Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Boston once again

Hey! I'm back in Boston - haven't been away that long. I've been extremely busy, trying to get lots done in between my travels. I'm actually racking up quite a list of things I want to blog about - events, plans, movies, etc. Hopefully I'll get a chance to do that in the next few days.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

BzzAgent and FrogPond

I have two more cool things to add, but this is sort of cheating, because BzzAgent and FrogPond are part of the same website.

BzzAgent: This is a website that is based on the concept that word of mouth is the best form of advertising. Given that premise, they get companies to choose them to help advertise their products. As a BzzAgent, you have the opportunity to join various campaigns about products you're likely to be interested in. If you choose to join the campaign, they'll send you a package - usually containing samples of the product, coupons, and information. You're then free to use them, share them, talk about them, etc. If you get the product and you don't like it, there is no obligation to pretend you do. If you want, during the campaign you can log on to the BzzAgent website and provide information on what you think about the product, who you've told about it, and what they thought. The more feedback you give them, the more likely they are to give you the option of joining future campaigns. There is no money involved and they don't send you anything unless you specifically sign up. I've been doing it for a few years now, and have received gum, nutella, yogurt, the 20Q electronic game, and tons of other stuff. If you'd like to be referred to join, let me know and I can send you an email. Otherwise, I think you can just go to and sign up.

FrogPond: This is another aspect of the bzzagent website, and deals just with new websites. They just get information on cool websites and then create a list of them. They then get people to review and give their opinion. You don't get packages or join campaigns like you do with BzzAgent, but it's still a cool way to find out about new websites. For example, today they had one listed that provides free shipping to get rid of electronics (computers, phones, monitors, etc.) in an environmentally friendly way.

Frogpond Badge

Monday, February 18, 2008

AAAS Annual Meeting - Day 3

Sunday, 17 February 2008
Sunday was my third and final day at the AAAS Conference. Once again, I attended a series of very interesting lectures.

Fighting the Global Obesity Epidemic: Small Steps or Big Changes?
In this panel, speakers were discussing the issue of obesity and the best ways to combat it. There were a number of interesting issues that arose. A few of the options for dealing with obesity include environmental changes, small lifestyle changes, and dramatic changes. Environmental changes have to do with changing the way society in general does things. Right now, to be healthy, people have to swim upstream - society is not organized in a way so that the norm is a healthy lifestyle. For example, people drive much more often than walking, so you have to be outside the norm to be healthier. The small lifestyle changes has to do with making sustainable changes in lifestyle - either what you eat or how often you walk or exercise. Dramatic changes seemed to be things like significantly increasing your exercising or changing your diet. These changes may not be sustainable over the long run, but there is evidence that people that lose about 5% of their body weight in a year, even though they steadily gain weight afterwards, still end up healthier five years later than a control group that didn't lose the initial weight. Another interesting fact is that because society as a whole is getting more obese, the average person does not have a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI). This results in people looking around at others and thinking, I'm not overweight, I'm just normal. Unfortunately, "normal" people are overweight in many cases. Another interesting issue - parents are very bad at identifying child obesity, and even worse, many pediatricians fail to notice the issue as well.

Global Knowledge and Information Commons for Sustainability Science and Innovation
This lecture was about organizing information and making it available for decision making and use. One lecturer talked about Joint Fact Finding, which is a method of facilitating policy discussions on science and technology issues. It was a really interesting method by which the assumptions made for research conducted can be understood by all involved. Professor Juma was on this panel also, and he spoke about the role of patent offices in developing countries. He suggested that they may play a different role than they do in the west, and could also be used as a library of existing technological solutions to be understood and used by local people. He also talked about the importance of understanding and researching current solutions before beginning on more research on the problems.
My Thoughts: I was very interested in the Joint Fact Finding method, and would like to learn more about when and where this is used. Also, I am interested in the idea Professor Juma brought up about using the patent office as a data repository. It makes me wonder why there is not a better library of development technologies already. This type of information is so spread out and difficult to find, it would surely be beneficial to create something, like an internet database of various development projects or technologies. It's a project I'd love to work on if I could figure out a plan of how to do it. Also, one of the speakers that was supposed to be there but wasn't, was from the African Technology Policy Studies Network in Kenya. I think it'd be really interesting to get in touch with this group and create some international ties between our science and technology policy program and other programs around the world.

