Tuesday, August 20, 2019

My Bolivian "DMV" Experience

One of the things upon which most Americans agree is that the Department of Motor Vehicles (or whatever entity handles the ID and licensing in your state) is a classic example of government inefficiency.  We love to complain about how long we had to wait in line, the silly hoops you have to jump through, etc, etc.

The next time you feel compelled to participate in this American pastime of DMV-bashing, please consider my recent experience doing a simple driver's license renewal, which is necessary every 5 years.  As you read, keep in mind that: A. this is the standard procedure, B. everyone agrees that the system has improved GREATLY in the past 5-10 years, and C. that most steps have an additional 30-60 minutes in travel time not mentioned below, because of where we live.

Before you can renew your license, you must renew your national ID card, or carnet, which expires at the same time as the license.  Because we are a family of five, everything takes a bit longer.  Here's how the process goes:

Day 1

  • Make photocopies of all required documents for ID card, 1 hour
  • Go to "DMV" for preliminary document check and reserve an appointment, 1 hour

Day 5

  • Go to bank to pay for ID cards ($87/person), 30 min
  • Update photocopies as indicated in preliminary, 1 hour
  • Go to "DMV" for appointment and submit documents, get finger-printed, etc, 1 hour

Day 16

  • Return to "DMV" at appointed time to pick up ID cards, 1 hour
  • Hurray, we now have ID cards and I can apply to renew my driver's license!

Day 18

  • Go to bank to pay for driving record ($5) and mugshot ($1.50), 1 hour
  • Photocopy deposit slips, old license, and old ID card, 10 min
  • @Police station: get mugshot, 5 min
  • @Police station: get official driving record form, 10 min
  • @Police station: get official driving record form filled, 1 hour
  • Go to approved clinic for driving physical exam ($8.70), 1 hour

Day 22

  • Go to "DMV" and wait in line to get an appointment, 1 hour 15 min
  • Go to bank to pay licensing fee ($32), 15 min
  • Return to "DMV" later in the day for licensing appointment, 30 min
  • Wait at "DMV" for license to be printed and handed over, 1 hour

So all that to say, that in about 3 weeks' time, while waiting about 12 hours (not including travel), you can renew your driver's license!

Time to get the Patrol moving again!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Project: Coffee Can Forge

The other day I spent some time cleaning up my cachibachis, the local term for "junk pile."  It lives in what should be a carport just outside the kitchen door, so it's a very noticeable part of our ambience.  Lately, due to lots of busyness, it has been a WRECK.  As I cleaned and organized, I decided to finally figure out a solution to hang my sheet goods from the roof.

I wanted to use some 3/4" steel pipe that I had removed during a recent bathroom remodel and hang it from the steel rafters using hooks made out of 3/8" rebar.  The problem is that #3 rebar doesn't bend very easily unless heated.  I came up with an easy solution.

I buy charcoal for my grill in 100lb feed sacks and the bottom of the bag is always full of tiny bits and pieces that are too small for grilling.  I have long thought that they would make excellent fuel for a forge, but have never had a reason to make one.

Charcoal, Bolivian style
To make the forge, I took a large powdered milk can, a bit bigger than a coffee can, and whacked a hole in the side of it, set it on a concrete block, filled it with charcoal bits, and lit it up with my weed-burner.


To stoke it, in place of a bellows, I used my electric blower.

Red hot and ready to bend!
You can see two completed hooks next to the water bucket
For the initial turn, I just stuck the end in the vice and bent it, then tuned it up with the hammer until I was happy with it.

Cheap, easy, and effective!

And while we're on the subject of cheap, effective fire containers made from powdered milk cans, check out my latest video:

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Project: $10 DIY Softbox

Anyone who has ever dabbled in photography will tell you that the most important thing about taking photos is light.

Finding light, creating light, manipulating light.  Harsh light, soft light, direct or indirect?  The "Golden Hour" before sunset.  Backlight, fill light, key light, blah, blah, blah.

I count myself among those who dabble in photography.

I say dabble, because although it is something I have enjoyed for many years (starting in my early 20s with a Canon AE-1 that was made the year I was born), I can't claim to be very good at it.  I have TONS to learn, particularly in the area of using light.

Like most photographers, I prefer natural light.  It's fun to find the perfect light on a subject and capture it.  However, it's not always adequate for what I want/need.  A couple of years ago, I purchased a Canon Speedlite 430EX II to help me get indoor shots of events here at Etnos.  Recently, I have begun putting time into learning (via YouTube) how to use it to improve my portraits.

The problem is that a naked flash, by itself, creates very harsh, direct light and it takes special effort to enlarge and disperse the light source to make it more appealing.  I would venture to guess that most studios have as much $$$ accumulated in lighting gear as they do in cameras and lenses.

I don't have the disposable cash, so I have to use a bit of tinker-thinker to make it happen.  A quick internet search shows that others have successfully done the same.

One of the products I have seen recommended for mobile portrait photography is the Lastolite Ezybox.  I decided to make my own, on the cheap.

I started with a styrofoam 6-pack cooler ($4 at the supermarket) which has a similar trapezoidal shape and a reflective windshield cover ($3, same supermarket).

