Monthly Archives: August 2015

The day when Rick and WPI grad student Chris go to the US Embassy

bead retriever

Bead Retriever

That picture is of a working Thermo Fisher Scientific ‘Bead Retriever’ running in a lab.  Our lab in Tappita had two of these at a cost of $18,000 each.  They cut by 2/3’s the amount if time it takes to prepare samples for analysis.  With the unit running we could run maybe 60 samples (as in potential Ebola patient samples) a day.  Without, 20.   Trouble was, both units stopped working so they were sent back to the CDC at the US Embassy here.  It might be three to five weeks to get replacements.  So Chris and I offered to take a look.  We called Thermo Fisher and got a tentative nod, unfortunately tech support was not available.  Working off each other (ok, we got a little loud so they put us in our own room) for about 2 hours (did I mention that Chris is a robotics expert? Handy to have when working on a robotic system like this) we had one of the moments.  We had the little units apart and were taking it apart piece by piece when we said, “what if that little motor was supposed to have that screw running through it?”   Another 20 minutes and when we pressed ‘start’ we got the message indicating it was ready to run the samples (we actually did not have any samples).   We did the same thing on the other unit, same result.  Next step… Tuesday the lab guys (the ones that know how to use this thing) will do a dry run with fake samples to see if we really fixed.   Just goes to show you what two engineers with a screwdriver and a Leatherman can do.

The first week, a technical summary for all my geeks

So, this was an interesting, frustrating week filled with challenges.  I spent the better part of the week trying to resurrect the Moodle environment in preparation for Julie’s arrival Friday (since delayed a week due to illness).  Simultaneously I was training the local tech on Linux operations (basics including a lot of command line work).  By the end of the week most of the systems were tested and I was about to begin upgrades to the servers (Ubuntu upgrades then Moodle) when a few things started failing.  The server UPSs are all fried from dirty power, salt air, and who no what else so I have two desktop ones to try to protect the servers.  Then one of the servers failed.  Nothong, just would not power up.  Took it out and cleaned the internal power supplies (2 of them), removed the memory and cleaned a little crud off contacts, slid the removable power supplies back in and tried it again.  Success.  Too late in the day to start the upgrade, the generator shuts off at 4pm so I hailed it, a monitor, keyboard, router, etc., home and will attempt the upgrade today.  Might get a better 4G connection here.

About 4G, am really liking the Cradlepoint modems.  Have a 4g sim inside one, added a WiFi as wan connection to my little WiFi hotspot and set load balancing on.  Cool and very handy way to get a better throughput.

So there’s the technical update from week one.

Monrovia – August 5th, 2015

Congo Town Apartment, also parking lot overnight

Congo Town Apartment, also parking lot overnight

It may not look like it, but here’s the view of my lodging since I landed last Friday.  It’s a nice apartment with 4 bedrooms, kitchen living room, guards, razor wire, and a generator.  Also, it happens to be where the ACCEL (www.accelglobalhealth.org) parks all their vehicles for the night and then starts them all beginning at 6:30am..

I’ve three wonderful housemates, all doctors here teaching ultrasound techniques.  Very lucky that two of them are vegetarians and all three great cooks.  I earned my keep by figuring out what was wrong with the microwave an putting it back in operation.