Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Electronic Cigarette? What? Why?-

January 11, 2011 3 comments

Having been a smoker of cigarettes, pipes and occasionally, cigars for over 40 years, I was a little dismayed when the surgeon told me that I had to give up smoking if I wanted the broken bones in my wrist to knit.

Apparently, the effect of smoking on bone healing is that oxygen flow is limited as there is a lot of other muck in the blood, notably carbon monoxide and oxygen is needed for the bone to heal. This is a layman’s grasp of the situation.

Knowing that I would almost certainly suffer arthritis in my wrist if the bone did not heal properly, I agreed and the surgeon said he could fit me in within the week.

As soon as I got home, I searched the Internet for e-cigarettes and decided on a particular brand, only because their liquid nicotine extract is made in the UK and ordered all the gadgetry needed to smoke without smoking, so to speak.

The parcel duly arrived and I put away my tin of rolling tobacco, filters, papers etc and started up this new toy, expecting very little in the way of satisfaction.

I was ready for cold turkey – but it never happened.

I was admitted to hospital and the operation to repair my scaphoid was carried out, including a small bone graft and the insertion of a screw to hold all the bits together.

When I came round, I was gasping for a fag and remembered the e-fag in my bag.

I took myself for a little walk down the corridor of the hospital, gadget in mouth. The particular one that I chose glows blue when drawn upon, so it cannot be mistaken for a “proper” cigarette – and no one challenged me.

That was last November. I have been experimenting with the e-cigarette, using different strengths and flavours of nicotine extract.

As luck would have it, within a week of my being discharged from hospital, my mother was admitted with a blood clot on her lung.

Now, Mum has been smoking for about 70 years and was not about to give up for anything or anyone. Except of course, in hospital, she was not allowed to smoke.

When she was discharged, she was gasping for a smoke and I gave her an e-cig.

She did not believe that it could replace the pleasure she got from a real cigarette, but soon found that it was, in fact, better!

So, we have both been using these gizmos since before Christmas and Mum has not missed her cigarettes.

As an experiment, I have had the odd real cigarette but can honestly say that I did not enjoy them.

I have opted to refill my own e-cigs, and that is a bit fiddly, especially with a plaster cast on my hand. I could have bought ready-filled tips, but I was not only looking to give up smoking, but to save as much money as possible.

So, every other evening, I sit with a bottle of nicotine mixture, a syringe, a paperclip and some tissue, and fill the used tips. In fact, it takes only about five minutes. Everything is provided by the e-cig company, including surgical rubber gloves to protect the hands against the nicotine concentrate, which, I understand, can be dangerous if it comes into contact with the skin for a prolonged period.

So, what is an e-cigarette?

The one I use comes in three parts, the rechargeable battery, an atomiser and the tip, which contains the nicotine extract.

The battery can be charged in the USB port of a computer, in a car’s cigar lighter, or, at extra cost, from the mains. Mum and I both have three batteries, so when a battery is discharged, another two are always available, as long as I remember to put them on charge.

The Cost?

I have worked out that between the two of us, we spend about £22 a month by refilling our used cartridge filters. If I were to buy ready filled cartridges, the cost would rise to about £50 a month.

Either way, compare that to our monthly cost of traditional tobacco products, about £220.

So, in conclusion, the e-cigarette gives me as much of a kick as an ordinary cigarette. I am not inhaling carbon monoxide (as I am not burning anything) or the other added chemicals that I would get from a “real” cigarette. There is no smoke, so an e-cig can be smoked in places where smoking is prohibited. And I am saving a bucketful of money.


The Best Laid Plans Of Mice and Men

March 2, 2010 Leave a comment

No, not Mr Burns, nor Mr Steinbeck, just me.

Having, in theory, finished the design for the anaerobic digester, I turned my mind to our other major project, building the dormitories to give some of our most vulnerable children somewhere to live.

We don’t need berths for all the kids, just a few; those who are living without any adult supervision or help; those who have nowhere else to go – we have a few of these.

So, we have settled on two dormitories, each with 8 berths. That was easy enogugh.

But it is not just the dorms. So, the existing hut, which has three rooms, will be converted into dining/study area, kitchen and supervisor’s room.

But we need washing facilities and toilets. A deep pit has already been started for the latter, but i want to collect the methane produced to use as fuel and that is not so easy.

