Secondary Project

Oddly enough, I was out last night, only my "boat" was considerably smaller. Between my class schedule, weather, and the tide, I have only gotten out bodyboard surfing a few times, but those few times have been quite nice.

When I was in Peace Corps we were encouraged to have a "secondary project." Secondary projects were all the rage, and success as a volunteer was measured in part by having a good secondary project. While I am sure there were some useful and productive secondary projects, many were "flashes in the pan" that likely fizzled upon the departure of the volunteer.

I never did find a secondary project. I pretended that an attempt to plant winged beans was a secondary project, but beetles ate all of the flowers. Once I discovered that Okuapemman had hosted volunteers since the 1960s, I realized that I could plant pineapples for the benefit of volunteers who might come after me. And so I planted every pineapple top.

A couple of the Peace Corps volunteers here have, as a "secondary project", taken up teaching some of the local young kids to surf.

Kosraens have an ancient tradition of surfing. In the local language surfing is referred to as lallal noa. The local boys and small girls of Malem village still haul out any piece of flattish wood, these days preferably a hunk of plywood, and surf the waves that break at the reef's edge. The two volunteers have taught about 20 kids to surf.

They were assisting their new most recent pupils last Saturday. The local kids are quite capable swimmers and are very level headed in the water. Malem has a channel in the reef and every so often a kid gets swept out into the open ocean. The kids know to either come back through the surf or tread water until an adult is sent out to help them back in through the reef breakers.

Saturday one of the two pupils said he wanted to try to catching some waves on his own (each pupil is on a board provided by one of the volunteers). So while the two volunteers worked with the other boy, the one tried his own hand at paddling into the surf.

He wasn't able to catch a wave and eventually wound up in the channel. Now our local boys know to avoid the channel when they play on the reef, but once in the channel this chap was not sure what to do. He began to try to paddle to shore, but the channel was ripping out too fast, so he was going backward. This apparently shook him, he looked a tad worried, but said nothing and kept paddling harder towards shore. He eventually reached an equilibrium where his paddling balanced the current, and he was starting to look tired.

So I caught a wave into the inside and then paddled into the channel. I then used my broken Kosraen to explain what was happening, and told him to look at the water surface. The channel, like all rips, forms a uniquely bouncy surface consisting of triangular or pyramidal waves.

Being a body boarder with fins, I towed him on his board sideways out of the channel. As we went I pointed out the features of the bottom (the water here is two hundred foot visibility, no kidding) that he could also use to determine where he was relative to the rip. He seemed much relieved.

He then headed in along a path I suggested (using local referents) and made it back into the smaller waves of the reef shelf.

I asked the one volunteer if he had explained the channel. He said he had gone over it a number of times, but the kid had gotten confused. We use the channel to get out through the breakers to the line-up, the kid had thought that was also the way back for some reason.

Anyway, I thought the secondary project was one of the better one's I'd ever heard. No, the project was not going to improve the economy, assist a family, or provide rural development. The project is simply making some small boys experience joy and excitement. And that is worthy.

It has been a busy summer on Kosrae, finals loom next week. Still, when I do get free time I try to spend it with the kids rather than in front of the computer. Three nights ago the kids and I got out onto the reef - a shallow high tide - and Sharisey and Marlin tried bodyboarding the waves that run on top of the reef. Small waves. Marlin was all excited when one wave carried him all the way to shore.

It's not like they can swim. The water was two feet deep at our launch point and shelved up to the beach, so everyone could stand up. Marlin is learning not to panic when he tumbles off the board into the water, which is great progress. Sharisey tried starting in slightly deeper water. Just being on the reef is helping them gain some water sense.

You can catch a picture of Shrue at the recent baptism of her twin nephews at:

This summer I am using GNU Image Manipulation Program 2.2, an open source photo editing package with more bells and whistles than I know what to do with. Earlier in the summer I found that 2.2 had a new filter based on the the retinex theory. NASA apparently worked out a retinex algorithm. Anyway, retinex often does odd things to a photo, but occasionally it works miracles.

The page at includes the original shot, in which the white wall behind the subjects caused everything to underexpose. I did my usual tweaking of the balance and curves in the second shot on that page. In the third shot I took the original image and applied only the retinex filter. The filter has brought out details in their dresses and faces, made the girl in the dark doorway visible, and had an enormous impact on the reflection in the church window. All with the filter simply running completely in default automatic mode.

The upshot, as I understand it, is that the filter processes an image in manner akin to our brain, which automatically readjusts the brightness and contrast across a scene so as to make the whole scene visible to our brain. Something like that.

I should note that I somehow pulling this off on an old Windows 98 computer with limited RAM. I remain impressed with GIMP and continue to use it. I used GIMP to index down the PNG on to only 32 colors, letting GIMP decide on the optimization. The result is small 34 Kb screen shot image with color fidelity.