Communication Science in a Religion America
This talk centered on how a useful dialogue can take place between religion and science. There were a number of really interesting speakers. One spoke about a difficulty caused by scientists inability to engage the public and successfully describe complex theories, such as evolution. Instead they often are aloof, and ignore arguments against evolution because they have no respect for these arguments. This panelist suggested the movie Flock of DoDo's, which I have rented from Netflix, which is about the evolution/creationism debate. There is also a new movie out with Ben Stein about the same issue, from the creationist perspective, called "Expelled". The speaker talked about the way scientists address the issue, and the way they frame their debate. He offered that scientists are making things worse by being hostile to those that disagree, because they are creating an environment of us versus them, when that isn't really the case.
The second speaker was a brother in the Catholic Church who had studied astronomy at MIT. He was the embodiment of science and religion mixed together, and does work in the Vatican observatory. He had also taken a break from his astronomy research and spent two years talking to 'techies' in Silicon Valley about how they view religion and how they choose their religion. He wrote a book on the issue called "God's Mechanics". He was a great speaker, so I've ordered his book to see how that is.
My Thoughts: I enjoyed this panel a lot. I think it is common for scientists not to be careful about how they communicate their message effectively. I also think its important to show respect for people's beliefs and to try to make arguments with this in mind. I'm looking forward to seeing Flock of Dodos and reading God's Mechanics - I'm sure I'll have comments on those once I've seen them.

Is It Possible to Predict the Future of Science
This panel was about the methods used to make science and technology policy in the United States. It was really interesting because one of the results was that we don't have good methods for predicting the benefit from funding that goes to basic research, yet the OMB does create a yearly budget and make decisions on how to invest. Currently, they use primarily expert opinion - which works well within a field, where, for example, you can ask a group of biologists what type of biology research should be funded. However, it is not a great method for deciding among fields - not many people could provide informed and unbiased information on whether funding should go to biology or to physics. The panelist gave the example of a dog show as the method they use - best in breed, best in group, best in show - to try to choose projects from diverse fields. He also said its somewhat like building the food pyramid - trying to get a healthy balance. One component of making the decision of what to fund is understanding the goal, but even this is not obvious. Should we focus on equality - making sure all fields are advancing? Should it be the areas in which we can make the most progress, regardless of the balance? Should it be based on scientific merit or on likely returns to society? How would you measure those things. All interesting questions. Many times funding goes to basic science, where the direct benefit to society is hard to understand. One panelist told a story about being at a reception for a theoretical mathematics department. One of the people proposed a toast - "To theoretical mathematics, may it never be of any use to anyone." She said that is a difficult statement to support from a budget perspective. Another panelist talked about methods of trying to model possible budget decisions and their long term outcomes. This is interesting work, but seems to be a long way off, since these are such unpredictable pathways.
My Thoughts: This is exactly the type of issue I learned about in my cornerstone class on International Science and Technology Policy. It's interesting how the process goes on, despite a lack of understanding about how and why we should invest in a particular way. I'd like to learn more about the details of the models used. I also think the attitudes among scientists and the public, and the challenges between supporting basic science and showing benefits to the public are very interesting. It is very hard to explain to people why funding should go to projects with no obvious benefit to society. On the other hand, it is believed that these are the types of things that lead to innovation. Also, scientists who work on fundamental issues and do basic research are generally considered more respected in the scientific community, compared to those who do applied research.

Association of Women in Science Reception
I intended to visit the reception put on by AWIS, but was too excited about the lectures I had been to and ended up spending an hour on the phone with Jeff talking about them. Made a brief stop at the reception, though, and met a professor from GWU that I didn't know.

Nicholas Negroponte, One Laptop Per Child
The last official event that I participated in for the conference was the lecture by Nicholas Negroponte about the OLPC project. Negroponte is at MIT, and I was familiar with his work. However, I hadn't had the opportunity to hear him speak, and it was really interesting. His group has produced a laptop that costs only $180 and is designed to be used in developing countries - it has a super bright screen so it can be used outdoors, and can be powered by a crank so electricity is not needed. He decided to create a non-profit company and to sell the laptop in large quantities to governments. This allowed him to produce large enough quantities to have some sway with the manufacturing companies. The laptops have just begun rolling out this year, and increased are expected next year. I think it will be really interesting to see where this project goes.

Top of the Hub
The last thing we did was visit the Top of the Hub for drinks and a great view of Boston. Chloe, Vid, and I went with friends we had met and had great conversation ranging from topics of lectures we'd attended, to gentrification, to diversity in cities, to searching for fossils in Africa. Overall the conference was a great experience.

AAAS Annual Meeting - Day 2

Saturday, 16 February 2008
The second day of the AAAS Annual Meeting...

