Tiny Pallet Deck

I had some pallets left over from a fun project I did recently. I have been wanting to build a tiny deck for my grill for a while…so, $12 later quick and easy pallet deck.

First, tie it all together with some  2x4s.


Next, do some site prep.





Three Roles of a Leader

I have had the privilege of knowing and working with Greg Robinson for several years. His ideas have influenced me greatly, but I just now finally read his book A Leadership Paradox: Influencing Others by Defining Yourself. There is a big idea on the very first page: Leaders have to play three roles: prophet, priest and facilitator.

Prophet: A proclaimer who speaks the truth about the current situation, and forms a vision of the future. 

The anxiety of the organization can be amplified by avoiding the simple, unadorned truth. Leaders may fear their people will turn on them as a result of such honesty. Yet in most cases, allowing members to see that ‘what’ and the ‘why’ behind an effort to change calls out the best in people.

Priest: a person who reminds people of who they are.

Leaders are at their best when they see the value in the people around them and call on those people to remember that value. It is easy to forget your own value.

Facilitator: one who makes something easier.

Ultimately, the facilitator seeks to leave those persons he or she helps better equipped to continue on unassisted. In this sense, facilitative leadership is generative in nature.

The rest of the book talks about what it takes to play these roles. It’s worth reading.

Self reflection is in order. I don’t really have big obvious leadership roles in my life. But, it is pretty easy for me to know which ones I am good at and which ones I lack in. I am strong as a facilitator. On a good day I can be a prophet, I am very weak as a priest. I often forget who I am, and I am not good at reminding others of who they are.

It seems that these three roles are of equal importance. A leader or leadership team cannot be successful if they lack even one of the roles. For example an organization that has a strong prophet and priest leader will understand their situation and where they want to be, and everybody will know they have a part to play, but there will be no path to get there. On the other hand a an organization that lacks a prophet will not be able to honestly evaluate their current situation. They will probably have all sorts of great plans that do not work to a unified vision of the future. Finally lacking a priest means that the people in an organization will not know their own value, talents, and importance, and how they fit into the overall work being done. Or perhaps the leadership team will not value the people and see them simply as machines to be used for accomplishing the goals.  For sure an organization that lacks one of these roles can still have some level of success, but will be more effective if all three are present.


Much has been said about throwaway culture and how we don’t often fix things that break, we just get new ones. Products are not designed to be fixed, computers are commodities, etc.

I take part in that culture plenty. My phone has an integrated battery. When it wears out it can’t be replaced.

But, I am glad to say that this weekend I did my part to not contribute. $2, a utility knife, a screwdriver and five minutes kept this hose out of the trash and working for another season.hose

The True Cost of Clean Water

My wife and I live in Tulsa, OK. We usually pay about $50 a month for water. For that fifty dollars we get to take showers or turn on the faucet to get some clean water to drink. Sometimes I water our little vegetable garden. We clean our clothes and make ice. Seems like a really good deal to me!

Our water bill went up a lot in one month, a ridiculous amount in fact. So, I did some checking and sure enough we had a water leak in the pipe that feeds our house. I poked around a bit in the yard and started digging. Our house is 80 years old, so I was not particularly surprised to find an old rusty steel pipe leaking water.

Only one thing to do: call a plumber. We decided to just replace the whole pipe instead of trying to patch it.

A few days later they replaced the pipe. It took a whole day, 4 people working at various times, 2 big expensive pieces of equipment (a mini trackhoe and directional boring machine), 3 shovels, a blowtorch, two pex expanders, a copper pipe cutter, a bucket, concrete, a masonry drill, 2 pex cutters, 3 vans, 2 trailers, and miscellaneous parts. Oh, and a city inspector. All that just to put 60 feet of pipe in the ground. My $50 a month water did not seem so cheap any more. This month it was costing me $2,150! I started wondering what it really cost for me to have clean water.

