# Friday, October 08, 2010

Last week I wrapped up a successful high altitude trek and climb in Nepal. I did this to help raise money for Education Elevated, a charity that is building a school and library in rural Nepal.

Kids first, then mountains: We visited two Hillary Schools on the trek, one in Khumjung and the other in Junbesi. We started in Jiri and it took us four days to trek to the first school in Junbese. It then took us another four days to reach Khumjung.  I scoped out the IT training. ;)

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As always the kids are super cute.

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After the schools, it was time to gain altitude. (Ok both schools are over 3000m/10000’.)  After we visited the Hillary School in Khumjung, we started to gain altitude and the scenery was stunning. We climbed the Gokyo Valley side, not the Everest side that I did in 2008. Even our sherpa’s geeked out and took tons of photos.

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We trekked through several small villages over three days. Our sherpa were lazy. :)

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After three days we reached the town of Gokyo (15,000’), right on the third glacial lake.

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The next morning we climbed Gokyo Ri (5400m/17500’) and the views were amazing, the best I have ever had in Nepal. If you are planning a trip to Nepal, make Gokyo your base and Everest Base Camp your secondary target.

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The cool thing about being on top of Gokyo Ri is that you have a 360 paranoiac view of the Everest portion of the Himalayan Range. Here is a video I shot trying to show it off.

We started the climb at 5:15am, I argued with Ngima Sherpa and Kathleen about that, but lost. We got up in about 1.5 hours, just in time for the sunrise. While that is cool, the sun rises directly over Mt. Everest, so the photos (and video above) are not perfect. Sorry, if you want to see a better show of Everest, you will just have to climb Gokyo Ri as well. ;)

After a short rest, we trekked to a village below the Cho la pass (5400m/17500’). The pass was very, very hard, straight up in the snow for over an hour, a lot of the time you are on your hands and knees.

Look at me climb (Yes the is Bollo Sherpa behind me, he did it in sneakers):

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Our shepra’s are too cool for school on top of the pass. (But they did take the Cliff bars I gave them.)

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The view from the pass is pretty stunning:

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Once you are up over the pass you think the hard part is over, right? Ha! Now you have to walk in-between two Himalayan peaks (taller than anything other than about 15 mountains in the world) in the snow over a crevasse ridden field. (Thank god for my  crevasse rescue training in Alaska! I had to teach Kathleen how to probe for crevasses!)

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After a few hours in the snowfield, we finally reached our destination. After about 7 hours of climbing and trekking, it was about 1pm (we started super early to avoid the wind and sun making the crevasses unstable.) After lunch, we pushed on 3 more hours to Loboche village at about 5000m/16000’.

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The next day we pushed on to Everest Base Camp and then headed down the mountain.

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A few days later we were back in Kathmandu dreaming about our next Nepalese trek!

posted on Friday, October 08, 2010 6:15:40 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [2] Trackback
# Sunday, September 12, 2010

On Monday I am leaving for a 3 week trek to visit the Hillary School in Kumjum, Nepal as well as Everest Base Camp. The goal of this trip is to raise money for the Education Elevated charity that I have been working with (see last year’s school work project write up here.)

We’ve raised a ton of money so far, but you can still donate here. For those of you who have donated already, thanks!

See you when I am off the mountain. ;)

posted on Sunday, September 12, 2010 11:57:10 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [2] Trackback
# Tuesday, August 03, 2010

If you are going to the Microsoft MVP Global Summit in late February 2011 in Seattle, Washington, or just will happen to be in the neighborhood, you should sign up for GeekGive. GeekGive is an organization that sponsors a one day charity event in the community where a bunch of geeks are congregating for a conference. The first GeekGive was a project was back in June for Habit for Humanity in New Orleans, where Microsoft TechEd was located.

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At the MVP Summit, GeekGive will be supporting Northwest Harvest, Washington's own statewide hunger relief agency. In New Orleans many people wanted to help GeekGive but did not know about it or did not have enough time to plan their travel around the event. Well, the MVP summit is now 208 days away, so you have well over six months to plan. See you there!

posted on Tuesday, August 03, 2010 2:10:32 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Monday, August 02, 2010

In a little over 5 weeks from now I will be headed back to Nepal. I will be going to visit the Hillary School in Khumjung and trek to Gokyo Peak and Mt. Everest Base Camp. I am doing all of this to raise awareness for a charity I am involved in, Education Elevated. (Donate here!) We are raising money to follow-up our September 2009 trip to Chyangba village where we built a library for the current school. Next April (2011) we will go back to Chyangba and distribute the school uniforms and text books that your last round of donations purchased. We will also start a campaign to raise money for a new building to house the school. Thanks to all of you who have donated!