Worldwide Hunt to Solve the Mystery of Gamma-Ray Bursts
I started out my day by learning a bit about gamma-ray bursts. It turns out far-away stars sometimes send huge amounts of energy in the form of gamma-rays to the Earth. These scientists were looking for more information about when and why this happens.

Coffee with Calestous Juma
This was not an event that was part of the conference, I just made plans with Professor Juma to go out for coffee. I brought my friend Chloe along, who studies science and technology policy, focusing on development. We actually ended up talking almost the whole time about whaling, which is the project Calestous is working on now. He is acting as a special advisor to the international whaling commission. There is currently a moratorium on whaling, and Australia would like to see a complete ban on commercial whaling. However, Japan is not willing to agree to that, and is threatening to pull out of the treaty. It's a very emotionally charged issue. Japan currently is allowed to catch 1000 whales per year for scientific purposes. There are actually a number of compromises that could possibly be arranged, but most parties involved will settle for nothing less that a win - which for the anti-whaling countries (and strong lobbying bodies like Green Peace) means a complete ban on commercial whaling, and for pro-whaling countries (like Japan) means not having a complete ban. It was an interesting discussion, and it was very nice to connect with Professor Juma after not having seen him in about a year.

Information, Computing, and Communications: Keys to Sustainable Global Development
I just caught the end of this talk, which discussed the possibilities for using computers and advanced technology in development programs. On speaker talked about projects that had been developed, such as a braille teaching program and a guided reading program.
My Thoughts: I am very interested in this topic - I believe that technology, science and engineering are the keys to spurring development. However, I think such a focus on computers is a difficult issue, because so many places have no access to computers or the internet - and sometimes even electricity. However, if projects such as the "One Laptop per Child" succeed, perhaps there will be more opportunities for computer programs to be aimed at helping developing nations.

Science and Technology in the 2008 Election
The AAAS arranged to get representatives from the various campaigns to speak about science and technology issues for each candidate. However, only the Clinton and Obama campaigns actually sent representatives. The McCain campaign said they were unable to get someone there in time (there had been short notice for the event - it wasn't even in the agenda). The Huckabee campaign did not respond to the invitation. Each representative described their candidate's views on science and technology, and the specific plans they would like to enact. Both had a strong commitment to supporting science and technology, and believed that supporting research is essential to the growth and success of the U.S. Economy. There was a lot of information given, and most of it is available via the candidates home pages, but I'll mention some highlights here.
The Obama representative noted that though McCain has said some good things with regards to science and technology, such as acknowledging climate change, he has not taken a stand on other issues. Also, he noted that McCains economic plans are based on tax cuts, not on technology policy.
Both candidates agreed that a major issue was de-politicizing the scientific advisers and scientific work. This was especially important on issues like biology and stem cell research, climate change, and other controversial issues.
The talked their space policies - more about this on
Both representatives talked about how they had met their candidate, and it was an interesting analogy to how people think of each of the candidates, I thought. Clinton's adviser had met her because he had worked for Bill Clinton for 8 years. The adviser for Obama's campaign met him while he (the adviser) was working with children on the south side of Chicago. Obama, a state senator at the time, was interested in the role of technology in supporting this low-income area. He had a belief in the importance of the role of science and technology in the lives of low-income students, and of the importance of having science and technology skills to compete in the 21st century.
Both were asked how they would make S&T attractive to young people. The Clinton campaign representative said that they would improve the quantity and quality of math and science teachers and would highlight national challenges. The Obama campaign said that the president is mostly able to make symbolic gestures showing the importance of S&T. He believed that Obama would make this a priority - promoting S&T for women, minorities and immigrants. He emphasized that Obama's views on immigrants are very unique. Having a diverse background, Obama is distinctly aware of the ability of immigrants to promote growth in the United States.
When asked how scientists can bring issues into the public sphere, the Clinton campaign noted that there were three things: 1) encourage candidates to speak out about these issues, 2) aim some of the issues at the transition time, and 3) volunteer so that we get high quality people to engage in government service. The Obama representative said that scientists needed to stop being polite and to be aggressive in presenting issues. He also noted that you need to put pressure on representatives who choose not to participate in debates like this one, and to reward those who do.
My Thoughts: Overall it was very interesting to hear the views of these two candidates articulated. More details can be found by reading the information on their websites. The two democratic candidates had very similar points of view on many issues. Chatting with people afterwards, it seemed that many people felt the Clinton representative was more prepared and had more specific, detailed responses. This is a common complaint people have of the Obama campaign, that while it is inspiring and generally good, it often doesn't offer the substance people are looking for. There is a big push to have a "science debate" which would help bring all of these issues to light. I think that would be really interesting to see.