The people and equipment that it took to replace our pipe is only a tiny part of the huge system that provides clean water to our city of 400,000 people. Tulsa water treatment plants treat 100 millions gallons of water on an average day, with a capacity to treat 220 million gallons per day. The Yellow Pages lists 430 plumbing companies. The city water department changes out 16,000 water meters a year.

All this infrastructure is kind of expensive. In fiscal year 2014 the operating budget for providing water to the city was $112,040,000. There were $15,425,000 of water system capital projects like replacing or relocating water mains and facility improvements. These were not big projects.

Big water projects cost a lot of money. Chelssa, MI recently spent $4,600,000 to build a water treatment plant that processes .85 million gallons a day. It would take 117 such plants to supply Tulsa with water. That is $538,200,000 just to build the plants. Keep in mind that this is Tulsa, a small city. New York City is in the middle of a $6 billion water project which started in 1970 and will not be done until 2020. Twenty three people have died working on the project. The United States makes massive investments in water infrastructure, and arguably it is still not enough.

Our investment in water is more than a financial system. We have a culture that values and insists on clean water. When our pipe broke it did not even cross our mind to not fix it. We did not decide to just go get water from the neighbors. We could have saved some money by putting a faucet in the yard right next to the water meter and just carrying water into the house every now and then, but we did not consider that either. In fact in some cities a house will be condemned if it does not have running water. Across the country the vast majority of houses have full plumbing and running water, although not all. Many households without water are from low income or minority groups. I’m sure there are a few hippie off the grid types as well.

We don’t have a constitutional right to clean water in the United States, but we do have an expectation of access to clean water. Tulsa’s water system is run by the city. Some cities have water systems which have been privatized. However, outside of rural settings there are few municipalities that don’t have some provision for providing water to it’s residents. Imagine if one day Tulsa announced that the water system would be shut down, and no private industry would take over. Everybody was on their own to find water. In time the market would produce some solution, but imagine the impact. Tulsa would cease to exist in its current form, although the abandoned city could be used as a set for some awesome apocalyptic movies.

Over a hundred years of investment in infrastructure, culture, regulations, and expectations all come together so that I can pay $50 a month for all the clean water I can possible use, and when one old pipe broke I had massive resources to call on to fix it quickly. We didn’t even miss a shower.

There is some irony in the fact that I was having trouble getting clean water in my house. I work for Kibo Group, and a big part of what we do is help village communities in Uganda gain access to water. Some of our staff, Alex and Steven among others, work every day in Uganda to build and fix water infrastructure. I wondered what they would think of my situation. I even thought they might be a bit jealous of the resources I had to solve my own water access problem. But, it is a mistake to assume that there are no resources dedicated to water or no water infrastructure or investment in Uganda. A lot of money is invested in water projects. A public utility provides piped water to densely populated areas, and there is a network of hand pump mechanics who maintain wells. Kibo Group has a company we work almost exclusively with to drill boreholes, and district governments dig wells and invest in other infrastructure. The scale and effectiveness of the infrastructure is different, but it exists.

Not long ago the United States water infrastructure was more comparable to Uganda than what we have now. In 1924 more than 88 percent of the population in cities of over 100,000 disposed of their wastewater directly into waterways or into the ground without being treated. It was not until the Federal Water Pollution Control Act was passed in 1948 that wastewater treatment was the norm. It was only 150 years ago that major cities in the United States started building centralized water supplies. At that time water was not treated in any way. It just came from clean water sources (consider the above statement about sewer discharge when imagining the clean water sources). In 1849 John Snow proposed the idea that water contaminated by fecal matter could spread disease, his theory was rejected. It was another 50 years before the Germ Theory of Disease was finally applied to city water and treatment systems were developed. It has taken our culture of clean water centuries to develop, and we still have a long way to go. The same is true of Uganda, their culture of clean water is still developing, and they have a long way to go.

