Friday, February 18, 2005

it's Democracy Day - celebrate it, now!

If one said that I write a lot on the blog when the blog's not available, then one would be correct. Such a metaphor, such a cliche. Today we have no communication lines. It's Democracy Day - three day weekend. This holiday's existed since 1950 when the (then) king granted a parliament be formed. The holiday is being celebrated with a military parade at the Tundikal, which is like Central Park in Kathmandu. The king is there, and it is quite an event for him to be seen in public - at least since I've been here. I biked into Kathmandu to get some electronics parts, and saw it. Boy were there a lot of soldiers. I assume the phones being cut is part of the heavy security.

On the bike ride into town, traffic was at times sparse, and at other times incredibly gridlocked. A bike is always a great way to get around Kathmandu. Since there are, for practical purposes, no traffic laws, a bike is just the kind of maneuverable thing to have. Today a siren blipped behind me. That's the cue to get to the side of the road as soon as possible because there will be two truckloads of bulletproof-vest wearing soldiers with a car in the middle with blacked out windows and - I assume - someone very important. Those convoys don't stop for anyone. Later, a bus with a bad clutch kept rolling forward downhill behind me in a traffic jam and began to push my bike over and crush the rear wheel under the bus's bumper. I got off and pulled the bike out as soon as possible. The wheel seems okay.

For the last ten days, we've had all internet communications up. Cell phones are still down, and will stay down for quite some time, it's said.

My last posts alluded to the US Embassy doing a shoddy (non-existent) job for its citizens during the one-week coup and communications cut. But, to my surprise, I got an email on the 9th inviting me to a 'town hall' meeting with the US ambassador on the 10th. It was scheduled to be held at the swanky US fitness club, which is across from the royal palace - oddly. I can't get in there normally, but I'd gone twice before with my bosses who are members. The Pakistani ambassador was there then. It's swanky.

I went to the meeting, and boy was I underwhelmed. When you think about the heavily-guarded US embassy you walk by, and how that building is an agent of the most powerful government on Earth, you assume there are some people in there who've really got it together. That was the same kind of assumption I carried into working at NASA. In actuality, these organizations - like any large group - have their fair share of the underwhelming and undermotivated. Now let's imagine you're the US State Department. How much can you really tell about future performance when hiring people? So you get your fair share of the underwhelming and undermotivated, like everywhere else. But the thing about being the US State Department is that you can put these people very, very far away. They call it 'stationing'. You could put them where they can't do much harm and where you will surely not have to deal with them very often. How about, say, Brazil? No, no... way too important - G8 and everything. I know, how about we put them in the developing world: Nepal.

From what was shared at the town hall meeting of about two hundred American expatriots, it looks like the US embassy doesn't have any more insight on what's going on in the country than the BBC does. They do, however, have a good deal of insight on the king's actions, as the ambassador and he speak often. One rather large thing the ambassador did not mention was that, in five days, he would be recalled to Washington. India, the UK, the EU, and the US have all recalled their ambassadors in response to the king throwing out democracy. I do not know much about international deplomacy, but that seems like a very big deal.

Work has been good. Since our bosses left, Ewan and I have both been working on the human-powered-generator / LED-lighting system. I've been designing a two-stage 6V batter charger that can take a lot of abuse. We hooked the 6V battery backwards yesterday, and the charger cut-out as planned in about two seconds, without damaging the electronics. It even lit up an LED to tell you it's in backwards. You can also leave the batteries in the charger indefinitely without damaging them, and the input voltage can be pretty dirty. I'm pretty happy with the circuit, but it's taking longer than I'd anticipated.


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