U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation Reception
We made a quick stop at the CRDF reception, where we met more people and chatted over the days events.

Nina Fedoroff, U.S. Department of State
Nina Fedoroff is the science adviser to Condoleezza Rice. She gave a very interesting talk about the importance of science and technology policy and its global implications.

After the last lecture, I headed out to meet up with friends in Boston. I was able to get together a group of new friends from the conference, old friends from MIT, and even my sister who was in town from New York. We had dinner at Vinny T's and drinks at Foggy Goggle. It was great to get people together and keep in touch.

AAAS Annual Meeting - Day 1

This weekend I was at the AAAS Annual Meeting 2008 in Boston. It was a great conference. It primarily consists of various panels and lectures all day from 8:30am-5pm. There are about 10 choices of lecture at any given time. At 5pm there are usually a few receptions to got to, and then usually one big lecture or other event in the evening. I went to some really interesting lectures, so I'm going to write about all of it!

Friday, February 15 - Day 1

Food Security and Climate Change in Africa
I started out my first day at the conference with a 10:30am-noon panel on "Food Security and Climate Change in Africa". The speakers talked about how remote sensing satellite data is used to monitor rain fall, climate, and crop growth. They then use models to incorporate this data with information about institutions in the country to help predict if there will be famines or other food shortages. The program is called FEWS NET. It seemed like a really interesting system. NASA, USGS, and USAID are all involved. One of the speakers talked about the difficulties of affecting change, even after a problem is identified. He said that the first impression of donors is just to want to send food aid. However, often people are not suffering primarily due to malnutrition, but rather from diseases associated with famine conditions. He said its very difficult to get the right balance of understanding and communicating the complexity of the situation, but also trying to accomplish change in a timely manner.
My thoughts: The FEWS NET project seemed very interesting. I thought it was especially cool that they incorporate not only data on climate and crops, but also on the intstitutions in the country. I've heard before that famines do not occur simply because of a lack of food, but rather because of food shortages combined with difficulties in transportation, market failures, or other institutional problems in a country. I was also very interested in the dilema faced in communicating the results of these models. I think this problem is found in many areas of science, where scientists want to get better data and talk about complexity and uncertainties, but this results in decision makers being less able to act decisively on the issue. A similar situation is seen in space weather where uncertainty in the prediction ability makes incorporation of the predictions into operating procedures very difficult.

Science and Innovation through International Cooperation
The second lecture I attended was on how to spur innovation through international cooperation. One speaker talked primarily about universities as research and development incubators and student talent magnets. They discussed the movement from a U.S. and Europe dominated system, where people came from all over to universities in these places, and often stayed after graduating, to a situation where more high-quality regional universities are found in other parts of the world. Speakers recommended connections among American and foreign universities to help improve both universities. They believed that the globalization of universities could play a role in capacity building in developing countries. One of the speakers was from a university that was planning on implementing a requirement that all undergraduates have an international experience. This could be accomplished through study abroad or through an internship or other program in a foreign country.
My thoughts: I am very interested in collaboration among universities around the world, and I do think its very important for people to have an international experience. I love the idea of making it a requirement for part of an undergraduate program. However, I wonder what exactly "collaborations" means at times - is it just an information network? I would like to help create international collaborations between my program - International Science and Technology Policy - and other S&T policy programs around the world. However, the details of how to do this are net yet clear to me. I remember that at MIT, Amy Smith had started a program called U to U (short for University to University) which aimed at connecting students at MIT with students in universities in developing countries to work on development projects. For example, when I went to Zambia, I worked on a team with students from the university there.

