Project Update!

We’ve been working hard since we arrived at the rickshaw bank factory, and all three projects are starting to look useful.

Suspension Fork:
After installing the fork prototype on an old rickshaw, the fork team
has tested and altered the design until it performs like a half-decent piece of modern suspension. The largely adjustable prototype they are working with allows them to find the exact dimensions and key changes for the final, simplified design that will be reproducible by the rickshaw factory. This also includes testing a variety of different springs made of different combinations of rubber discs cut from old car tires. Today they began actual test rides, but after numerous runs through an obstacle course of bricks and small ditches, they encountered a substantial design flaw when the shaft holding the spring discs buckled. Fortunately, Ali, a masterful factory worker with an amazing mechanical intuition, was able to straighten the 1/4 in mild steel shaft to near perfection with a hammer and his eye in a matter of minutes. The team built a new system for holding the spring and will resume testing tomorrow.

Frame Redesign:
After a week of measurement and calculation, the frame team ordered supplies to build a first draft frame! Starting tomorrow they will finally escape their pencils and paper and start welding. The goal was to incorporate a truss frame into the rear section of the frame to increase strength to weight efficiency over the current design at the rickshaw bank. Such a truss frame was designed by D-Lab students a few years ago, but dimensions generated by the computer aided drafting interfered with the drivetrain and deviated from the standard in some important dimensions for usability: the wheelbase and the shape of the passenger floor. The new design will incorporate this truss design with corrected dimensions to match the existing standards.

Power Meter:
The power meter team has battled a number of stressful bugs, defective chips, and lack of needle nose pliers due to Micaela’s airport security incident. They are currently getting the sum of 3 different waveforms instead of the expected 1 as force output data, but will otherwise have to write their own update because I don’t know anything else.

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Happy Birthday Jaswanth!

Today one of our team turned 21! We had lots of cake in the factory, including a flower candle that opened up when lit to expose petals with more burning candles. It then sang happy birthday, then 8 inch flames spewed from the top of it. Can we get these in the states? Jaswanth joined us from MIT only a few days ago, but has already been instrumental in helping us and the locals understand one another with his pentalingual skills.

Today was also the last in the factory for the Olin team that has been here for several weeks. It has been wonderful to work with all of you! We hope to see you back in Boston or maybe once again in India.

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Today we ate dinner at a local restaurant called Nagameez. The food was delicious, but more spicy than some of us are used to. Sydney and I just realized that we never introduced our team, so here’s a picture of us all at Nagameez tonight.

Front (L to R): Jaswanth Madhavan ’13, course 1A and 11; Gwyn Jones, instructor, Jeff Carothers ’14, course 2.

Back (L to R): Jessica Ong ’15, course 2 or 6, Sydney Beasley ’14, course 1; Luke Plummer ’14, course 2; Micaela Wiseman ’13, course 6.

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Indian Cuisine

India offers so many new and exciting things, one of the most important being its cuisine! (And for those of you who know me, it should be no surprise I’m blogging about food) A few dishes here are familiar, while others I never could have imagined. Some interesting things about Assam – it’s famous for its tea and it’s home to the hottest pepper in the world, the Bhut Jolokia chili pepper, known also as the Ghost Pepper. Luke and Jeff have been on the hunt for this pepper since day one (despite warnings from a local resident they might just end up in the hospital) In general, the food is much spicier than I’m used to, but I still think most of its delicious!

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These guys are everywhere! I love them! 😀

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The Bihu Mystery Adventure, Part II

Like we mentioned earlier, we’ve been living on the edge of spontaneity. What we do or when we do it always has an element of mystery to it right up until it’s happening. It’s less a product of our own impulsive natures than the ambiguity imposed by language barriers, but it still makes for an interesting time.

Our hosts here at Rickshaw Bank have been wonderfully hospitable, and we were again whisked off by Subus Sarma, this time to meet with his family and eat at his house. In keeping with the Bihu holiday spirit, we gathered at a table to chat and munch on sweets similar to those we had the previous day – some molasses and rice concoction, sugary pastries, and delicious balls of coconut. As we polished off the food, we began speculating – both grimly and humorously – when the notorious nut and leaf snack from yesterday would make an appearance and how to evade putting it anywhere near our mouths. Good old American politeness can really only go so far. But we were safe – for the time being.

After being stuffed full, we were presented with even more food – a succulent homecooked meal, with eggplant, the potato dish we’ve become rather familiar with, and light fluffy bread (pori, I believe). In India, we’re always served with each part of the meal already on our plate – not like in America where everyone chooses from communal serving dishes. I’ve been enjoying this approach; my effort to clean my plate practically forces me to try new, interesting foods I would otherwise avoid. I always feel a bit bad when our hosts put a fresh, elaborately crafted salad in front of us, only for it to go untouched. It’s the same when they make the effort to pour us cool glasses of water – but thus is the price to avoid the type of illness our delicate American tummies can’t handle. When the tea – for which Assam is famous – come out, so does the golden platter with leaves and the small, hard nuts. Luke and I exchange panicked glances right before Subus calls me out. “You want?” “Uhm…. No, thank you!” I quickly reply before occupying myself with sipping down as much burning tea as I can. “No, no, try!” I smile and shake my head – not gonna take one for the team this time. Everyone else around the table similarly declines, and Subus seems much more entertained than offended.

He has a lovely family and we especially enjoyed chatting with their teenage neighbor, who has impeccable English and reminds me a bit of a diplomat, folding his hands and describing India’s need for more development projects like ours. He’s a great kid and gives us a lot of suggestions for things to do around Guwahati and articulately answers a barrage of questions that we’ve been storing up because they’re a bit difficult to understand or answer for those not fluent in English.

We wrapped up with our usual photo-op for the benefit of both parties, and I came away again so grateful and impressed by how genuine and hospitable the people we’ve met are to us foreigners.

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Causing Fights at the Factory

As you know, Micaela and I are working on measuring the power it takes to pedal a rickshaw. Long story short, part of the project involves using a Vernier Lab Quest to measure the amplitude of a triangle wave and its derivative. We plugged in a hand dynamometer (which basically measures the force of a squeeze) to see how many data points the Lab Quest can record. This quickly turned into a competition among the factory workers to register the strongest grip on the sensor. After the Americans, Luke and Jeff, had soundly beat the workers’ numbers, the workers began to insult each other and argue, which turned into something of a good-natured brawl before workers eventually made their way back to their stations.

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