May 6, 2008
Ware Co.- Finding John Cribbs' home on Smith Street west of Waycross is easy. Traveling south, just after the pavement ends and a sandy road begins, look for a white frame made of plastic, PVC pipe with a chain hanging down from the center of the overhead bar that sits five feet above the ground.
To confirm you have the right location, look to the right of the screened-in porch and you'll see bags of fertilizer.
As the sun starts to set, the Cribbs family sits down to dinner together. John says the blessing. His wife, Julie, lifts a spoon and dips beef stew and gravy for their daughter, Taylor, and then serves John and her.
Neither Julie nor Taylor prepared the meal. John did.
"A lot of women I know, work with and come in contact with, are just in awe that he is really willing to do that," says Julie as she takes her fork and gently pushes it into a piece of the beef that sits next to the rice with gravy.
Does she mind that John takes the responsibility for preparing dinner a very easy way?
"It makes my life a whole lot easier to come home and dinner is ready, and all I have to do is sit down," says Julie.
It sounds odd that John prepares the meal while at work. He teaches engineering and technology at Atkinson County High School in Pearson.
"I was looking for a project for my students that involved alternate forms of energy," says John moments before he shows his bright-eyed students how to put highly reflective tape over a small, abandoned satellite dish.
"They make great parabolic cookers," says John.
Satellite TV providers frequently leave their dishes when a customer changes his subscription to another provider or moves away. No telling how many dishes, small and large, dot the landscape, a technological waste product.
John cuts red potatoes, onions and a beef roast into pieces, places them in a pot, adds tap water and puts the lid on. Then, he takes the pot outside and hangs it on a chain that holds it just the right height above the satellite dish covered with shiny tape. A bright, white spot appears immediately on the bottom of the pot, and in about four hours, John has prepared dinner for his family.
"The water in the pot will reach the boiling point," says John.
He comes out every few minutes to re-position the pot since the sun changes position throughout the day.
Why use old technology? Kids have used magnifying glasses to focus the sun's rays on their hands and catch leaves on fire for decades.
John believes most people have the wrong definition of technology.
"Technology is more than a computer," says John. "Technology is a process we go through to improve our lives."
We have microwave ovens that prepare food quickly with less heat than conventional ovens, so why not rely on them? For one reason, microwave ovens require electricity and what if it's unavailable for an extended period of time?
So, John looks skyward. He remembers evacuation preparedness plans when Hurricane Katrina churned in the Southern Gulf of Mexico and meteorologists didn't know where the storm would make landfall. Regardless, John knew wherever the storm hit that electricity service would get blown out. People would have no way to cook a hot meal or pasteurize drinking water unless they had propane or an improvised cooker.
The solar oven made from a satellite dish could easily do the job anywhere until electrical service returned.
"A big advantage is its time savings. People don't have to spend time gathering firewood to cook on or stand in line for drinking water," says John.
His out-of-this-world idea involves getting his students to think outside the technological box.
"Get them to see there are other ways to do things. It doesn't have to be the latest and greatest out there to be called technology," says John.
Scott Bennett, a junior at the high school, doubted the idea at first.
"There's no way this thing is going to work," says Scott.
It wasn't long before he changed his mind after John showed the class how fast a piece of cardboard caught fire when held at just the right distance from the dish, called its focal point.
"I think it's a really cool experiment. I've already made one," says Scott.
Senior Cari Clayton plans to take her solar cooker on-the-road.
"I'm going to the beach this weekend and I'm going to cook hot dogs with mine," says Cari.
John doesn't plan to stop with the smaller dishes. The sky is the limit, as far as he's concerned.
"I want a bigger one where I'll add a rotisserie powered by a solar panel to turn the meat as it cooks," says John.
He'd welcome donations of small, abandoned satellite dishes in Atkinson and Ware Counties.
"I plan to have this project every year," says John.
Contact him via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org