Toward a New Climate Economics: Can we Afford the Future?
This lecture was put on by Economics for Equity and Environment, and focused on various economic analyses of the climate change issue. The talked a number of times about the Stern Review, and debate surrounding that. That was a report done in the UK that showed an economic argument for taking action on climate change now. However, it was very different than past economic papers, and has created much controversy. (Here's a link to a wikipedia summary of the contraversy.) The speakers talked about the confusion between the messages sent by scientists vs. economists. Scientists, they said, talk about climate change as a dramatic and immediate problem facing the entire world that needs to be dealt with. Economists, on the other hand, often see it as a second order problem, as something that is not a pressing issue based on cost-benefit analysis. Their studies show it is not worth investing a lot of money now into stopping climate change. So, the scientists on the panel gave two main reasons for inaction on the issue of climate change, one was "fake science" and the other was conventional economics. They had looked at the popular economic papers on the issue and had done some economic analyses of their own, showing what basic economic assumptions were causing the difference in results from what scientists were saying. There were three main things they talked about that caused differences: the discount rate, the use of average vs. worst case data, and the incorporation of technology improvements. The discount rate is important because it provides a measure of how much people value something now versus some time in the future given their current preferences. This affects the analysis because many of the effects of climate change happen over long time periods. The scientists felt the discount rate used by the economists was too high - at about 6%. This means that a $1000 today is only worth $3 in 2108. The scientists on the panel believed the discount rate should be closer to 1.5%, so that $1000 today is worth $226 in 2108. The panelists argued that the lower discount rate makes sense because people today want the quality of life to be the same of their children, grand children or great grandchildren, even though the great grandchildren are growing up many years later. The second issue the discussed was that economists tended to use average numbers to predict climate change, rather than worst-case numbers. They argued that this is not representative, because there is so much uncertainty, and the high level of uncertainty could have a large effect. They gave an example that houses have a 1 in 250 chance of catching fire (less than 1%), but most home-owners buy fire insurance. Also, people under 40 years old have a .2% chance of dying, but most young parents get life insurance. There is a greater than 1% chance that the ice sheet in Greenland will melt in the next 100 years, causing catastrophic changes and effects in coastal cities. Shouldn't the world "buy insurance" against this risk? The also argued there were large costs associated with clean-up if these events did occur, making it more reasonable to spend the money in advance in preventative measures. They said that preventing damage from climate change provided jobs and also helped secure property. Spending money on clean-up does not provide these same benefits. They also felt that economic papers should take account of the lowered costs of affecting climate change over time as technology improvements are made. We should expect to have more fuel efficient technologies and renewable energy as time goes on. They offered this quote by John Maynard Keynes: "The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones."
My thoughts: Well, I think its clear I was interested in this talk, since I've put so many of the details in. I am fascinated with the economics of climate change, and also see a clear link to the issue of space exploration. It is very difficult to do a favorable economic analysis of space exploration, even though most people will agree that the space program is valuable. At first, both communities resisted trying to make an economic argument - the reasons for stopping climate change or supporting the space program are obvious - why should we have to show it in numbers? However, now both are trying to make the point in the arena of economics, but finding that the numbers don't really come out in their favor. A common reaction, as was the one with these scientists, is to assume something is wrong with the economic analysis and try and "fix it". (This is actually pretty close to my feeling about economic arguments for space programs.) However, I think that sounds an awful lot like advocacy. For scientists, who are supposed to be satisfied with facts and numbers, to push back on an analysis because you don't like the result seems odd. It seems like there is an agenda to show that there is economic benefit to fighting global climate change, regardless of the outcome of the economic analysis. How is this different from the scientists working for oil companies that go out of their way to do analysis showing that climate change is not a serious problem? I don't really have any answers for this, but I think it's a really interesting question, and looks at what it means to have scientific integrity. It's important to make sure analysis are done correctly and incorporate all the relevant facts, but there can always be debate over exactly what that means. I guess in the end, you have to do what you believe is right.