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PS I’ll also be carrying in donated supplies for a high altitude health clinic. If you want to donate, you can pay me directly via PayPal and I will be bringing in over the counter drugs and medical supplies from Hong Kong.

posted on Monday, August 02, 2010 5:38:27 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Monday, May 03, 2010

Last year I went to Chyangba, Nepal, my Sherpa's village in a very remote section of Nepal and helped build a library for the local school. I was part of a charity effort and we raised a lot of money, a good portion from the Microsoft .NET Community. I’ll be headed back to Nepal this September and will help start a new drive to raise money for a new school building.

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While we were in Chyangba, Engineers without Borders started a water project. An engineer from the US, Jim, arrived and started working on bringing running water to the 60 homes in Chyangba. This is a big deal since the common water tank usually has poor water. Well, 7 months later, the project is a success. Below is the full report from Jim the engineer.

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Water is coming

We've had the system running off and on for about 10 days, but now it is completely online and serving all 56 houses.  It is also set up to serve two more houses that will be built in the coming months.  The people seem very happy and some of the older women especially are grateful to have taps in their houses.  I have a lot of kahtahs.  I'm in Kathmandu.  I arrived yesterday and leave in two days for the US.

All in all it seems to be working remarkably well.  I didn't get to measure the flow rate at every house, but the houses get 1 L between 7 and 13 seconds depending on their location relative to the tank that serves them.  It's a pretty good flow rate.  As Phula so eloquently puts it, "the people are really satisfaction with the water."

Boring Engineering Notes

There were a few bugs that we had to work through. 

1.  The pipeline from the intake to the reservoir was having low flow issues.  At times we were only getting .4 LPS down to the reservoir when we would measure 1 LPS or more at the intake.  Installing a control valve on the tank inlet and closing the air vent at the intake appears to have solved he problem.  I think the pipe was not flowing full and that caused the water to slow down when coming through some u-profiles.  Blowing into the air vent pipe at the intake would cause the pipeline to flow anywhere from 1.5 to 2 LPS for half an hour to 2 hours, but then the flow would drop to .4 LPS.  With the control valve, were are getting .83 LPS into the reservoir, which is enough water.   I measured the flow over 48 hours and it stayed constant.  I've been talking to Phula every day since I left the village he said the water is still coming the same.  

2.  The pipeline from the reservoir to PB B1 does not flow well unless the tank is full.  First we were able to fix the problem by adjusting control valves to PB A1 and B1 to keep the tank full, but today Phula installed float valves in the three tanks in Community A and he said that works much better.  He said that keeps the tanks in Community B mostly full, which is good. 

3.  We had a blocked pipe on one of the house lines--it ended up being easy to find because it was before the first tee and the first tee was close to the PB.  We never found out what the block exactly was--I presume it was mud because dirty water came through the pipe we dug up and disconnected.  After rejoining it, the water was working fine.  We have had only tarps covering the PBs as we've been playing with valves and checking flows at all the tanks.  The roofs are too heavy to be moving on and off several times per day.  That allowed some dirt to get into the tanks, which is what must have caused the block. 

4.  Phula is currently cleaning all the tanks and putting the roofs on, but it will take a few days.  We had built a rim around the water tank at each PB for the roof to fit into, but we have had some tolerancing issues--some of the roofs don't fit inside the rim because the corners aren't perfectly square, despite multiple measurements a few inches of safety margin.  The rims will have to be chipped slightly and then replastered.  It is really only a cosmetic issue; I liked the idea of rims to help keep dirt from sneaking in under small spaces between the roof slab and the top of the water tank, but it is difficult to do things with much precision here, at least with these masons.  The masons have generally refused to use levels, claiming they could eyeball it.  Some of the tops of the tanks are little sloped or uneven, and the roof does not fit snugly.  For now I think putting a tarp under the roof will be sufficient, but it is a repair job that we should address in the future.