We hope that someday everyone in Uganda and the rest of Africa will have clean water. But don’t be deceived. Kibo Group will never dig that many wells. It is an impossible task for a western NGO to accomplish. But we do think that we can be part of building a culture that invests in long term water access. Every time we work in a village we help the community plan for future repairs. Our CLTS project teaches people about the exact same concepts that John Snow was figuring out back in the 1800’s that took 50 years to be accepted: open defecation contaminates water and spreads disease. We are working a village at a time to build a culture of clean water in Uganda. This is a long term project!

I do not feel guilty for the ease at which I have water, or how simple it was for me to get my pipe fixed compared to people in other parts of the world. Thankful, but not guilty. It is a clear picture of the hard work it takes to have a stable water infrastructure.

A guide to watching #firstworldproblems

Today’s popular facebook cause (at least in my feed) seemed to be a first world problems video. First world problems has been around for a while of course (and frankly gotten sort of silly in twitter land), and I have always felt it needed a little bit of a filter. So, here is my guide to watching the first wold problems video:

Remember the danger of the single story.
A story of a place is powerful, so powerful that you might forget there are other stories . In this case there are two single stories. First, that the developing world is just a place of pain and helplessness. There are true problems, true crises and true needs, but those are only part of the story. Not the whole thing. The second single story it tells is that everybody in the developed world is shallow, greedy, impatient and generally selfish. Again, there are people who fit this description, but its not the whole story.

Don’t forget your own poverty.
Lack of things is not the only form of poverty. We all have poverty in our lives. Broken relationships with people and God are two that are easy to pick out. If you peel away some layers in this video you can get to this. It is true that we often consider silly things problems. The question that must be answered is why. What is the poverty in our lives that drives us to lose perspective?

Let this video be a commentary on yourself, not people you don’t know.
I think the way (and the way it is intended) to watch this video is consider it as a reminder to those of us who have more material resources to use that privilege well. If we flip it around and think it is just a reminder of how there are people in need we may gain a little bit from it, but we miss the point that we need change in our lives.

Keep those handy tips in mind as you watch:

now I’m going to get back to trying to reload the operating system on my fancy phone. Which is not a first world problem.

On Bikes and Bike Crashing

A friend of mine had a bad bike accident recently. Really bad. A driver in a car pulled into oncoming traffic to pass three cars in front of him. The oncoming traffic in this case was Steve, on his bike, and a van, both of which he hit. Read about it for yourself on the news if you want.

Now, im not going to get into the accident itself to much, except to say that this particular driver made a huge mistake, which i am sure he recognizes and regrets. He risked his life and that of others for the sake of being in a hurry. So, as somebody who drives and rides regularly on the streets of Tulsa I’m just going to ask that this serve as a cautionary tail to all of us. Whatever it is, its not worth killing or crippling somebody over…and to be frank it is pure selfishness that lets you believe that your time is more important then somebodies life so get over yourself.

Whenever I hear of a bike accident it hits close to home of course. I ride Tulsa’s streets occasionally, just a few times a week. I could have been the one that was hit. Just like ebola in Uganda this seems to call for wisome not fear. I don’t want to live a life of fear, but I do want to live a life of wisdome. In this case it makes me want to ride more, to do more of the thing I enjoy. If more people rode drivers would (I hope) be more aware, more cautious, more respectful. This has to go both ways of course. Bikers have to follow the law, ride properly, etc. But that is s different post.

Second, I think it is wise to at least consider the worst case. For me this means a couple of things. First, im going to continue to ride like a car*. It works, people give me room on the street. Second, I need to upgrade some gear..get some lights and flashers, and a mirror, these are things that will help me be safer.

I have only had one bad bike wreck, i was in the woods mt. biking by myself. I was fortunate to walk myself back to my house under my own power and Beth took me to the ER. If I am ever in a wreck again I want to give people who might stop to help me all the advantages they can have, so i signed up for icedot and bought a bracelet, i hope i never get to test it out, but ill let you know how it goes if i do.

