20101011

After Dark Explorations

I may be out of paid employment, but I'm keeping busy volunteering in non-profit development, writing grants and organizing fundraising events for the Homeless Cat Network, an all-volunteer cat rescue group. But even unemployed volunteers need an occasional break. Last week's entertainment was an evening at the Exploratorium, a hands-on science museum. 

The Explo organizes After Dark, a monthly adult-oriented after-hours program. The series is well-planned and executed, with themed exhibits, films, lectures and artwork interspersed between the regular exhibits. And yes, there are two or three cash bars brought in specifically for the events. This month's theme was Alternative Energy Exploration, and featured alternatives in transportation, agriculture, and energy generation.

The SOHH Project, a "pedal-powered vehicle with motor assist," was conceived of by an 8th grader (and his father). The batteries can be charged via a solar panel on a sunny day or standard household 110v current on less-sunny days.
My photo does not do the cycle justice, so please visit the project website for the full story and more photos. I also visited the Flying Pig, which had been built on a Super Beetle chassis, and two modified Miatas, which were near and dear to my heart because I own a Miata (unmodifed, though). I will grant that plug-in sustainability is ultimately affected by the fuel source of the power plant, but hope in the long-run the utilities will move to more sustainable options and we will become more judicious in our consumption.

Going off the grid, I stopped by the Bamboo Bike Studio exhibit. They sell kits and help you build your own bamboo-framed push bike. The bamboo does look very nice (sorry, I didn't get a photo). It's a bit out of my budget right now, though. Plus, I tend to leave my bike out in the rain, something that my chromaly frame handles very well.

On the agricultural side, Kijiji Grows is an aquaponics consultancy based in Oakland, California. Aquaponics differs from hydroponics in that it is nearly a permaculture system. It includes an aquacultural element that requires you to feed the fish, so the loop is not entirely closed. After running by the plant roots, the water cycles into a fish pond, and then through a filtration system containing bacteria which convert the fish waste into usable components for the plants.
Halfway through the event I queued up to sample sweetwater oysters from Hog Island oyster farm. I'm not normally a huge oyster fan. I don't dislike them, but I don't go out of my way to eat them. The sweetwaters are relatively small, with a mild, almost sweet, taste and silky texture. I found myself wanting a nice, crisp Sauvignon Blanc or Sémillon with them, and I'm not typically a white wine drinker, either.

The night's speakers included lectures on Hydrogen and Wind energy, as well as a hands-on presentation of solar, wind, and hydro electricity generation. Unfortunately, I cannot recall what this man is demonstrating. I had to order my drink early on so I could drive home later and I hit this lecture at my high point. My apologies!
The only disappointment was an issue beyond the museum's control. Solar Sunflowers, designed by Poetic Kinetics and managed by Black Rock Solar, were inoperative. The designers and/or project managers couldn't deliver a working product on schedule, and could barely manage to assemble the defective colossi they brought. They were still nice to look at as static sculptures but didn't really fit into the evening's theme that way.

All in all, it was a nice 4 hour diversion while I took a break from fundraiser preparations. As I headed home to resume my work, I saw several people strolling the path across from the Palace of Fine Arts, which is beautifully lit at night, enjoying the relatively balmy autumn evening. I only wish I could have taken more time to take a better photo of it...