Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My experiments with Solar Cooking - part II

Continuing from my previous post on the topic, I had tried out different vessels (glass, steel, ceramic and plastic bag) in the experiment. But none were black as the inner box itself had black paper walls. It turned out that the rice in the plastic bag seemed to be the best cooked among the four. However the sizes and shapes of the four containers were not the same to make an apple to apple comparison. Further the initial water to rice ratio (2:1) was insufficient and water had to be added in between. In any case using plastic bags daily was not an option. The cooking was continued on day 2 with only a steel vessel. The results showed that the rice was not uniformly cooked (there were grains of raw rice) while portions seemed well cooked. I am yet to get clarifications from the veterans of solar cooking on this aspect. Will post an update when I receive it.
Another operational challenge faced was strong winds blew off the reflector portion of the solar cooker. This could be temporarily solved by sticking it to the lower half with tape. The tape needs to be removed every time the lid is to be opened and hence is not a proper fix. Need to solve this problem too. Further the reflector is a bit fragile and so even if the wind does not dislodge it the shape gets distorted. Again a temporary fix of placing cross rods inside was adopted.

My experiments with Solar Cooking - part I

It all started off with a post by Dr. Gananath on sukhijeevana if anyone was interested in making Parvati solar cooker. So I started reading up about solar cookers and thought that it was trying out since it did not look too complicated and needed only simple easily available materials to make a low cost version.
My first version did not work. The rice and water remained pretty much the same after more than 4 hours in the sun. I have to admit that I did not follow the instructions precisely as mentioned on the website (angles of different pieces, aligning system etc.) Also figured out that I had not used a black vessel and had not covered the vessel.
I was reluctant to paint a vessel black (issues of which is a safe paint, the vessel may become useless for other purposes). Luckily there was a teflon coated black pan at home which was the candidate for iteration 2. This was covered with a plastic sheet to retain the heat inside. There seemed to be some more activity this time as water vapour condensed on the sheet. However raw rice remained as it is. The temperature inside the cooker was around 50degC. My questions to the inventor Sri Ravindra Pardeshi received prompt responses. I felt that the
precision of construction plus the mechanism for aligning the cooker to the sun would be critical. I was not ready to take up these steps. Further my reading up (this site is a good reference) revealed that while the panel type to which the Parvati cooker belonged to is one type of simple solar cooker the better option would be to build a box type. This need not be turned to follow the sun while cooking, can reach higher temperatures etc. After discussions with friends Vasant Jajoo who directed me to his friend Rakesh who had been using one finally led me to build a box type which I would say is a mix of Maria Telkes type with the Heaven's Flame. Two carton boxes were used (one inside the other). I used black color paper inside the inner box. An old glass sheet was available which was reused for the top lid. It was a little thin and unfortunately cracked during use. The top reflector portion was a spatial geometry project figuring out t
he angles and sizes! Pieces of cardboard were used with aluminium foil pasted inside.
With this version we were able to finally "cook" rice. More on the results and operational challenges in a separate post!

Friday, February 3, 2012

My first visit to a Balawadi

This was my first visit to a Balawadi center run by PRATHAM. There were two friends who were also coming and one of them was celebrating her birthday. Being North Indians to ease their communication with the children a center in a Muslim area was selected. The center was a one room operation but quite spacious with a high roof and a shady mango tree outside. All the walls were decorated with pictures and charts. There were about twenty children aged between 3 and 5. They all greeted us in chorus with a cheerful "Good Morning". I was surprised to see a German lady assisting the teacher in-charge of the Balawadi. I subsequently learnt that foreign volunteers (mainly German) come regularly every year. They do volunteering full time spending time at the Balawadi as well as Goverment schools as part of PRATHAM's programs. Soon there were several rhymes recitation by the children which was on par with any kindergarten in the city. Next one of the children gave a hand made greeting card to the visitor and this was followed by the "Happy Birthday" song. Evidently they had prior information of the visit! After sweets were distributed by the visitors and children had their fill, it was touching to see the German volunteer take a broom and clean up the place just as we Indians do. It showed the amount of integration with the local culture that she had imbibed during her stay.
After a long series of handshakes with each of the enthusiastic kids and bye-byes it was time to leave.
While we could not look at the mode of teaching, the specific aids designed by PRATHAM which are used, it was still a good experience which provided a glimpse of the workings of the Balawadi. Going by the children's enthusiasm I can say that the dedication and hard work of the staff is very much evident.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Continuing on the subject of values this was my recent experience.
I have started my gardening after shifting to Mysore. I was looking for raw materials like cow-dung and sugarcane bagasse. I will write about my gardening experiments separately but restrict this post to my attempts at procuring sugarcane bagasse. I went to a sugarcane juice vendor who said somebody had already taken it and I could come the next day; he would keep it for me. Accordingly I went the next day and he had a cement bag of bagasse. I took it and asked him what he was expecting for the same. He answered that I could give him whatever I was giving earlier. I could not elicit a figure from him and finally gave him Rs 5 which was what I was paying to the vendor at Bangalore. At this point he seem to be "ashamed" to receive such a low amount. Finally he said that the other person (who takes it to feed his buffaloes) pays Rs 20 independent of the quantity! So finally I handed him Rs 15 (which was the change I had) but with some reservations in my mind. Somehow it became a business transaction without goodwill and my mind was already thinking of looking up an alternate source. Perhaps he did have a customer who paid him Rs 20; I had no means to verify but I felt he was overcharging me for what is essentially a waste product of his main business - vending sugarcane juice.