5.  There are seven houses that are sometime affected by a weird air block.  If the tank above them is drain and then refilled, water won't flow to the houses.  However, the problem is an easy fix--the houses take their pipe outside, open the tap, and once the water comes, close the tap and put it back into the house.  The pipes enter the houses by climbing up the outside stone wall, through a hole in the rafters, and then back into the kitchen.  The people seem to prefer this to tunnelling to the mud and stone walls or foundations.  The seven houses are the five houses in Community C, one house in Community A, and one house in Community B.  The house in Community A is probably not far enough below the tank that serves it.  At only 7 meters of elevation difference, it's right at the limit of the design recommendations.   The water level in the tank adds about 80 cm of head.  However, the water flows well once the pipeline has been reset--that house gets 1 L in 13 seconds.  The house in Community B is served by an HDP pipe PB and is 12 meters below it.  The pipe tanks are small and they don't add much head to the outflow, but the pipe into that house also climbs steeply up into the house.  The five houses in Community C are more of a mystery to me:  blowing into the air vent at the PB C1 outlet or taking the pipe outside and opening the tap fixes the problem.  PB C1 is small and only adds about 40 cm of head to the outflow, but the pipes in Community C climb straight up two meters into the top floor of the houses, which is more than in most places.  All of the houses are between 23 and 29 meters below the tank, which seems like it should be more than enough to force the air out of the pipeline. However, all of the houses are affected simultaneously--it makes me wonder if there is some air block before the first tee.  There is a small U-profile of 115 cm, which seems like it should be insignificant as it occurs 9 meters below the tank, but maybe because the water level in the tank is relatively short it makes a big difference.  None of the houses get this problem when we leave the water running continuously, which we only did the last 48 hours I was in Chyangba.  I will continue to check in with Phula about it, but he has not reported any more problems.  In this case, I don't fear not hearing about problems due to the Sherpa cultural taboo on disappointing a guest; the villagers have not hesitated in the past to tell me--sometimes quite rudely--that their water was not coming.

Work Left to be Done

Right now, Phula is working on some tasks like building a fence at the reservoir and at the intake; cleaning all the tanks and putting on the roofs and making sure they fit; organizing and cleaning the tools; and backfilling the partially buried joining and tee areas (which not filled in to see if there any leaks once we got water running).  He thinks he will be finished in one week.  I left him with a specific list and I have a copy of it; he signed an MOU stating that he will email pictures for me to review before he will be paid by Pem.  I get the sense that he is doing a good job with it.  He does have some pride in the work he has done, but I think he doesn't express it when I am around because he focuses on trying to guilt trip me into getting him either more money from EWB or a visa to USA.  It's annoying and disappointing, but it's part of this game.  At least he does the work. 

Sishakhola

Due to the troubleshooting, I did not have time to survey Sishakhola.  I think an adequate survey time would be three of four days, and I didn't have the time.  It was more important to me to get Chyangba's system working well enough to where I felt comfortable leaving it with the village and Phula.  I know that may disappoint some of you and I know I said I would make the time for it, but respect that I have worked every day for 7 months straight in considerably frustrating conditions.  We really need to see how well Chyangba's system works in the long run before we start on Sishakhola and an inadequate survey would only create the same problems for Charlie that I had.  Additionally, surveying is more than measuring; when you do it, the people expect you to come back and build it the system.  I don't know what is going on with money and commitments at home and I am certainly not ready to make a commitment to Sishakhola myself.  Speaking of you Charlie, I really think you should come for a short visit first, see the village, and know what you are getting into before you spend 3-4 months here.  You will benefit a lot from what I have learned and that will make it easier for you than it was for me, but this work is difficult. 

Trip in the Fall and the Training Course

I think a trip in the fall is still very important to check on the Chyangba system and making sure it is being used properly and the people are taking care of it.  Phula and I did a one day training course the day before I left; the people impressed me with how quickly they learned, how handy they are, and that they have the patience to fiddle with valves and pipe wrenches.  They can be incredibly creative and come up with simple and effective solutions with limited resources--they made tweezers out of bamboos to clean the tap drains, for example.  While the villagers and those on the training course seem like they know how to do everything to take care of the system, I worry that they don't understand why they must care for it.  They complain a lot about their old government system--that there wasn't enough cement used or that is was a "Nepali project"--but the reality is that system worked surprisingly well, and got away with fewer and smaller PBs.  Had the pipe been adequately buried, it would probably be still functioning.  The real problem is that the people in Chyangba never took any responsibility or leadership for trying to fix the old system.  They could have easily remade roofs for the PBs from relatively inexpensive local materials like slate and wood--concrete is not always necessary.  They could also have made fences from local wood around the PBs to protect them.  What they had before was good enough that they could live with it--there was no motivation among the villagers to try to improve it.  That's what worries me about the future of this system--their lack of motivation, not lack of knowledge, skills, or resources.  I hope that between 40 days of labor from each house and 500 rupees from every house, they will value their own efforts and money and will want to take care of it.  I wish I had more time to spend on the training course, but I had to spend the time to fix the bugs in the system.  Phula will create a new water council from the training course members that has several women and fewer monkey brains--it will be important to keep working with them in the future.