Any way, just some ramblings…

Steve will be ok. He has a long rode of recovery ahead of him. He is going to be out of work for a while over this, he is a tile layer by trade…which is going to be hard to do with a couple broken bones. Our church has a fund set up if people want to donate to help him and his family out, let me know if you want info about that.

update 2: I keep writing these post about biking and it makes it sound like im some sort of super biker person. Thats not true, i ride occasionally, sometimes a few times a week, sometimes no times i week. I do find transportation issues interesting though…and this counts.

********Please don’t take this to mean that i am a “vehicular riding only ” person. given that there is no bike lane I’m going to ride like a car.  Read up if your interested.

10 things in Uganda

I am following my own advice. Here are 10 things happening in Uganda right now, for good or bad:

  1. Farmers are growing aloe vera and exporting it.
  2. The government and people of Uganda are trying to figure out how to manage oil revenues.
  3. How Technolog is Helping Kony Victims in Uganda: A Mashable story about an organization that is using video to allow Ugandans to tell there story as a form of therapy.
  4. Noodling Syndrom: Mystery disease devastates northern Uganda
  5. A dance festival
  6. This one is not in Uganda, but Kenya: Renewable Energy
  7. Air traffic is stretching the capacity of the airport in Entebee
  8. People are working to increase computer literacy,
  9. People are working to improve women’s health
  10. The national power grid will continue to be inadequate.

Tulsa Transit: A Marketing Problem

I have used the bus system in Tulsa some, and I would like to more. When I have used the system I have enjoyed it. The buses are fine, drivers were nice and professional, free wifi, generally on time…all the things you would want from a transportation system. The system has it’s problems. Mostly the problems are around coverage, how long you have to wait for a bus, stuff like that. The truth is that i find the bus system relatively impractical, mostly because of the frequency of the schedule. Tulsa Transit knows this is a problem and they are working to fix it, which moistly is just about money it seems.

Now, before you get into this post to far I want to clarify something: Its going to come off as very critical of Tulsa Transit, and in truth that is not my intention. From the little I know I think Tulsa Transit’s leadership wants to be good, and understands these issue. Considering the resources they have (Tulsa per capita spending on transit is very low compared to peer cities..and not so peer cities. Our spending per capita on public transportation is lower that that of Springfield, MO).

But, it seems that there is a second level of problems that have to be addressed at the same time. Problems like headway and rout coverage are sort of technical in nature, and have essentially technical solutions (with some politics mixed in). Even if these technical problems were fixed I am not sure that tons of people would start using the buses in Tulsa. There is a marketing problem as well. Consider these two pictures of bus stops near my house:

These two stops, which are typical of many around town, seem to do two thing:

  • They tell the people who use the bus system that we don’t care about them…we can’t even bother to build a decent bus stop. We might not give you a place to stand that wont get muddy when it rains, much less a way to keep the rain off. Not to mention a sidewalk or a crosswalk.
  • Second, it sends a message to people who don’t ride the bus which reinforces any negative perceptions they have about buses and people who ride buses.

There is a scene in the movie Urbanized  which is particularly applicable here. In the scene the mayor of a big city is riding his bike on a newly constructed bike pathway. On one side of the path is a dirt road for cars. He sort of laughs and points out that bikes are on a nice paved trail and the cars are in the mud. But then he says why. And the reason if a very human reason. He wanted the people who rode bikes to know that they are important. That the city supported them and their pursuit of transportation. His answer was not about trends in walkability, or green, or sustainability, or  bike rights or anything like that. It was about how we treat people when we make hard decisions about spending limited resources.

So, I wonder what would happen if we put people first in our transportation systems? Tulsa Transit has to fix their technical issues, but I hope they also consider how the system treats people. It seem by doing this not only will people be given worth and value, but the transit system as a whole will be more used, simply because it  will be perceived as a place that takes care of the people of this city no matter who they are, and that by using the system you are not relegated to  second class status simply because we are unwilling to provide decent bus stops.