I always felt that whoever is recycling waste is doing a service to the society and hence should be encouraged. We did the same with my old newspapers. We always gave away freely to the raddiwala who came by since I felt that we are paying to read the news content of the newspaper. If the raddiwala can make living out of it we should not cut into his meager profits. But this had the side effect that each raddiwala wanted newspapers to be exclusively reserved for himself while we did not have any preferences! This created a goodwill that even now when we visit our old house if a raddiwala is passing by he recognizes and has a conversation.

Now back to the sugarcane bagasse story...
I located another vendor and asked him about the bagasse. He said he just puts it in the vacant site behind and whoever is interested can pick it up. I handed him a bag and requested him to fill it up which I would pick up in the evening. When I went in the evening he pointed to the bag and was about to leave. When I tried to pay him he refused and rode off on his two wheeler! So I was left standing there with a sense of gratitude or goodwill and respect for this person.
Now from an economics point of view it seems foolish on his part to not seize this "business opportunity" to create monetary value out of his waste. But in terms of human values and goodwill generate I feel he has gained a lot more.

What is value (of anything) ?

I am not talking of the value in terms of money which is ever changing but the core intrinsic value of anything. For eg: if 1 kg of rice can satiate the hunger of "x" people that is its value and it is required irrespective of the market value of rice. Money value which is only a convenient mechanism for exchange of different goods has no intrinsic value in itself. For eg: what is the value of Rs 100 if there is no rice to available to buy? However associating a money value distorts our own value system and priorities over time. For eg: some one was commenting growing off-season crops in the garden would give great satisfaction since we get it free when the market prices are high. I feel the real satisfaction is in the challenge of growing a crop (some might be easier compared to others) and also in relishing it but it should not be linked to the market value in Rupees. A pomegranate tastes like a pomegranate and it should be enjoyed as such irrespective of its price. Whether one grows tomatoes or strawberries the joy is in growing process itself and not really in the end product. Many a times it is painful to pull out the robustly grown carrots or radishes!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

communication - its all in the mind

As I am writing this there are ideas in my mind which are taking the shape of words and being put here. Whoever is reading this will form his/her own ideas which may be the same or very different from what I intended. Sometimes we read too much into words and this affects our own thoughts and feelings (ego in short). We either get elated or totally upset independent of what was intended by the transmitter. As some one said we all live in our own worlds (in our minds)!

I am reminded of a scene from Beverly Hill Billies the movie. The Clampett family which has moved from a rural area to LA is on the freeway. A car filled with gangsters pulls along and one of them makes the "middle finger" sign irritated by their slow moving jalopy. Thinking this is the way folks greet each other in LA, granny smilingly responds back the same way. Angered the goons show their guns. Further encouraged, granny pulls out their shot gun. Panicking the gang speeds away from the scene. Only if you are familiar with the two contexts from which the participants in this scene come from you can fully enjoy the (mis)communication that is going on. It goes to show how much the context plays a role in any communication.

Recently I was watching a video of an informal session with Sri M (Mumtaz Ali Khan) which had come along with his autobiography "Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master". The author and his spiritual journey make an interesting read but that is a topic for another blog. One point "M" makes in the video which caught my attention was that all our thinking is dependent on a language. Or in other words we think using a language, without language there are no thoughts. Brain does work outside of this language boundary and it has to do with emotions and feelings. Something to ponder about.

whats in a name (mysore versus bangalore)

While most of the names of modern planned localities in Mysore can be found in Bangalore too like Jayanagar, Vijayanagar, JP Nagar, etc. (but B'lore does not seem to have a Siddarthanagar or Saraswatipuram) I am intrigued by some of the old traditional names (villages which have got swallowed by the growing city). Mysore is unique for its koppalus like Tonachi Koppalu, Manchegowdana Koppalu, Kumbara Koppalu and so on. Can't recollect any Koppal in Bangalore. Similarly Bangalore has its unique Kavals - Kaval Byrasandra, JB Kaval, VyaliKaval ...
Bangalore also has its share of palyas such as Malleshpalya, Murugeshpalya. Palyas seem to have crossed the religious divide with areas like Sultanpalya, Michaelpalya! Mysore has a few. I am aware of Nachanahalli Palya and Bandipalya.

The other USP of Mysore are the Mohallas of yore like KR, VV, NR, Fort, Devaraja Mohallas.
Bangalore has these fabricated names associating areas to the adjoining roads. Perhaps the burgeoning city made the authorities run out ideas? Some examples are W.O.C Layout (West of Chord Road), HRBR layout (Hennur Road - Banaswadi Road), HSR Layout (Hosur Road - Sarjapur Road). Have not come across them in Mysore yet.

Another speciality of Mysore are theme based naming of roads. For eg: Roads in Kuvempunagar are based on the poets compositions, while roads in Siddarthanagar are based on the values expounded by Buddha. While they sound nice it becomes a nightmare for one unfamiliar with the area to locate an address! The traditional main, cross co-ordinates give you some idea of where you are and where you may have to go but being in Vinaya Marga does not give you any clue on where you will get Moksha Marga! You will have to resort to the friendly neighborhood which still exists thankfully.