Steve Forbes Visit

l to r: tim, ryan, matt, steve, maria

Steve Forbes, our mentor, came for another visit to NYC a few days ago while enroute to Ghana. To keep with the theme, we had dinner at Kampuchea, a new Cambodian fusion restaurant in the East Village. While chowing on noodles, crepes, and Vietnamese sandwiches, Steve updates us on his insight on finances for this project, "...well, on the bad side, we're short....and on the good side, well, we're short...".

Not exactly the best taste to add to the delicious food, but we've been anticipating this situation, and have given alot of considerations towards value engineering, along with possible fundraising, to help mediate the cost of the project.


Preparing for the Rainy Season

Tobias just sent us some photos from the site. They have organized between 20 and 40 local villagers a day from the different Balang Commune villages to come work on installing sod on the repaired embankment. This type of community involvement is really great. They are only able to complete about 10m or sod a day so it is slow going but the people that will directly benefit from this project are investing their sweat equity into the repair.

At the same time, we hope the villagers will understand that the reason they are spreading sod is to prevent erosion. You can see in the photo above how much damage was done to the unprotected embankment in just the first two weeks of the rainy season.


Kite Aerial Photography (KAP)

During the recent site visit, wiL had a chance to try out his Kite Aerial Photography unit (KAP). After converting his apartment into a makeshift shop, he fabricated some mounting hardware and remote controlled servo motors, and mounted his digital camera to a kite. When he got to the dam site, he launched the kite a few hundred feet into the air, and used the remote control to snap off some cool photos of the earthen dam (with construction in progress).

Prior to launching the KAP unit, we had no reliable maps and no legible satellite imagery. The KAP was an inexpensive improvisation that allowed us to quickly obtain reliable data. We'll use the photos (along with our conventional survey data) to more closely define the project scope, perform a hydrological study, and hopefully reduce overall project costs.


Back to the Office

We are back from Cambodia and straight into the offices of New York. Here are some of the issues we are currently discussing:

1. Value Engineering
2. Hydrological analysis
3. Locating the North and South Embankments
4. Designing the concrete Water Gate
5. Planning the next phases of construction (scheduling, local labor coordination, bidding process)

Being stuck in an office for, what seems like, days on end is not nearly as fun as running around the site in Cambodia but it is great to be back in New York with the rest of the group. We have a huge amount of work to complete before 7/22/07 but I'm confident we will succeed.


Spotlight: Narith

Sometimes, people come along in life that surprise you with their abilities. You probably know a consultant who's a closet painter; maybe an advertising desk jockey training for a marathon; and let's not forget about your new intern who is much better at your job than you are. Meet Narith: field engineer for our project, and all-around nice guy.

We first met Narith at the site, where he was diligently engaged in something other than what we needed him to do. This moment expressed a more general challenge with the project - how to persuade a group of people, to whom we were total outsiders, that the methods they've been using all their lives are flawed at best, possibly even dangerous. How do you tell a crew of native-born construction workers and engineers, through a language barrier, that a pack of post-pubescent kids who grew up listening to 2 Live Crew knows embankment construction better than anyone else around? It wasn't the easiest thing we've done.

We all came to Cambodia having cut our teeth on the New York City design and construction scene, where showing up to a meeting without your guns drawn means you'll be serving coffee to the big Italian contractor for the remainder of the project. But there's a different feel in Southeast Asia - rather than fight you, these people would rather be your friends. Only a few days after our first meeting, our team was sharing a hot-pot with Narith and his wife at a local barbeque restaurant - a few days later, we began to introduce some of our methods, and found them gradually breaking through the language barrier and into Narith's project routine.

By the end of the trip, it became clear that Narith had a burning desire for us to leave behind our level, the piece of equipment he is shown holding. While we would normally return with any equipment we brought with us, his winning combination of Khmer charisma and gravity-defying mole hair (So Pheap: "It's lucky!") eventually won us over. To this day, Narith remains our eyes and ears in the field; our project, with all the bumps along the way, is certainly fortunate to have him.