We have to maintain the vegetable plot and the play area. So. the plan looks something like this:


All we need now is the money to buy the building materials, furniture and fittings, a generator …


January 5, 2010 Leave a comment

I have never been organised – either in work or life in general. I just muddle along from one job to another and seem to get things done eventually.

I am certainly not business oriented. I am an engineer as the title of this blog hints at. I like making and fixing things,  from cars to computers.

But, after my last visit to Kenya, where i have been trying to set up a business with a friend, as well as experimenting with ways to produce free cooking fuel, safe drinking water, etc., I find Iam wearing several different hats.

The tool-using thing-maker hat is on its hook, and I am wearing the administrator and businessman hats.

Since my return, I have been contacted by several people regarding the expansion of the activities of our organisation, KCIS, or people wanting more information about us. We have even been approached by an organisation who may fund the building dormitories for our children’s centre (which is non-residential at the moment).

At the same time, I am trying to do the work for the Kenyan business that I had promised our clients. If I don’t get it done, we don’t get paid, so it is quite important.

So, I’ve got too many things going on, too many plates spinning, and it doesn’t help when someone contacts me through one medium, such as Twitter, then emails me using a different user name!

I am confused! My mind is in butterfly mode, flitting from one task to another. Sometimes, I even get something finished.

I have tried “To Do” lists, but lose them. I have tried using lists on the computer, but to no avail.

So I guess I will keep muddling along, getting things done – eventually.

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Busy, busy

December 12, 2009 5 comments

I am back from a month in Kenya. I arrived in the UK worn out, dusty, dirty, smelly (after a 9 hour trip on an old bus then straight onto a plane) and hungry.

At home, a shower, a meal, a cup of tea (strong, little milk and sugar, rather than Kenyan-style), and I could sit back and figure out what has been achieved on this trip.

Our biggest achievement was to build an anaerobic digester. We didn’t follow any of my designs as funds were limited and a “proper” system would have cleared out my wallet long before I was due to come back. So we compromised. We scoured the markets of Kisii for plumbing connections and fittings, eventually finding enough bits and pieces that actually fitted together to make the first build.

After a bit of negotiation (bartering) we acquired a 45 gallon oil drum, fitted all the bits and pieces and filled it with cow slurry and waited. A digester usually takes about a week to start producing gas.

But we were impatient, so a couple of days later, we opened the tap. The smell that came out of the tap was awful – as you can well imagine – and it didn’t burn. We purged all the gas out and hoped that any gas that wasn’t methane had been expelled.

Another two days passed and we tried again. This  time, we attached the Calor burner from home to the pipe and lo!, we had a flame, not very strong, not very hot, but it was a flame.

This was cause for celebration as we were to travel to Bungoma the following day to meet people from an organisation looking for ways to use the nuisance weed, water hyacinth. Would it make methane? Yes, it will.

Following our initial success, we bought a Calor table-top stove, modified the air intakes and connected it up to the digester. After a little purging, we got a pretty blue flame.  We had to take off the diffusers, but we had a proper flame, nice and blue and hot. We boiled water on it, then we ran out of gas.

The fundamental flaw with our “modified” design is that the feed stock and gas are stored in the same container. So, as gas is produced, it builds up pressure, compressing the feed stock until it cannot release more gas. So, we need a second container for storage. I knew this and there is provision to add one at a later date, when funds permit.

In the meantime, we opened the digester and stirred the feed stock. It was like porridge. So we added a couple of litres of water. We got a better, longer flow of gas, but we were still hampered by the fact that there was very little space in the top of the barrel to store gas.

However, the exercise was to produce a flammable gas for cooking and we have achieved that. The addition of a storage tank and a header tank to keep the gas under pressure will be a vast improvement and will allow us to store 45 gallons of gas under pressure, which should be enough to cook a meal for several people, but proof will have to wait until my next trip and the funds to buy a second drum and a few other bits.

Anaerobic Digesters to Collect Methane

October 18, 2009 2 comments

Wearing my “Tool-using Think-maker” hat, I designed a simple methane collector for use in warm climates as found in East Africa. The methane would be used for cooking, or to power petrol-fuelled static machinery, such as a borehole pump or electricity generator.