A trip in the fall could focus on reviewing the training course and maintenance requirements and surveying Sishakhola.  A bigger intake and a collection chamber would capture more water and would make the flow to reservoir greater and will probably be necessary if Chyangba's spring serves Sishakhola; that could also be done in the fall.  As I keep in touch with Phula and learn more about how the system works, it may be that float valves everywhere would make it better.  If that were the case, we would need to build 5 more PBs in the fall.  I'm hoping that won't be necessary.

Jim

posted on Monday, May 03, 2010 3:10:17 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Wednesday, April 07, 2010

As you all know there was a massive earthquake and then a devastating Tsunami in December 2004 in Aceh, Indonesia. A bunch of us .NET programmers got together and auctioned ourselves off on eBay. The Microsoft .NET community raised well over $10,000 for IDEP Foundation, a charity based in Ubud, Indonesia. What we liked about this charity, besides that our fearless leader Julie Lerman found them, is that they are based in Indonesia and had instant access to the disaster area and would be around years later when the world would forget about the Tsunami.

Today I visited the IDEP Foundation headquarters and its outstanding founder Petra Schneider in Ubud, Indonesia. (Sadly there was another earthquake in Aceh today, but the damage was not nearly as bad.) It was awesome to learn what IDEP has been up to: they have been up to a lot. For starters, they are *still* in Aceh, more than 5 years on. They are now past disaster relief work and teaching sustainability (farming, hygiene, etc) and disaster readiness. Petra showed me photos of their work not only in Aceh, but all over Indonesia. I saw photos of what the money we raised went to: the “buckets” or a bucket that contained one week’s supply of cooking oil, rice, sugar, all the basic necessities. They were handed out to thousands of people who needed it. I can report back  the .NET community and all of those who donated that our contribution made a difference.

Today, IDEP is growing and even training other charities on how to operate. They are making some great games for children that teaches sustainability and disaster readiness. Why not at least join their Facebook page or even consider donating some time or money. :)

A lot of times we give money to a charity and then we never get to see the unsung heroes that do the work behind the scenes. Today I got that chance and it was very special. If you are ever in Indonesia, look them up!

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Petra, me, and Avi at IDEP’s training center in Ubud, Indonesia.

IDEP Foundation is an NGO in Indonesia that teaches Permaculture and Disaster Risk Reduction & supports communities in need in times of disaster.
http://www.idepfoundation.org

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posted on Wednesday, April 07, 2010 7:01:38 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [2] Trackback
# Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Microsoft developer community has always been a giving group. The amount of free time we give away writing blog posts, answering questions in forums, organizing user groups, code camps, and speaking at events is pretty amazing.

I have also been impressed by all of the MVPs who run 5ks for charity or organize other events for charity. In the past I have organized a few events that helped raise money for charity including cancer research, a school in rural Nepal, and the Indonesian Tsunami relief fund. Each time I have asked my peers in the Microsoft developer community to donate time, money, or even just a simple blog post to raise awareness. Each time I have always been impressed by just how vast and generous the response has been.

I have decided to organize a Facebook group, MVPs for Charity, and will ask all MVPs, User Group leaders, active community members, and Microsoft employees to join. On this group, I hope we can all keep each other informed of what we are doing for charity as well call on each other for help whenever there is a charity event or need.

After the disaster last week in Haiti, some of my peers in the Microsoft developer community asked me if I was going to organize another auction or fund raising drive. I am giving money to two charities the ClintonBush fund (at the request of President Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are raising money), and http://www.yele.org/. I will ask you all to choose a fund and donate as well.

posted on Sunday, January 17, 2010 9:46:12 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback