Saturday, December 25, 2004

more christmas photos

Today it's Christmas. Ewan, Nini, and I all seemed to wake up at the same time - around 1:30 in the afternoon - to enjoy christmas brunch. Enjoying bacon and eggs with toast, mimosas, and some gifts on our porch, it was a great event for Christmas.

I added some additional pictures in the galley part - now Going Somewhere For Christmas has company. The new set of photos includes photos of the obscure chess move, the en passant - available only in French. It was done with the travel chess set I got in my stocking. While santa forgot to include 7 of the black pieces in the shrink-wrap, I forgot to put the bishops and knights in the right places. Nevertheless, if I remember corrently, a Nepali Christmas En Passant was completed.

Our landlord's (and so, in a way, our) dog makes his first appearance in these photos. For Christmas, he finally got the hair tied up that otherwise partially blinds him.

It's the Christmas playlist from my laptop.

Friday, December 24, 2004

christmas eve

Saturday is Christmas, or, as the Nepalis call it, Saturday. Around 4:00 today, David left work dressed as Santa. He was going to a children's home - an orphanage - which is run by a friend of ours. As he was leaving, I was heard, just trailing off, saying 'but they're Hindus'.

Work is good. The Chinese man came to see us this morning. We recounted how the motor controllers had been on fire and we couldn't fix the bikes. He's getting us more bikes to look at on Monday. He also let us know the bike in question had already set a controller on fire before we got it - 'could be a short in the motor'.

There's a new set of photos in the gallery part of beecherinnepal. I call it a photo story, through our apartment, to find the meaning of Christmas. Ewan calls it a walking tour. Nini calls it a sort of jazz odyssey. We got some second-hand Christmas lights.

If I had one Christmas wish, it would be for a few CD's. T Rex's Electric Warrior is packed up in EPA storage. The Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs is a 3 disk collection I failed to get before leaving the US. If you've any of these things and find them to be disused, I want you to know I'll be around for Boxing Day. If that argument sounds convincing, you could email me for the postal address.

It's Wednesday night here, and there's been quite a bit of Maoist activity this week. Monday and Tuesday were bandh days. Government offices were closed and all motorized transportation inside Kathmandu stopped by the Maoists' order. Many private businesses closed also. We biked around those days, and it was eerie how quiet the city was without the cars and motorcycles. Everyone was still there, but they were just walking and biking.

On Tuesday, eighteen Tata trucks were stopped on the highway into Kathmandu by the Maoists, all in a line. The drivers were told to get out, the Maoists broke the gas tanks open with axes, and the trucks were set on fire - right there on the highway. They were bringing supplies to Kathmandu.

There's another bandh coming on Monday, this one will be "indefinite". The foreign press is reporting this as 'rebels cut links to Nepal capital'. There is a run on gas and kerosene now, preparing for it. There was a run on the gas stations about two weeks ago - that was a combination of Nepal not paying India for its gas bill and there being a half-time strike by the employees of the nationalized petroleum company.

Don't worry about us here. Nepal is experiencing a serious political movement, and a few things will run short here in Kathmandu in the coming week, but the danger is not on a personal level for foreigners.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

you could post a comment

Two days ago I got an email from my father saying that the last time he talked to his accountant, his accountant said he was reading my blog. Wow. He also mentioned that while planning on leaving a comment, wanted him to sign-in and making an account to do it. I thought that was very un-google. Since is owned by google, I looked into it. You, in fact, can post comments anonymously and quickly, but it's a little hidden. Here's how.

At the end of every post on the blog, there's a link that says how many comments there are to the given post. Click on the link. It looks like this.

The page that comes up shows any existing comments. You can click the Post A Comment link to make your own comment.

And here's the part people get hung up at: the sign-in or create an account screen. Instead of creating an account, click the Or Post Anonymously link, no account required.

That's all there is to it. If you sign your comment, I'll know it's from you. By the way, have you tried Google Suggest? It's like the normal google search, but it recommends searches as you type. It's a whole new way of searching. It's total connectivity. It's still in beta. This thing is going to be bigger than ten superbowls all at once.

christmas at sushil villa

Some people have asked if anything's happening for Christmas here in Nepal. Last night, our bosses had Ewan, Nini, and I over for drinks and dinner. First, the engineers put together the plastic christmas tree they'd brought from the US. Then there was a lot of putting up ornaments and lights about both the tree and the living room. It was clear they'd done this before, complete with a 110 volt supply for the UL approved lights. Then, this historic photo was taken.

Work was good this week. Ewan and I spent more time on the brushless DC motors I wrote about first in anything anyone told you about Nepali gin. We'd hoped to get the electric scooter up and running, but we had to settle for the motor violently jumping only 1/32 of a turn right before the fuse failed, sparks were heard, and the controller caught on fire. We still don't know exactly what went wrong, but the sequence of events leading to this conclusion included (a) the manual being available only in Chinese and (b) the previous Nepali mechanics method of "fixing" including, first off, cutting all the connectors off the controller, motor, and auxillary devices (ignition key, brakes, etc). There are 16 wires coming out of the controller. We were following traces on the circuit board and windings in the motor to find out what went where. A beep-on-continuity multimeter was great to have.

We found that multimeter at an electronics store in Kathmandu after discovering Ecosystems's existing multimeter gave different voltage readings depending upon the scale it was set to - big problem. When we were at the store, we got the breakdown on available models' prices. The American-made Fluke-brand multimeter was 13000 rupees (~USD180). This is in a country where the average annual income is under USD200. The guy had two other ones. One he said was Korean for 750 rupees (USD11), and a Chinese one that said "Fuke" on it for 150 rupees (USD2). We said we'd get the Korean one, but when he brought it out, there weren't any circles in the writing's charaters. I told him the thing wasn't Korean, it was Chinese. Not an argument for court, but he bought it and admitted it was Chinese too - but made by a Korean company. Whatever. We didn't feel like betting 20 hours of work on a 2 dollar multimeter, so the 11 dollar one made us feel better either way.

Yesterday evening Ewan and I saw there was a bubbling spring outside the office's gate, where there had been no bubbling spring before. I told our boss, and she came out to take a look at it and we agreed it was a broken water main. I said "well, then, let's call the city and have them send a crew out". We looked at each other and had a good long laugh about that one - city maintainance crews! Tip your waitress.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

acme label maker

I found the ACME label maker today.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

anything anyone told you about Nepali gin

Anything anyone has said negatively about Nepali gin is a lie. The juniper berries really do their work in the Blue Riband. At 375 rupees for 750mL (72 Nepal rupees = 1 USD), you can't beat it, unless you're buying Oasis, where the tonic will cost you as much as the gin.

Rosie, from Stanford, and her two friends have been staying with us here in Patan for the last couple days. They've been in India for two months, and tomorrow they leave for Lukla on their way to Everest Base Camp for Christmas.

I was standing in a book store down the street the other day, reading what the Economist had to say about the US economy. The short of it, before I had to go home and take a nap to recover, is that it's completely tanking as George Bush Jr. spends his time staring at his pewter Iraqi-war risk pieces, delicately painting each soldier's M-16 gun metal grey while the world is passing us by. Even the international edition of Newsweek, in the same issue where it compares Bush and Blair to Roosevelt and Churchill, says China's GDP will eclipse the US's by 2025. This is just great.

Ecosystems-wise, we got some great brushless DC low-torque motors from a Chinese importer the other day. These motors are meant to power electric scooters. They range up to 350 watts, at a rated operating speed of 170 rpm. Ewan and I spent the weekend in the garage at our bosses' place, taking apart and testing setups, soldering and constantly asking why the previous Nepali repairmen decided that the first step of fixing a motor they don't understand is to cut off all the connectors, destroying forever the information of which wire goes to which. Aside from the cut-off connector issue, this is great news for tarbato development. A 350 watt motor at 170 rpm would mean no bulky geartrain to rob efficiency and break.

We opened up one of the broken Chinese motor controllers, and guess what was inside? A 16-series PIC, a burned-out 7806 voltage regulator, and a lot of power mosfets bolted to the housing for heat sinking. This stuff is straight out of 218.

Monday, December 06, 2004

to james r. fleming jr.

Jimmy, we go back, way back. But I don't have your email address. I can't respond to your comment regarding my economic commentary in the poisoned! post if you don't give me your email address.

Please advise.

