Searching for contentment

William Kamkwamba, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Co-authored by Bryan Mealer; delightfully narrated by Chike Johnson

William Kamkwamba grew up in the small, rural village of Wimbe, Malawi in a farming family that got by at a subsistence level. In 2002, when he was a young teenager, Malawi was hit by a severe drought, and he and his family came close to starving to death. Afterwards, they could no longer afford to send him to secondary school, yet his passion for learning continued to drive him, and his experience with the drought inspired him to focus his creative genius on figuring out how to create windwills from physics books he borrowed from his three-shelf local library, in order to provide his family with electricity and a way to pump water. Scraping together an assortment of parts from the local junkyard and just about anywhere else he could find them, and against all odds, he succeeded.

I read about William years ago, but hadn't come across his book until just recently. It's wonderful to read his whole story, to gain the context of what growing up in Wimbe was like, to become better acquainted with the challenges he faced: grinding poverty, a culture of superstition that often stood opposed to science and education, and a political climate that was often nefarious and corrupt. Understanding this shines a light on how truly remarkable his journey has been.

Now a recent graduate of Dartmouth, William is already an accomplished speaker, giving talks around the world, and is also doing incredible work to help improve life in his family's village and throughout the surrounding Kasungu district. He's also inspiring people everywhere to reach higher.

Related TED talk: How I harnessed the wind.

Harper Audio, 2009

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Contemplating: Photographing fungi

When I got a decent camera, I discovered that it helped me to see the world around me in a much more immersive manner; I began noticing things I might have walked right past previously, including fungi like this happy cluster that I noticed alongside the Buchanan Pass Trail.

Beautifully pattered mushrooms alongside the Buchanan Pass Trail

Understanding this gift that photography gives me makes me even more deeply appreciate a set of photographs of fungi by Alison Pollack that I came across. She is fortunate to be in Northern California, which typically receives much more rainfall than we do here, but I also think she must have an excellent eye because the variety of fungi she has photographed—some of which are incredibly tiny and unlike anything I've seen before—is astonishing.

Trametes versicolor by Alison Pollack
Trametes versicolor at Mount Tamalpais
by Alison Pollack

It's well worth it to take some time to slowly peruse her fascinating collection.

marin_mushrooms by Alison Pollack

More recent contemplations >

Woodworking: Windtraveler lamp

The Windtraveler shoji lamp

Dedicated to my good friend Thomas Hey'l
who has inspired me to look at design more deeply
and to take even more care about precision.

More about this project >
More woodworking >

Living in the Rockies

Most years, our Thanksgiving tradition is to take a walk up in the nearby mountains and enjoy lunch while feasting our eyes gratefully on the beauty surrounding us. This was the view from our dining room this year, from a lookout point just a short walk from Lily Lake.

We're looking northwest across Rocky Mountain National Park toward the Mummy Range (from left to right: Mount Chapin, Mount Chiquita, Ypsilon Mountain, Fairchild Mountain, Hagues Peak, and Mummy Mountain). In the middle of the photo to the right is Bighorn Mountain (it's a bit shorter than the other peaks, so not yet snow capped). At the foot of Bighorn, just to the left, you can see an open area, Moraine Park, which is a favorite destination of ours. Not only do we often see herds of elk grazing there, it's also where Cub Lake and Fern Lake Trailheads are located, which are a couple of our favorite hiking trails.

The Mummy Range in Rocky Mountain National Park

Higher res version of this photo >
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Ham radio: Reflections of an amateur⩘ 

My HT: Kenwood TH-D74A

Although I'm still relatively new to the universe of amateur radio, I've already enjoyed enough interesting learning experiences as well as stubbed my toes enough times to have gained a few insights. I'm a non-technical user figuring things out as I go along, and I also don't have a great memory, so I'm writing these articles as my way to keep track of what I'm learning (and also just for fun, as I love writing as much as learning). Basically, this is info I wish I had found online when I was browsing for insights:⩘ .

Playing with Pi-Star⩘ 
More amateur radio⩘ 


Sharks kill an average of 10 people per year. People kill around 100,000,000 sharks per year 1. People also kill approximately 425,000 people per year, topped only by mosquitoes, which kill about 725,000 people per year 2.

And we worry about sharks?

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People walk at an average pace of about 2.5 miles per hour.
Trail winding up Cow Creek valley by Toshen
Meanwhile, light travels about 186,000 miles per second, or about 11,160,000 miles per hour. It would take light about 0.13 seconds to travel around the Earth,
Blue Marble, 2012. Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
1.3 seconds to travel the 238,900 miles from the moon to the Earth,
Big end-of-year moon by Toshen
8.3 minutes to travel the 93,000,000 miles from the sun to Earth, and 1.3 hours to travel the 890,000,000 miles from the sun to Saturn.
Saturn. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
At the scale of the solar system, the Earth is a spec of dust (1,300,000 Earths could fit within our sun).
Sun, from the video Fiery Looping Rain on the Sun. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO
Our sun, as big as it is, is just a tiny twinkle of light in a suburb of the Milky Way galaxy. Its light takes 28,000 years to travel to the center of the Milky Way. Milky Way. Credit: Kris Wiktor, Shutterstock One light year is just short of 6,000,000,000,000 miles. The Milky Way has a diameter between 150,000 and 200,000 light-years, and contains between 100,000,000,000 - 400,000,000,000 stars, which together create a smidgen of light in our local group of galaxies. The light of the Milky Way takes about 2,500,000 years to travel just to the nearby Andromeda galaxy.
Andromeda. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The observable universe is estimated to contain somewhere between 200,000,000,000 - 2,000,000,000,000 galaxies.
Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF). Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team

And we worry about anything?

All distances and times are approximate.
Inspiration: "New 3D map of the Milky Way shows we live in a warped galaxy," NBC News, Feb 5, 2019.
A related video: The Exhilarating Peace of Freediving by Guillaume Néry.
Image credits:
Hiking trail in Cow Creek valley: Toshen
Blue Marble, 2012, Earth image: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
Full moon image: Toshen
Saturn: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Sun, from the video Fiery Looping Rain on the Sun: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO
Milky Way: Kris Wiktor, Shutterstock
Andromeda: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF): NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team