Biking in Tulsa

Because of where i live now i have been biking on the streets a lot more, which has actually been kind of fun. At around the same time the city counsel passed a complete streets ordinance which means that there should be even more consideration given to biking and walking in tulsa. I have some ideas about what would be good for biking in tulsa.

There are lots of people who know a lot more about this then me who are involved in planning this stuff, but here are my few ideas…
First, so far i have found drivers in Tulsa to be courteous when it comes to bikes. I have had several times when drivers have let me merge in moving traffic, and I have not had any negative experiences so far. Not that i have spent much time in the streets, but so far so good. I think part of this is that i have decided to be really intentional about how i ride in traffic. I ride like a car, I obey traffic laws, and I take an entire lane when i feel like i need to in order to be safe or be seen (this web site explains what i mean by that).

The other day I saw the exact opposite of this. It was night time (as in dark) and i was driving down Yale (a busy arterial) in the left lane. Coming toward me riding in the gutter of the right lane was somebody on a bike, no light, dark clothes. I though I was going to see them get run over.

So, here are the first two things that i would like to see Tulsa do:

First, make explicit laws about how bikers are allowed to ride. Are bikes allowed to take the lane? Is there any situation where they cannot? Are the allowed on sidewalks?

Obviously some of these are already addressed in current law, but there are a lot of people who dont know the answers (like me…), so the second part is education first to bikers (like the guy riding the wrong way on Yale) and to drivers. I’m not so sure i know the best laws to make, there are plenty of people who have researched those issues, my concern is that once those laws are made they be effectively communicated to drivers and riders alike.

Secondly, bike paths, protected lanes, shared roads, etc. There are lots of ideas and even some controversy out there about the safety and effectiveness of various kinds of bike lanes and paths. I hope that the city of Tulsa takes those differing views into account as they plan for bike infrastructure. They are issues that need to be understood. I might write some of my thoughts on this later…

I wonder what the possibilities are for an alternative grid for bikes. This grid would be made up of roads that are designated as shared roads (like 3rd going into downtown is now) that are not arterial. These could just be shared or could have designated lanes depending on the situation. The idea would be to find routes that allow fairly straight paths through neighborhoods (that is one of the hard things about riding through neighborhoods right now, you end up winding around a lot which is ok if your just out for a ride, not so good if your trying to get somewhere). So, there might be places where connecting two streets with some strategic short bike paths would make big improvements in the ability to bike quickly from one place to another. The truth is that a lot of this exists, its just not marked, which party just makes it hard to find. But, even more then that having an alternative grid that is marked and designated as shared roads seems to give legitimacy to the idea of biking on it, and would help drivers stay aware.

The second part of this alternative grid would be bike/walk paths that are designed to connect strategic places. These would create highways so to speak that would make getting across town quicker, much like 169 and the BA do for cars now. River Parks is a great example. The Mingo Valley Trail will be when its done. If the Mingo Valley trail was connected from 41st to 71st it would be possible to ride from where i live at 31st and yale to the 71st shopping area mostly on bike paths (where i would ride once i got there is a different matter…riding on 71st street to get to say…the movie theater…does not sound like fun at all…not that i go to 71st street much anyway). A few more corridors like that around town would be great.

One thing that would have to be paid attention to is how designated shared roads connect to the bike/walk paths. For example right now there are shared roads on 34th street and 35th street that run into riverside. The River Park Trail is just a few hundred feet past riverside, but there is no way to get from 46th onto the trail without riding on the grass (not to mention crossing riverside in a way that is totally outside the normal flow of traffic). In this case crossing at 31st or 41st works perfectly well if you plan for it. The bigger point is that care must be given to how things connect together.

