty parts is very appealing to me.

The water schematics.

The water schematics.

The 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% water sensors. The pump turns on when the water drops below 75% and turns off when it reaches the 100% sensor. I bought such a large tank so that we have enough water to last through a long load-shedding period.

The 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% water sensors. The pump turns on when the water drops below 75% and turns off when it reaches the 100% sensor. I bought such a large tank (3,000 Liters) so that we have enough water to last through a long load-shedding period without turning on our fuel gobbling generator.

9. Borders
When government surveyors come to mark the boundaries of land that has just been purchased, some sort of dispute is inevitable. What else would you expect when the land borders are on a small map where 1 centimeter is equal to 25 meters, and the surveyors measure with a RULER. Land here is literally selling for over $100,000/acre, and the surveyors have to see at a precision of a third of a mm mark distances semi-accurately, not to mention that the lines on the map are at least a half mm thick.
My solution:
1) I obtained a copy of the government map and drew two dots exactly a centimeter apart.
2) I scanned the map and put it into photoshop.
3) I drew thin, black lines in the center of each line and put in a white background.
4) In AutoCAD, I converted all the lines to measurable CAD lines.
5) I scaled up the new map such that the distance between the two dots reads 25 meters (unitless).

Our property lots highlighted.

Our property lots highlighted.

Now, I can measure the distance with precision between any two points (using AutoCADs object snap, which put your mouse exactly on the nearest vertex). I can easily measure angles as well. Even more, I can use AutoCAD’s function to determine the exact area of a particular land plot, so we can verify that we’re being sold the amount that the seller claims is there.
The reason I did this was that as we were marking a line for our fence, a woman came up and said “Hmm.. I think that that is our land.” When we had measured with the surveyors, they came up with three different locations before settling on one, and seemed a little bewildered. I decided that if we were going to build something, albeit just a fence, then we needed to be sure with actual precision.

Boundaries

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3 comments on “Life These Days

  1. Joel says:

    Wow
    Nice update on all the projects you’ve been working on. Love the way you’ve blended your skills to solution orientation in Nepal. Again, nicely done Luke.

  2. janemetcalf says:

    ahh, just wondering when you sleep. your mo.

  3. Hope Cannon says:

    Love the updates! Busy, busy. Rob and I share your passion for passion fruit. We first had pure passion fruit juice in the Caribbean when we sailed the year after we married. We were amazed! We, too, thought we would make our fortune by importing passion fruit juice. Why has it not caught on here?

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