Leveraging great ideas for missions

In the big scheme of things, I don't know much about missions. That's something that I'm working on-- but my lack of knowledge doesn't keep me from thinking about it, especially when I see opportunities.

One of the big areas that has emerged as a theme in my ever-vigilant watch of technology is the development of new concepts and technologies to supply water and other resources to third-world communities. Allow me to point you to a few examples:
  • Martin Fisher wins the Lemelson-MIT award for sustainability for the SuperMoneyMaker Pump. Fisher has devised a $100 water pump that can pull water from a 30-foot well to irrigate up to 2 acres of land. (He's also developed a $35 tool called the "Hip Pump" that uses a farmer's body weight to operate it.)
  • The PlayPump System is an utterly brilliant concept that links a well pump and cistern to a kids' merry-go-round toy, so that as they play on the merry-go-round they are actually supplying water for their community from the well (which is stored in the cistern). The whole system costs $14,000, and can supply 2,500 people with water for 10 years. (PlayPumps International gets extra props for setting up a system where you can donate as little as $6 toward the installation of these-- and that $6 will supply one child with clean water for 10 years.)
  • Dean Kamen has built the Vapor Compression Distiller, which is a chemical, membrane, and filter-free water purifier (meaning it doesn't require substantial maintenance and consumable goods to continue filtering). Kamen believes this could eradicate a huge amount of disease worldwide.
  • The Hippo Water Roller is designed to alleviate the difficulty and physical stress required for a human body to retrieve and transport water from long distances. It allows 200 pounds of water to be reduced to an effective weight of only 22 pounds for easier transportation, even over difficult terrain.
  • Daniel Sheridan has won three separate awards for developing a see-saw designed to provide enough electricity to power a classroom for several hours through 10 minutes of play.

All by themselves, each of these is a very good idea. It strikes me, though, that the missing piece for all of them is the infrastructure to distribute and install these.

Sure, the Peace Corps and similar secular groups are all over the place doing this kind of work. But why not missionaries? Why couldn't some of the many missions boards with teams of people in third-world countries send short-term teams that would bring and install these as a support and extension of the existing ministry?

One thing I DO know about missions is this: it is almost universally agreed that long-term sustainability of Gospel ministry depends on developing local, indigenous leaders to take over the ministry. That sort of sustainability, it seems to me, demands that stability of resources also be in place-- so water supply, irrigation, agriculture, medical care, and education must become immediate concerns for pastors and missionaries in a third-world context.

All of the above projects seem to offer affordable solutions for exactly that: stabilizing resources. It seems like a no-brainer to me. Am I missing something? What do you think?

When are we going to see wireless AC power?

Mark my words: the day is coming, and soon will be, when we no longer need wires to connect our electrical (and electronic) devices to a power source.

A few years ago, I was chatting with one of my professors at Covenant Seminary, and I mentioned this. (We were talking about the eventual plans for the "courtyard" space at CTS, which is now a circle driveway but eventually will be a garden/picnic/sitting area with green space and landscaping.) I suggested that total wireless-- not just "wifi" which allows wireless network connections, but wireless electricity-- would be the ideal here. He said it couldn't be done.

But it can be done. Witness the amazing technology that wireless networks are: where once we were required to have a telephone line connection (which is an electrical signal), we then transitioned to hard-wired ethernet connections (which are also electrical signals). Now we have fully wireless connections: somewhere in my house, my office, and most every coffee shop I visit, it's possible to connect to the Internet without the use of a wired connection.

We already have batteries, which are both freeing and troublesome: freeing, in that they allow us (for a certain period of time-- sometimes much shorter than we prefer!) to move about with our mobile phones, laptop computers, and all manner of other devices powered, before we have to plug them in to recharge. Troublesome, because, a) the battery life never is enough; b) we still have to recharge them; and c) eventually they die completely, creating landfill and ecological concerns. (Yes, they can be recycled to a degree-- but only some parts. The rest are discarded.)

My guess is this: it won't be long before technology catches up and we are able to "receive" electricity wirelessly. We are already surrounded by half of the signal, which is grounding. It's only a matter of time before they figure out how to push the positive current through the air at enough power to keep mobile phones running, then computers, and eventually cars and houses. No more outages from downed power lines, and no more expensive gasoline.

The only question then will be: will battery makers and oil companies fight to suppress this technology?

I give it 2 years before the proof-of-concept devices are out there, and another 1-2 before broad market acceptance is in place. What do you think?

April Fools' Funnies

The technology world loves April Fools' day. Probably because so much of the "news" in technology lends itself to speculation (and let's face it, techies love to think about the "next big thing") the world of tech news loves to take advantage of this climate of anticipation and exploit it on April 1st. There's a freedom in this realm of culture that would probably cause a lot of trouble in other parts of the mainstream media; I've learned that, when I read through the tech news online on 4/1, I read with a skeptical eye.

Here are the funniest (and cleverest) ones I found this year:

PC Actor Charged with Assault. "How do you like them apples?"
Introducing G-Mail "Custom Time." A great idea for really messing with peoples' minds.
April Fools' Stories You Shouldn't Believe. A funny collection of non-headlines.

I'll add more if I see them.

UPDATE: two more...

Wikipedia, the online (and community-edited) encyclopedia, offered
a fun spin on their regular "On This Day" piece on their front/main page.
You might also enjoy their fictitious front-page Article of the Day on Ima Hogg.