Speaking of, it's great to hear who all is reading this blog. Hi ACD's mom, Larkin, and Bobbie Ann.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

public transport

Living in the same apartment as two British people, I find myself inevitably using vocabulary picked from The Queen's English. This began as a way to make daily life go a bit smoother. It's not a big thing, no woeful ennui, but after you ask to be handed a cup and you get a mug when you wanted a glass, you learn that it'd just be easier on everyone, however little, if you asked for a glass. A sweater's a jumper, a straight drink is a neat drink, and the fuzzy winkle's in the steak and kidney pie. I've had British friends before, but that was in America where I think they'd been using American vocabulary in the same sort of way. Good friends, making it all a bit easier. The point is that now and then, I find myself using Ewan and Nini's vocabulary with Americans. This brings us to the title "public transport".

Yesterday, we got out of Kathmandu. We went south to His Majesty's Government Depart of Plant Resources Royal Botanical Garden, Godavari, Nepal - that's what the ticket called it. It was great, about 30 minutes away and 1000 feet higher than Kathmandu. Sitting next to a fountain there in the garden, I realized we hadn't been out of Kathmandu/Patan since we'd gotten back from the Annapurna trek. That's a month. After one month in the rough air, unique urban scents, and bustle of Kathmandu, it was great to be in a green garden with good air and lots of calm. I once went five weeks at Stanford before I realized I hadn't left campus in that time, but yesterday's trip to Godavari was much better than the trip to Jack In The Box that broke that Stanford record.

Beside the gardens and good air, we found out Godavari is a major picnicing destination for Kathmandu residents. We followed the music to find hundreds of Nepalis having a good time in one side of the gardens. These people reinvent picnicing. They bring all their equipment on the bus. Each group of around 20 or 30 Nepalis had their own stereos, dances, liquor supplies, and propane stoves with friers. We sat down to watch it all and the nearest group took us in and shared their food with us. Hot out of the frier spicy dried buffalo, masala peanuts, french fries, and sauteed pork belly - this is upper shelf stuff! Great hospitality.

And how did we get to Godavari? Public transport. Public transport comes in three varieties in Nepal: the bus, the three-wheeled tuk-tuk (pictured above), and the microbus (pictured below). While the Nepalis brought all their equipment on the roofs of busses, we took the faster public transport variety: the microbus. The Toyota Hi-Ace, specifically, is popular in and around Kathmandu. For 7 rupees (USD0.10), you can get to the center of Kathmandu. For 10 rupees, you can get to Godavari. Each microbus has a definite route, but there's no overall map and the microbusses have no markings indicating their route. You have to listen to the kid hanging out the window when he shouts destinations. The same kid handles the fare and packing two more people into the bus, no matter how full it already is. Between the kid and the driver, they have a pretty good racket going. More manuverable than a bus, more get up and go than a tuk-tuk, the microbus is the fastest of the public transport options.

The Toyota Hi-Ace is, according to Toyota, a 14 passenger vehicle. Let's contexualize this. This thing is no bigger than a mid-nineties US best-seller: the Dodge Caravan. Not the Grand Caravan, the Carvan. Not the new Caravan, which got bigger and fatter like every other American vehicle and most Americans in the last 10 years. The mid-nineties Carvan. In fact, the Toyota Hi-Ace is narrower. Back home, if you want to transport 14 people, you get one of those 24-foot-long roll-over-specialist extended full-size vans. You would never put 14 people in a Dodge Caravan back home.

On the way to Godavari, I counted 25 people in the Hi-Ace, including the driver and the kid who handles the money. I thought this may be a distorting figure, what with all the small children, but on the way back, there were 23 people, none under 16. You could feel the rear suspension bottoming-out as we bounced onto the uneven dirt shoulder, later popping back onto the pavement while the 18-year-old microbus driver laid on the horn passing slower traffic on the blind mountain turns.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


It's been a while since I've written. There is good cause. I ate a bad street samosa.

I can't say I didn't have it coming. When you eat a substantial piece of food - let's say eight ounces - that you bought on the street for about 7 cents, you have to take into account maybe 1 in 10 odds that it's not going to agree with you. And I guarantee you the samosa I ate did not look as good as the picture above.

I have a history of getting food poisoning from eating street food. You'd think I'd learn. You'd think I'd learn.

By the way, has anyone else noticed that the US economy is in a stumbling downward spiral? I remember being little playing with legos, and hearing that the US owed other countries something like 20 trillion dollars. That was before I knew what a trillion was, back when republicans were running the show. Then, from adolescence to early college, the deficit was entirely reversed into a surplus. Then George Bush Junior got elected, and now we're back to owing USD7.5 trillion.

Did you go out and rent Himalaya yet?