Grand Challenges and Opportunities for Engineering in the 21st Century
I think this was my favorite panel of the weekend. There were three speakers, Ray Kurzweil, Robert Langer, and Calestous Juma. The talk was generally about where engineering is going to bring us in the next 100 years. Some could argue that the predictions are not all likely to be true, but they were pretty exciting either way. I'll briefly describe what each of them discussed.
Ray Kurzweil is famous for making a lot of predictions about how technology was going to evolve. For example, in the early 70's when only DARPA had the internet, and only about 10,000 computer were connected, he predicted that by the 1990's most Americans would have a computer and access to the internet. He uses logarithmic scales to look at the exponential growth in technologies. He also showed how, though one technology may hit a wall in its exponential growth, new technologies are developed that continue the path. For example, vacuum tubes for TVs were getting smaller and cheaper, but as that was hitting a wall, transistors were invented and were used. These became smaller at an exponential rate. He believes that the medical and biological community was experiencing only linear growth (seen in the linear increase in life expectancy), but now that medical and biological sciences are information technologies, he expects exponential growth. He predicts that as of 2029, we will be adding about 12 months per year onto our life expectancy.
Robert Langer is a professor at MIT in chemical engineering and biotechnology. His group has been creating polymers that can be used to control the release of medicines. This allows people with certain diseases to take monthly shots and for these to be safe and effective. He is also doing some amazing work on growth of organs. He noted that one of the difficult medical problems is tissue deficiency (liver failure, heart failure, etc.) where medicines can't help and there is a donor shortage. He works on taking cells from the patient and growing them on polymers to create organs for transplant. These should be even safer than donor organs, because they originate from the patients own cells. They can already re-grow cartilage, and have repaired injuries in humans. They can also regrow skin, which is currently used for burn victims. Their lab recently grew an ear, and were able to attach it to a rabit. However, this type of research is still in animal study stages. Another very exciting experiment they are doing right now deals with spinal cord injuries. They use mice with spinal cord injuries causing them to be paraplegic, and then grow a new section of spinal cord using this cell-polymer method. They then transplant the newly grown spinal cord segment into the mice, and the mice regain most control of their hind legs.
Calestous Juma is a professor at Harvard, and he talked about the potential for technology to assist in the development of African countries. He works with African presidents to incorporate science and technology policy into the countries' plans. He said there has been a big change in the way African presidents view technology, from believing it wasn't feasible to incorporate it, and may pose a risk, to understanding its potential. Advanced technology can be used to meet people's basic needs, assist in the ability to compete in the global economy, help protect the environment, and enhance government transparency. He said the example of cell phones has been very powerful. At one time, people thought cell phones would be of no use to people in Africa, but now they are used ubiquitously in Africa. Presidents often ask question like "what is the equivalent of the cell phone for automobiles?" or things like that. Africa is able to more easily leapfrog technologies, because they are not locked into existing infrastructure. He believes that three important areas of policy are partnerships with developed countries, the building of human capital through universities, and the application of universities to solving the problems in local areas, helping with technology transfer, as well as bringing Africa into the knowledge economy.
My Thoughts: As I said earlier, this was one of my favorite lectures. It was inspiring to look at some of the amazing advances being made by science and engineering. It spanned all areas of the world, and how technology is changing the way we live. Also, this was especially interesting for me, because I had met Professor Juma before, and now had the opportunity to reconnect with him.

Facebook Reception
On Friday evening, Chloe, Vid, and I went to the AAAS Facebook group reception. I was able to meet many other students and attendees who were at the conference. There were such a wide variety of backgrounds and interests, discussion was very interesting. Also, it was fun to talk to people who had gone to other lectures and hear how they went. We ended up going out to dinner with a bunch of people we met at this event. We just had fast food in the food court at the Prudential Center, which was attached to both our hotel and the convention center. The Facebook group is open to everyone, so if you're on facebook, consider joining!

RE: Design
After dinner, Chloe, Vid, Devan (who we had met earlier), and I went to see a play called "RE: Design" which was based on correspondence between Charles Darwin and Asa Gray. It was interesting and well done, consisting of only the two actors writing and reading letters. They showed how Darwin thought of his home life, his family, and his work. Asa Gray was a devout Christian, and after Darwin's book was published, in their letters they discussed the meaning of Darwin's work and how it fits with religion. Check out the script here.

After the play we went out with new friends to Cactus Club and to Hennesseys - Boston is a great city with lots to do!

Friday, February 15, 2008

In Boston - AAAS Conference

I'm in Boston, MA attending the AAAS Conference at the moment. It's really interesting, and I'm planning to write a lot more, but I'm in a talk right now, so it will have to be later...

Friday, February 8, 2008

I met Buzz Aldrin!

I had a very outer space-filled day on Thursday. My day started out by going to NASA for work. I attended the public session of the NASA Advisory Council (Eileen Collins, the first female pilot, and first female commander of the space shuttle, was there.)

At 2pm or so, I went to see the launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. There was actually a good chance that weather was going to make the launch be delayed to the next day, but the weather stayed good, and the launch was successful. It was amazing watching it from the NASA Space Operations Center. The room looks like something you'd see in a movie - covered with flat screen TV showing video, system information, and monitoring all the news channel coverage, and tons of people in earphone/microphone headsets.

After leaving work at NASA, I went to my Space Security class. We had a speaker from the Air Force, who talked about the system the United States is creating to monitor objects in space.

After class, it was off to the Kosmos club with some friends from class to attend the International Space Week reception. It turned out Buzz Aldrin (second man to walk on the moon) was there... and Stephanie and I got our picture with him!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Google's Grand Central and Iowa Prediction Markets

Continuing the trend of two cool things...

1. Google's Grand Central is a new application offered by google. It's still in beta version (but hey, so is gmail) and requires an invite to join. It allows you to set up a local phone number in any U.S. location you choose. Then, people can call you on this number, and there are a million options you can set up. You can have that number forward to any phone(s) that you have. You can tell it to forward to a work phone from 9-5 and to a cell phone after 5pm. You build up a phonebook, and then you can tell it to do different things depending on who's calling. If it's your friend, you might have it forward to a cell phone, while a work person goes to your work phone, or a person you don't want to talk to goes straight to voicemail. The service comes with free voicemail - and you can record different emails for different phone groups - you can even personalize it for a specific number if you want. The voicemails are stored online in an email-like message inbox, and you receive an email anytime someone leaves a voicemail. Alright, there's tons more, but you can find it yourself by looking around the site. Let me know if you want an invite to join!

2. The Intrade prediction markets are a market-based system for predicting the presidential elections. They allow people to buy and trade shares representing the various presidential candidates, so buying shares for someone is like betting that they're going to win based on current information. It works like the stock market - people who are trading for a lot of money are doing better. It can be seen easily in graphical format, and reacts very quickly to real-time events. It's a cool, unique way to see what's going on in the presidential elections. A very similar prediction market is the Iowa Electronic Markets for Democrats and Republicans.


Well, I'm still pretty busy, but I thought I'd take a quick break to chat. I'm in the process of searching for summer internships. I really want to live abroad over the summer, and I'd like to be doing something space-related, but this narrows things down pretty far. I found out that NASA has representatives in offices in Paris, Tokyo, and Moscow, so I'm investigating that. I guess we'll see what happens.

Jeff bought my flowers for Valentine's Day. He bought them early so it'd be more of a surprise, and because I'm flying to Boston on Feb. 14th - so if he got them then, I wouldn't see them much. Thanks, Jeff!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Preparing for Super Tuesday

A couple of fun websites to prepare for Super Tuesday and the election in general. These sites specifically focus on two of my interests - international development and science stuff. So here they are: - This site is focused on the candidates' views on particular international development and poverty issues. They have an option to compare multiple candidates views side by side. They also have videos of the candidates speaking on these issues. I highly recommend checking out the videos as well as the comparisons.

Geek the Vote - This site, run by Popular Mechanics magazine, shows the candidates' views on science related issues - energy, environment, space, etc. Here there is a checkmark if the candidate has made a statement on the issue - for example, only Obama and Hilary have talked about space. Cool site if you're interested on the future presidents' views on tech issues.

Superbowl Party

Jeff and I went to a superbowl party at our friend's house on Sunday night. Not much news other than that, but a few pics!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

My Favorite Author

My new favorite author is now 3rd grade Jeff. His mom found this book he wrote, and I thought I'd give everybody else the pleasure of reading it by putting it up here. (I was originally going to just put excerpts, but then I thought people would feel I was leaving important details out. So this is all of it... promise.)

Is He Dead?
by Jeffrey Borowitz
to Lucy

Once upon a time, far into the future, a kid was not cooperating with his mom.

"No, no, no, I am not going to the grocery store," 10-year-old Bill Barryson said. "I want to play with Bob and Ted."

"No, Bill, we have to go to the store to buy the Halloween candy," said Bill's mom. Bill shot his mom a "that's all?" look. "Oh, okay, I'll tell you something. Bob Carson is dead."

"Have they found a body?" asked a frantic sounding Bill. You know it's not easy to just hear that your best friend is dead.

"No, there is no body, no ransom note though. I guess you can call him a missing person," his mom said. Bill stomped out the door.

"Remember to change the mirror in your solar bike." Bill's mom sensed some exercise.

Bill rode 3 miles to Ted Smith's house. "Let's go, hold on, do you know that Bob is missing?" asked Bill. "We could trade candy for info. I have five bucks," Bill said all at once.

"I've got a five too. Let's get one bag at a time. Let's start at the beach," said an eager Ted.

At 7:03 the sun was down and Ted was hearing a hum. He turned to face it. It was a fairy who said, "Bob is not dead. He is kidnapped. If you keep investigating, he will be killed." Ted gave the fairy the whole bag of candy but she couldn't hold it and dropped. Ted then talked these words into his walkie-talkie, "Bill, don't investigate further. They will kill Bob. Meet me at Riverside Road in ten minutes."
When Bill and Ted shared their information, they thought that they were pretty much stumped and that Bob was not all right. They went to their own houses and played the newest virtual reality game, Death Mystery. The one thing that puzzled the young detectives was that someone heard a moan. Of course he could have just been chloroformed but it never crossed either of their minds.

Bill called Ted later and said, "We just spent 7 bucks and used 3 bags of candy and we're nowhere. What's our next move?"

"To get some sleep. Meet you at the clubhouse tomorrow. Bring money, 3 bucks, and your bike and bring a new solar mirror. Mine is broken again."Then, that night, the night of Halloween, Ted answered a phone call. He heard, "Ted, why, why, why did you investigate. You knew I was being held captive but you made me die." Ted heard a click and decided to go to bed.

Ted was awakened by an opening door and looked for the sound. Ted almost fainted when he saw Bob. He could not remember if he did faint when Bob pulled a gun and said, "Gimme all your money," but after that he was definitely out cold. Bob took 100 dollars, a computer system, and left.

When Ted woke up, he found a card. On it was an address for a warehouse. He told Bill about it. They went to the address.

Inside there were 4 safes. Bill picked the locks. In each one there was at least 1,000 bucks and one safe was Ted's. They went to an office and found the real Bob.

"Hey, man, are you okay?" asked Bill while Ted untied him.
"Yeah, I guess so," answered Bob.

Later they sat satisfied giving statements to the cops. Then they lived happily for the rest of their lives.

The End

Ben's Chili Bowl

Jeff and I had lunch yesterday at the popular DC icon, Ben's Chili Bowl. It was really great! We had chili dogs and chili fries. It's at about 13th and U, and plays loud funk music inside. And they have a sign that says they only give free food to Bill Cosby.After that, we headed to Baltimore, to hang out with Jeff's friends from home, and celebrate Jeff Schleigh's birthday.

Also, his mom just gave me the pictures we took when we were at the Reagan National Library in California. Look how presidential we all look.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Librarians and the One Campaign

In the tradition that I started yesterday of talking about two cool but completely unrelated things, I wanted to talk today about librarians and the One campaign.

Librarians: Most professional librarians are required to get at least a masters in Library Science. They have tons of training about classifying things, finding data, organizing information, and using modern electronic resources efficiently. Librarians are capable of much more than just telling you which floor the periodicals are on, or checking out your books. If you're doing a research project, consider getting their advice on where to look.

The One Campaign is an effort to raise awareness about worldwide issues in poverty. One of the things I really like about this campaign is that it isn't just about fundraising, it's also about political awareness. You may be a poor student (like me), so helping financially is difficult. But you probably have time to send an email to your congressman saying that you care about these issues. Also, it's really quick - you can show that this is something you care about even from the comfort of your computer in between classes. The One campaign makes it easy by sending you emails (fairly infrequently) when an important meeting or bill is coming up, and asks you to send an email to your representative saying you support it. (They pre-write a letter, so signing and sending only requires a couple clicks on their website.) They also do rallies and concerts and things, but it just seemed like a cool way to get people involved, and unique compared to other programs. The campaign is known as Make Poverty History in England, which is where I first heard about it. They also have some of the most moving short videos on this topic I've seen. "Toddlers" and "Orphans of Nkandla" are really good, but sad. "Orange" is clever. "Drop the Debt" is really cool, and well done. "Nelson Mandela" is a good clip of a speech he gave, and I was there when he gave that speech in Trafalgar Square.

I have three laptops

It was my second day at NASA today, and when I got there my new computer was all set up. I now officially have three laptops - my personal laptop, a laptop for my work with Raytheon, and a laptop for my work with NASA. Pretty crazy...

Working at NASA was fun today. I worked there four years ago, in the summer of 2004, and back then I was soooo excited about space, and had just finished a year of intense aerospace classes at MIT. I was sure I wanted to work somewhere in the space industry. The following year, 2005, was the one I spent in Cambridge, England. While I was there, I learned more about international development and sustainable engineering, and was extremely excited about it. In the summer of 2005 I lived in India. In my senior year, in addition to taking aerospace classes I really enjoyed, I took international development classes. Suddenly I wasn't sure if I wanted to work at NASA or Boeing or if I wanted to go to Bangladesh or Zimbabwe.

Anyway, being back at NASA, I was thinking about all of this. But walking around that building seeing all the space pictures, overhearing nerdy space talk, and seeing NASA TV on all the LCD screens made me remember how fun space is. Pretty much everyone at NASA is really excited about space, exploring, learning, planning for the future. NASA is full of people who love their jobs. And I love that. So, I'm really happy to be back at NASA.

(Reading this through, I thought I'd mention that I'm still super excited about development, and though international development and engineering in rural villages doesn't seem to have an obvious connection to NASA and space exploration, I'm going to find a way to still be involved in both. Infact, at the moment, in addition to work with NASA, I'm still involved in the engINdia program that I helped start in 2005. Check out the engINdia website!)