But, to my mind, although the simplest design worked, it had certain flaws, mainly to do with safety. After all, methane is flammable.

Methane collector Mk2

So, I have been tweaking the design and I came up with a slightly modified version, which I felt was safer as I designed in an anti-blow-back device.

But I was still not satisfied. So now I have come up with a Mk2 version. I have been playing around with this version for a few months now, and I am just about happy  with it.

Unfortunately, it is far more complicated (and therefore more expensive) to build, but easier to maintain.

I will be returning to Kenya on 12th November and I hope I will be able to build one of the new Mk2 models – or at least, something approaching it. It all rathe depends on what materials I can find, what tools are available, etc.

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Photography? Not these days

October 3, 2009 Leave a comment

There have always been two types of camera-user, one who studies the subject, checks the framing, lighting, and eventually produces a photograph to be proud of, and the second, who basically points and shoots.

But in the days of film cameras, point-and shooters used a little discrimination because the film and the processing cost money, and there was the problem of running out of film. But today, with cheap digital cameras and cell phones with built-in cameras, the only constraint is the size of memory.

Then we got sites such as Webshots and Flickr, where photographers could show their masterpieces, and now we have twitter and its associated picture uploading add-ons.

And, having looked at a very few of the millions of photos that are uploaded, I ask myself, “Why do they bother?”

What is the point of uploading a picture where the subject cannot be identified because there was camera shake, or it is out of focus, or there was not enough light?

And then there are the people who are uploading not their photos, but pictures of cartoon characters pulled directly off a web page – what is the sense in that? All it does is clutter up the Internet.

I don’t profess to be a good photographer, but my digital camera now allows me to take several photos where I would have taken only one with my 35mm camera. Then I choose the best and ditch the rest.

But there seems  to be an indiscriminate need to upload everything, good, bad and rubbish.

I hope it will end soon.

Trees, Charcoal and Rain

September 26, 2009 5 comments

Once again I read that Africa is suffering because people are cutting trees for fuel and to produce charcoal. Generally, the charcoal production is illegal, but this can be sorted out with a back-hander – no change there then.

From what I have seen and heard on my trips to Kenya, the solar cooker, which can be made for pennies, are very efficient, but do not fit in with the East African psyche, they take too long to cook a meal. From my observations, it seems that Kenyans like to prepare and eat with little or no gap in between. So they need an instant heat source to cook on, wood, charcoal, kerosene or, if they are modern (and can afford it) butane gas.

So, trees will continue to be decimated until an alternative instant fuel is found, that is acceptable to those who have to use it.

You can read an article on the BBC website here

I have been working on methane collector design for a while now and have come up with a version that is easy and cheap to construct, and easy to use.

My contention is that if butane is acceptable, then so is methane. The difference is that methane occurs naturally, and to collect it is a simple matter. It is FREE!

Looking at its use ecologically, burning methane forms water and CO2, which is a good thing. Why? Because methane is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, so it is far more acceptable to have CO2 floating around rather than methane, isn’t it?

But most people living in rural East Africa are not interested in that, they are too busy surviving.

So, what about the charcoal makers? They will not be happy seeing their livlihood disappearing as people convert to methane for cooking.

So, show them how to make methane collectors, install them and maintain them. Yes, they need maintaining. A 45 gallon methane collector will produce gas for about six months before it needs refurbishing. But, the by-product is fertiliser, just what is needed on a shamba.

So, to recap:

  • Methane is free
  • Using methane saves trees
  • A methane collector produces fertiliser
  • Using methane helps to eliminate a potent greenhouse gas that would normally escape to atmosphere.
  • Methane is a clean fuel, so there are no particulates to irritate and inflame eyes and lungs.
  • Charcoal producers can be easily trained to make, install and maintain methane collectors, so they will not lose their income. In fact, with a little persuasion, maybe they will even promote the use of methane.

Methane can also be used as an alternative to petrol, so it will run a generator or water pump.

What is the next step?

KCIS has produced a working model. We can produce free methane. We are willing to spread the word.

We have contacted various charities and NGOs who are supposed to be interested in saving trees and protecting the water catchment areas. What is their response?


If you are interested in saving trees in Kenya, contact us. We will work with anyone who is serious about making people’s lives better in Kenya, or even East Africa.

Also published at Baba Mzungu’s blog