I cut a hole to fit the flash in the bottom of the cooler, using a Sawzall blade.  I set it as close to center as I could without the front edge of the cooler appearing in the frame at the widest setting of my 18-250 Sigma lens.  It fits snug enough that I don't even need to strap it onto the flash, at this point.

The reflector is basically just foil on bubble wrap, but it is very sturdy and very reflective.  I used one to make a simple solar oven two years ago.  I used a razor knife to cut it to fit inside the cooler and borrowed my wife's hot glue gun to stick it down.

The biggest question is what material to use on the cover, to disperse and soften the light.  There are lots of options, but the most important factors to consider are color and density.  For now, I just went with what I had available:  a bit of white sheet that my wife had laying around in her sewing room. I used a long length of velcro cable wrap to attach it, so it is easily removable.

So there it is.  It's ugly, but does it work?  I took a few quick shots of Addi in her homeschool classroom, to find out!  I left Canon SL1 where it was at ISO1600 in Program mode and left the flash in ETTL mode, with the lens at 50mm.

The photos are as follows:
     1. Ambient light (f5, 1/13)
     2. Bare flash (f5, 1/60)
     3. Flash with built-in diffuser card in place (f5, 1/60)
     4. With the new softbox (f5, 1/60)

The final photo (with the softbox) is definitely the closest to ambient light, with much softer shadows and highlights compared to the other flashed shots.  I left all the settings the same in order to best show the difference, so it came out a little darker, which is easily fixable in camera or in post.  After tweaking the lighting a little, it looks like this:

There you have it.  Less than $10-worth of materials, about an hour's time, and I've got a very workable softbox!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Expedition: Jardín de las Delicias

Thirteen years ago, I had the privilege of taking an aerial tour of Santa Cruz, during which I photographed a beautiful waterfall surrounded by jungle.  I haven't thought much about it since, but when some friends mentioned driving out to a waterfall west of us a couple months ago, my curiosity was piqued and I started researching it.  I think it's the same one, but unfortunately, the photo I took is a 35mm print buried in our storage in MT, so I can't be sure.

(Update:  a friend sent me photos!  See below!)

My nephew Michael was here the past three weeks and I figured this was the best option to get out of the city and give him a good look at the surrounding countryside.  We were hoping that Jilmer (an Etnos student) would come along to make the most of his English practicum, but it didn't work out.
One of many mandarin orchards we passed

The trip out to Jardín de las Delicias (Garden of Delights) took us about 3 hours, the first half of which was spent crossing and get out of the city.  Then, at the town of El Torno, we turned off the highway and crossed the Río Piraí.

That's where the adventure started.

I made the rookie mistake of following my map instead of asking locally about the river crossing.  It was a bit deeper than I was planning.  A Land Cruiser "taxi" stopped on the other bank to watch us cross!

Screenshot from the GoPro as we hit the middle of the river
The Patrol powered through it and we continued on our way.  We filmed the whole trip in with the GoPro stuck on the Patrol, but at 1.5 hours, it's a pretty long film.  So I cut it down to the most interesting bits, which is much easier to watch, under 15 minutes:

I titled it "Cruisers and Crossings" because the vehicle of choice back there is the Toyota Land Cruiser pickup, often with a tarp canopy as you can see in the video thumbnail, and the best part about the drive was the ~35 water crossings that we made (one way).  We're a few weeks out of rainy season, so they were all pretty low, but it was a good time.

(Click here if you want to see the full, 85 minute version)

Of course, once we got to Jardín de las Delicias, we had plenty to take photos of, as well.  The park has four waterfalls total, but due to the landscape, it takes an hour and a half to get to the second (tallest) one.  If would have been a fun hike, but we didn't have the time.  We contented ourselves with the first, which is 90 meters tall (295 feet) and just a 20 minute walk to the bottom.

Overlooking the 295-foot cascade

Overlooking the 295-foot cascade

The drastic break in the landscape requires some well-built stairs

First waterfall: 295 feet (try to spot Michael on the left)
I also made a couple of high megapixel, interactive panoramas so you can get "into" the photo.
(You may be prompted to install the Microsoft Silverlight browser extension)

Overlook from the top (120mp): https://photosynth.net/view/5b3f707a-b685-4ee0-b89b-b3598369d848
Waterfall from below (100mp): https://photosynth.net/view/9939dc0b-b10d-4a22-9c0d-da014644b385

The park has only been developed in the past 10 years or so and is run by a cooperative of 17 members of the community who take turns manning the station and guiding tours.  The installations were built with the help of an NGO a few years ago.  There are rooms to stay in,  a camping area, picnic shelter, BBQ, and kitchen that are very nicely done.

Welcome center
Picnic shelter, BBQ, and kitchen

On the way back out, we took more time to take photos of the scenery

A house in the neighborhood, with solar panel

Bright pink tajibo tree and Land Cruiser


I contacted the four others that were also on that flight 13 years ago, and my friend Alana sent me these photos!  The waterfall in the foreground is the lower falls, which we didn't see.  The one I photographed is the smaller one in the background.  I definitely want to go back and see the BIG one!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Backyard Sled Launcher

Winter in Montana is pretty much the opposite of any season in Santa Cruz, so we want to give the girls as many opportunities to enjoy it as possible.  We have taken them sledding in the mountains a couple times already, but they can't get enough.