One place that needs carful consideration is highway crossings. The places where the surface grid crosses under the highways are particularly hard to figure out how to connect through them. The highways and IDL cut off a lot of great ways to get form one place to another. From my perspective the problem is not that you have to ride a bit further to get to a place to cross, its that almost all the places to cross are crazy big intersections with lots of traffic going lots of directions. These can be navigated safely, but they are intimidating, which im sure turns a lot of people off to the idea of riding, and it does seem like they are some of the more dangerous areas. I don’t know that bikes and pedestrians need there very own ways to cross the highways, but carful attention does need to be paid to these areas.

This alternative grid for bikes seems great, but i actually have some doubts about it. Because everything in tulsa faces the arteries a grid the runs through the neighborhood does not really get you anywhere that you might actually want to go. 71st street shopping is a great example. So, in the end bikers and driver have to learn to coexist on any given road in tulsa, even the big arterial streets, or, the city has to be radically redesigned to make it so that everything, business and houses, are accessible from neighborhood behind it.

I think in the end this gets to the bigger idea of all of this. Planning for biking has to fit in with planning for growth, which has to fit in with planning for mass transit which has to fit in with planning for zoning, which has to fit in with….you get the idea. It all has to fit together. If biking is going to be a realistic form of transportation in Tulsa it has to be part of planning on every level (as does walking, and busses, and cars, whatever forms of transportation we as a city decide are important).

But, it seems that there is another set of issues, which is not so much about the mechanics and technicalities of how to build a bike lane, its more about accessibility, perception, and culture. People who drive and like cars have to not see bikes as a threat to their way of life, likewise, bikers have to not see cars as evil. The city has to legitimize biking through education, good laws and good planning, bikers have to acknowledge that bikes don’t work for everything and cars and trucks have to have their place as well. In the end this is all about developing a culture where it is possible to make a broad range of transportation choices…which seems way harder then building a bike lane.

On going to the dentist

We went to the dentist a few weeks ago. Beth does not like going to the dentist…most people don’t. For some reason I sort of like it. You go lay in a comfy chair, close your eyes, open you mouth, and somebody cleans you teeth. You don’t even have to do anything. When your done your teeth feel nice and sparkly.

I was thinking about this a bit though….going to the dentist is sort of a great expression of wealth. You know those Roman emperors in movies who have people fanning them and feeding them? Same thing. When you go to the dentist you are paying somebody to brush your teeth. Thats kind of crazy.

Ok, its a bit of a simplification…i mean they are cleaning your teeth really well, and they take xrays and stuff, but really, i could floss my own teeth, i just dont.

So, I wondered what the real statistics are on poverty vs. access to oral health care. Im sure they are out there, but I did not find much that was really easy to access (im not writing a thesis here…so, im not going to spend to much time on this!) But, it is true to say that “families with higher incomes were more likely to visit the dentist than people in families with lower incomes” in the United States. Which is kind of self evident I guess. A quick look through the 2011 WHO statistics for dentist per capita shows at least some correlation between being a relatively poor country and having a lower number of dentists per capita (Luxembourg: 8/10000, United States: 16.3/10000, Uganda: .02/10000, Congo: .05/10000. number 2, 7, 163, and 181 respectively on the world list of GDP per Capita). The US has the most per capita, which is not surprising really.

Here is my takeaway from thinking abou this though. If you can pay somebody to do something for you that is kind of amazing. We do it all the time. We pay people to cook for us, to bring us our food, and to wash the dishes. We pay people to make our double tall grande soy with ice whip 102 degrees whatever fancy drink, we pay people to mow our lawns, fix our stuff, and build things for us. Thats all great, and I am glad to pay people for skills I don’t have. But I want to respect those people…to see them as gifted people who do important things. And I want to appreciate the fact that I can go to the dentist and pay them to floss my teeth. I have great resources available to me.

One last thing. If your interested in statistics you should check out www.gapminder.org/. Its a fun little data visualization tool….which apparently can’t plot dentist per capita vs GDP per capita…but its still fun.