Sledding at the Bridger Bowl ski resort in November

That said, we can't take them out to a sled hill every time they get a hankering for some downhill fun.

Over the summer, I asked the framing carpenters at the construction site next door if I could scavenge material from their trash trailer, which they gladly accepted.  I built some shelves for our storage shed with it, but had some left.

So I built a sled launcher!

The horizontal deck is 42" from the ground and the sled run is about 72" long and 24" wide.  It is pretty basic construction that wouldn't win any awards, but it was cheap, considering all I bought was the screws!

I finished it a week ago during the warm snap.  Last night and this morning we finally got the big snow that we needed to make it work!  As I shoveled the back sidewalk this morning, I threw the snow at the base, to make a smoother transition.  

Addi and Lydia (Anne is traveling with Kaylee's mom) tried it out today with their neighbor friends: 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Tinker Tools: Generator Repair (and a new skill, to boot!)

Almost 3 years ago now, I bought a Homelite generator from another missionary.  Just a small 110v, 500W unit that would make a nice backup for power outages or working in the country.  It's extremely compact and easy to take along.  It even has a 12v output for charging car batteries!  Of course, at the time, we were planning on living in the jungle, so it would have been extra handy. 

This photo and the next one were taken April 23, 2013 -- the last time I worked on it! :oops:

However, the first time I tried it out, it started leaking gasoline all over the place.  Naturally, I pulled it apart, assuming it was a bad fuel line and easily fixable.  Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. :(

Turns out, the fuel tank had broken at some point and someone tried to fix it.  The main outlet at the base of the tank was evidently a plastic nipple that had broken off.  It had been replaced with a metal nipple that was just threaded through the thin tank wall.  It wasn't holding fuel and neither was a joint halfway up the tank where the fuel gauge used to be.

I honestly didn't know what to do with it.  I tried a couple of different epoxies here, but the gasoline ate right through them.

My attempts to fix it with epoxy were completely futile

While we were in the US a couple months later, I ordered a replacement tank from Sears, but their customer service being what it is the past few years, I received an email once a week for 6 months saying it was back-ordered, even though the website said "In Stock."  :bangsheadonwall:

Ultimately, I didn't have the time to fuss with it, so it has just been taking up space among my tools for 2 years.

Now that the kitchen is done, I was feeling my freedom a bit yesterday and decided to tear into it.  I had done some reading on plastic welding and I knew (from "buying" one online) that the tank is made of ABS.  I have plenty of scraps of ABS pipe around.  So I tried it out.

The basic principles of plastic welding are similar to steel welding: two pieces of similar material heated and melted together using another piece of the same material as filler.

Because it is a relatively small project, I used a candle and my old 40-watt soldering iron to do the job.  The candle is for general heating and the soldering iron is for mixing it all together.

I cut bits off of the pipe (left) that were easier to work with.  Yes, that's a custom handle on the soldering iron.  The original one was plastic and melted. :P

Heat the filler over the candle until it is melting and on fire

Stuff it into the joint and use the soldering iron to mix it into the other two pieces (which should also be hot/warm)
I originally tried to just build up the plastic around the nipple the way I did with the epoxy, but it just kept leaking and I couldn't control the size of the hole in the tank very well.  So I cut a piece of pipe, drilled a hole in it, and threaded the nipple all the way into it.  Then I filled in around the threads that stuck through the backside. Then, when it was ready, I welded it onto the tank as a single unit.  I don't have photos of that process because it was late last night and I was trying to get it done.

Here's how it looks, all finished:
Here you can see the two patches - one just left of center, where the gauge was, and the other just below center, where the hose comes out

Not pretty, but apparently effective.  The teflon is from a roll left behind by the guys that changed the natural gas in our kitchen, so I'm hoping it is the petroleum-resistant type ;)
I left it sit all night with gas in the tank and was very disappointed this morning to find it seeping. :(  I pulled it apart again and low and behold, all my joints were dry and the hose was leaking from the other end!  After a new bit of hose, it's dry as can be!

Although I don't have so much need for it now that we're living "in town," we still do have an occasional outage, and it will be nice to be able to run lights or the few other things I have in 110v: Dremel, coffee grinder, battery chargers for cameras and cordless drills, laptop and internet. . . ;)
Ready to go!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Kitchen Remodel: Finished!

Hurray, our kitchen is back to normal and better than ever!  I finished the paint yesterday and Kaylee made a curtain for the window today.

Click here for Kitchen Remodel: Part 1   Click here for Kitchen Remodel: Part 2

Here it is:

Of course, now I'm self conscious about how the ceiling looks.  It's not nearly so noticeable in person (the flash highlights the patches).  We want to get new lighting, with better placement, which means that I'll have to re-do some of the ceiling anyway and will finish it then.

As an added bonus to the way we cut the cabinets, this upper cabinet now looks like it belongs there!  It was so strange before.

Here are the before and after photos: