Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
The workshop is held at the Millenium Hotel in
I’m taking notes at the conference and hope to post as much as I can on what I learn from each presentation and session.
Space Weather and Aviation Workshop
The conference doesn’t technically begin until Tuesday, but there was an optional workshop on Space Weather and Aviation from Monday. Since this is exactly the topic that I’ve been working on, I flew in early enough to attend.
There were presentations by multiple groups within this community, and the focus was on trying to make the needs of the users understood. There was a panel that included two pilots and a dispatcher, which I found very interesting. One of the pilots pointed out that unlike terrestrial weather information, pilots have no access to space weather information while in flight. Even though pilots are empowered to take the action they think is necessary given current conditions, most do not know enough about space weather to take any action.
Another speaker talked about the need to make the business case for including space weather information into aviation decision making. He felt that the numbers, probabilities, and costs were not available at the level of fidelity needed for managers to make decisions.
One person, who had worked in meteorology and was now in space weather, asked if there are any channels for pilots to provide information back to the forecasters. He said that in meteorology, this is an important way for forecasters to understand when their predictions were not correct, and exactly what the actual conditions were. If pilots have trouble with HF Comms, that information should make its way back to the
Another interesting comment was on the various types of predictions available. At the workshop we ran at GW, we found that users were interested in models and predictions even if they didn’t have all information or weren’t 100% confidence. This person commented that though it is difficult to predict the duration of Solar Proton Events, it is possible to predict with high confidence the minimum duration of the Solar Proton Event. This is the kind of information I think would be very useful to the aviation and space communities for the purposes of planning.More to Come...
The building is open to the public, so anyone is welcome to go in. I found the room that the hearing was in – thanks to the helpful guidance of some security guards at the entrance. The room is fairly big, and set up so with lots of chairs for the people who are watching the hearing. In the front of the spectator section is a table where the witnesses sit. The witnesses are the people who are speaking at the hearing. In the front of the room, facing the witnesses and the spectators is a raised dias where the congressmen sit.
First, I’ll give some general thoughts on what it was like to attend a hearing, and then I’ll go into the specifics for those who (like me) are interested in the progress being made on the ISS program.
One thing that surprised me was the relaxed atmosphere. The room, with its quotes and proverbs on the wall and dark wood paneling, gives a sense of seriousness, but the congressmen running the meeting seemed very easy-going.
Congressman Udall was chairing, and Congressman Hall was sitting to his left. Congressman Hall was pretty funny – he’s been in the subcommittee for many years, and made a few jokes about his age. He also happened to know the father of one of the witnesses, and said a few words about him.
There weren’t any female congress-people present on the subcommittee, but two women (out of six people) were witnesses. After working in DC for a bit, I tend to notice the gender balance, especially in positions of seniority, and in technology-related fields.
The last general comment I’d like to make was on how exciting the hearing was. I thought the panel might be a little boring – it’s two hours of people reporting on the status of a program to Congressman. But it really went by so quickly and was really interesting. When Congressman Hull announced we only had 10 minutes left, I couldn’t believe it – I would have guessed that the had only been going for about 45 minutes at that point, not an hour and 50 minutes.
Now to the specifics, the meeting was organized into two sections – first a panel of mostly non-government people speaking on how the ISS can benefit them and their companies/ industries. Then there was a panel of government representatives that talked about the ISS benefits to the government agency they were representing.
The first speaker was from USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), not an agency you usually think of as interested in the International Space Station. Actually, it turns out that USDA and NASA have a history of collaboration. NASA satellites are used for Earth observation and remote sensing that allows USDA to predict and monitor disease, drought, and other issues relevant to their agency. With the ISS, they are interested in doing basic research on biological and cellular research – looking at the early development of cells in micro-gravity. He suggested that as the ISS transforms to a National Laboratory, that a new organization be set up to organize the research agenda. He also suggested that Congress provide some funding to support research, due to the high costs of transportation and special materials needed to do research on the International Space Station.
The second speaker was from
The third speaker was from a commercial company called Spacehab, and was interested in doing research on viruses in micro-gravity. Their company is already getting some research flown, but as the ISS is the only platform for doing long-term micro-gravity research, that’s what they’re really interested in. They believe that micro-gravity can be used to develop vaccines much more quickly, and that these advanced vaccines have the potential to be worth millions – and also the potential to save millions of lives. Protein Crystal Growth is one of the methods they are interested in, which can be done in micro-gravity much more precisely than on Earth. He also suggested that Congress put more money into basic science research, including that which is high-risk, because this is the research that leads to innovation and is the research that commercial companies are not able to do.
An interesting question asked by one of the Congressman was dealing with the issue of health-related research. He pointed out that the health benefits that could be acquired by ISS research have been talked about for many years, but nothing has materialized. He asked why Congress should believe that this time we should really expect such impressive advances.
The witnesses replied that in the past, ISS was in a construction phase. In 2010, it will finally be complete, and truly ready to support a research agenda. They also argued that promising new developments are already occurring, such as the recent discovery, due to research done in space, on gene regulatory pathways.
The first speaker from the second panel was Dr. Gerstenmaier, who leads the NASA ISS Office. He talked about the benefit of the ISS to exploration research. It is important to realize that there really is no where else that we can do research on long-term space exposure for humans or for space systems. These are very important things to understand if we’re going to travel to the Moon and Mars.
The second speaker was from the GAO, Government Accountability Office, and she basically said that NASA ISS is going pretty well, and that it is important that the two contingency flights are funded and flown. These flights will bring important spare parts to the ISS, and will be the last before the shuttle is retired.
The final speaker was from the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, and spoke about the biomedical research that can be done on the International Space Station. Similar to the first speaker, it was clear that this research is important to future exploration missions.
I’m almost finished with a paper discussing the various benefits of the ISS that I am hoping to get published. I’ll definitely be posting about that when it becomes available.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
The Golden Compass
This movie is based on the book of the same name by Phillip Pullman. It is set in Oxford, but in a parallel universe. The main characters is a little girl who goes on an adventure to save her friends, and along the way there are cowboys, polar bears, witches, and lots of other fun types of people. The acting was good - I thought Nicole Kidman and Dakota Blue Richards both did a great job. It was a fun movie, I thought, but there was a lot cut out of the book to make it movie length. I wonder if someone who hadn't read the book would understand it as well.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
This movie was pretty funny. Really silly and ridiculous, but still entertaining. It was funny to see Jenna Fischer outside of her normal role as Pam on The Office. It makes fun of Walk the Line quite a bit - so it helps if you've seen that movie before you watch this one.
Lions for Lambs
Though this movie was directed by Robert Redford and starred him, Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep, I had actually never heard of it. It's all set in present times. Tom Cruise was a senator trying to convince Meryl Streep, a reporter, that she should do a positive report on Afganistan. Robert Redford is a Political Science professor trying to convince a promising student not to give up on the system. The film really pushed its message hard, and didn't leave much up to the viewer to think about. That made me think less of the movie, I think, so I wasn't that impressed.
We then went into central London and had coffee in Covent Garden.From there we walked down towards the river, past Trafalgar Square, to Westminster and Big Ben.
I met up with a friend, Hinesh, who works in the foreign service, and he showed me around the building. To get in, they actually take your picture and print a photo ID, which I thought was pretty cool. I saw the room from which England ruled India, and a room that had the names of Indian cities underneath sculpted busts of the governors that ran them, which was pretty crazy. The building was beautiful and there were lots of beautiful murals and elaborate staircases. In one staircase, there are paintings in each corner representing the four continents (yep, just four at that point...) America is represented by a woman with a bow and a deer in the background. At one point I stood about ten feet from 10 Downing Street (which is where the British Prime Minister lives), and that was pretty incredible. If Gordon Brown had decided to go for a walk just then, I would have seen him.
After the brief tour and a short stop to have some Shepard's Pie for lunch, I went back out to meet my mom and head to the airport. And that was the end of our brief adventure in England!
We got up pretty early, made our way to King's Cross Station (the nostalgia setting in already) and boarded a train to Cambridge. When we arrived, everything was familiar, including the walk from the station to the city center - which had always seemed to take forever, because you were either on the way to the station, running late for your train, or on the way back from the station, tired from traveling.
Before long were to the corner that led to the place where I had lived. The one-pound discount shop on the corner had been turned into a department store. But we made it to Botolph Lane, and Botolph Court (where I had lived) was exactly the same. It's probably been the same since it was built in the 1800's...We also saw the hot cocoa place that was right outside my door, though unfortunately for us, it was closed.
From there, we went into Corpus Christi College and saw all the familiar sites - the food hall where I'd eaten most days, the new court and old court where friends had lived, and all sorts of other fun things.We walked up Trumpington Street and went to the market in the city center. We spent time just wandering the streets remembering where people had lived, which places we had gotten tea at (which was practically all of them), and reminiscing.
We had lunch at Cafe Uno near the River Cam and a place renting punts. After lunch, we walked along the backs of the colleges, which was beautiful as always.
We stayed in Cambridge until around 5pm, and then headed back to London. Once in London, my mom and I headed to Leister Square to have dinner with Jackie and Sunita, who had just returned from two weeks or so of traveling. We ate at a place in Chinatown that was pretty good, and then headed back to Monica's, where Jackie and Sunita had left some luggage. We chatted a bit there and then they headed back to Oxford, where Sunita is studying, and my mom and I got a bit of sleep.
The first half of the workshop, I talked about how we had written the project descriptions and what we were trying to accomplish with them. We then broke into two groups and each group looked at two project descriptions printed off the engINdia website. They discussed what additional information might be needed, how a student could get started on the project, and general strengths and weaknesses of the description. The discussion went really well and people had some great ideas on how to improve descriptions. I'm hoping to implement a number of the ideas that were brainstormed, such as adding pictures to each description, providing an email address to get more information, and listing the engineering specialties to which the project applies.
One of the groups looked at the "Internet Education and Training" project description as an example, and at lunch one of the girls in that group told me it had really sparked her interest, and she'd like to look into working on the project and possibly traveling to Pabal in the future to work on implementation. It was so great to see students getting excited about these projects and coming up with solutions.
The second half of the workshop was focused on communication and implementation of projects. I talked about the various ways we communicate - through email, phone, website, etc., and how we had recently set up a wiki to allow students and people in Pabal to provide more detailed information. This would help us to make sure we don't lose information after a student finishes a project and moves on. We had an interesting discussion on methods for implementation and what engINdia can do to make sure proposed solutions are made available to the people in Pabal.
One of the girls in the workshop had been working on an engINdia project focused on biodiesel over the past year. Now, in two weeks, she is going to travel to Pabal to work with Vigyan Ashram to build the prototype and try to implement the project there. She's been working closely with people there via email and is really excited to visit. After the workshop I met with her to provide any advice I could about traveling to Pabal.
The workshop was planned to run about four hours, and actually ran a bit longer than that. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm that students had. I'm really grateful to Hayley Sharp from EWB for proposing and organizing the workshop.
After the workshop, my mom and I went to meet up with our relatives. They live in Cornwall and had come up to London to visit for the evening. We met up with them at Sir Albert Hall, and walked to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The museum was huge and really beautiful. A lot of the museums in London, like in DC, are free of charge, which was really nice. We didn't have time to see nearly everything, but we did see Indian art, ancient sculptures, stained glass, silver and metal work, and lots of other things. We had dinner at a small Italian restaurant in South Kensington, and then said good-bye to the relatives. I had never met them before, so it was fun to spend the afternoon chatting.
Since we were in the neighborhood, my mom and I decided to walk up to Harrods. We shopped around for a while, and my mom bought a paperweight. I've been to Harrods a number of times, but always around Christmas for some reason, so it was interesting to see it without all the holiday decorations.
After shopping, I got in touch with my friend John Lau, who had been studying at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge when I was there. I couldn't believe it had been three years since I'd seen him - and an important three years, since we'd met during his first year of university and now he's graduated and working in London. We walked around Sloane Square and King's Street, and got a cup of tea at Picasso. He did a great job of fitting three years of adventures into three hours of chatting. It seemed like he had a great time during University, and a lot of the same group of friends that I had known were still keeping in touch. It was interesting for me to try to think over the highlights of the last three years of my life, as well, trying to pick out the important points. It was great to see John, which is probably why, despite my increasing sleep deprivation, we stayed out until about 11pm. (Also, I love that in England, they never bring you your check until you ask for it, so there's no real pressure to leave after you've finished your food/drink.) After that, my mom and I headed back to Whitechapel to stay at Monica's place again.
After landing, we went straight to the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) UK Conference. Actually, not quite straight there, because we accidentally went to Imperial College London first, before getting to the Institute of Structural Engineers, which is where we meant to go. We got there just in time for lunch, actually, and had some great English sandwiches. I was finally able to meet in person some of the EWB people I had been talking to over internet for months. I also ran into Tom Newby, who had been involved in EWB while I was at Cambridge, and said hello to Heather Cruikshanks, who had been my third year project adviser while I was studying in Cambridge.
After lunch there were two talks before my own. First was Ron Dennis talking about bicycle and motorcycle ambulances for rural areas developed by Developing Technologies. The idea is that a standard ambulance is too expensive to buy the number that are needed in large, rural areas. The two other options seem to be bicycles and motocycles, to which you attach a trailer. However, bicycles are don't go particularly quickly, and can be difficult to impossible to pedal over rough terrain or up hills, which makes them less than ideal for ambulance services. Motorcycles, though more expensive, offer a better option, because they are available in a lot of places and are strong enough to go quickly over rough terrain. This group designed an ambulance trailer that could be attached to any motorcycle. One interesting thing to me was that they had done work in Zambia, where I had visited two years ago. They actually worked with Disacare - which is an organization that manufactures wheelchairs suitable for rough terrain in sub-Saharan Africa. I've actually been to Disacare and seen their workshop and played a game of wheelchair basketball. Most of the people that work their are disabled, and they play a weekly game of wheelchair basketball, to which others are welcome to join. I did, but it's really hard to coordinate wheeling, dodging, dribbling and throwing at the same time, so I was pretty awful at it. Overall, the talk was interesting and it seemed like they had come up with a good design.
The second talk was on water testing in developing countries. The speaker, Dr. Stephan Gundry, talked about Aquatest, which is a method developed for easy on-site testing of water in rural areas. They are designing a low-cost, easy to use technology that will allow people without training to take water samples and get a result that is easy to understand regarding the quality of the water for drinking. The World Health Organization is also interested in using this technology in disaster situations to quickly assess whether the water sources are still safe to drink from. The project seems to be going well - they just received a large grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and there is a lot of interest.
At about 4pm, it was time for me to give my talk about engINdia. It is the first time I've presented about engINdia at a research conference, so I was really hoping that I'd be able to effectively explain what our organization does. I explained the idea behind engINdia: that there are engineering students around the world that have the opportunity to work on a hands-on project during their undergraduate education, and these students are interested in working on sustainable development projects. However, unless you have detailed information about a specific engineering challenge in a specific area, it is almost impossible to identify a meaningful project. Meanwhile, there are people in developing nations that are interested in collaborating with other people and coming up with innovative, appropriate solutions for engineering challenges in their communities. engINdia was designed to bridge this gap by traveling to rural India, learning about a community, and documenting engineering challenges of the local population. We lived in the village and got to know people well to be sure that we really understood the local situation and which things the villagers viewed as challenges. We came up with a list of more than twenty project descriptions, which we then put on a website - http://www.engindia.net. We also work hard to facilitate communication among students working on projects and people in Pabal, India. This allows students to ask questions and get information and feedback as they develop a solution. Communication happens primarily through email, but we are also trying to capture information on a wiki. We also promote the implementation of the proposed solutions, through getting information back to the people in the village or through providing information to help a student travel to Pabal to work with the people there directly.
After the talk, people asked quite a few questions, which I thought was great, because it meant people were interested. I explained a bit more about how we had spent a lot of time getting to know people and learning about their daily lives. I also explained how we worked with Vigyan Ashram, a school in Pabal that teaches practical engineering and entrepreneurial skills. A student at Cambridge that organizes research projects for EWB told me that the engINdia project description have been really useful and are some of the best he has for getting professors to support sustainable development projects. It was great to hear that engINdia projects were being used by people and that the purpose of the organization had been understood.
Mine was the last talk for the day, so all that was left were the closing remarks. Then there was a bit of wine and networking, which gave me a chance to talk to more people and find out a little more about other projects as well.
Most of the group then went out to Pizza Express, which is a somewhat fancy pizza chain restaurant in England. Dinner was great, and it was nice to chat with people. I sat next to someone who had just completed a project on mud bricks throughout the world - how mud brick building are made and maintained, what their structural properties are, etc. He had traveled to Morocco, India, and some other locations and found that the construction methods with mud bricks were similar.
After dinner, my mom and I were pretty exhausted, so after a brief internet cafe stop, we headed to Monica's flat in Whitechapel. It was really cool to see where Monica was living and hear about her adventures in England. She had been living in Boston last year the same time I was, but since then she had found a new job in London and moved there. We ended up staying up much later than we should have chatting and catching up.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Now, to be fair, these people are professionals, and many of them seemed to work at the state department and do things related to cultural diplomacy or diplomacy in general. Anyway, person after person began their "question" only for it to turn into a five minute speech about their own experience and opinion.
After a few of these "questions" the moderator said that when he planned the event, he had only arranged for three panelists, but now he was up to about nine. Oh, DC.
An Inconvenient Truth
I'd heard a lot about this movie before I saw it, but it was still not what I expected. I thought there would be a lot of pictures of the earth, and of changing climates, and there were, actually. However, there was also a lot of discussion of graphs and scientific results and more technical issues, which I thought was really interesting. There was also a decent amount of Al Gore autobiography, which I really wasn't expecting, but was also fairly interesting. It was a heavier movie than I thought it'd be - more technical and serious than emotional - at least compared to what I had expected. I'd recommend checking it out and then reading up a bit more on the issue. This movie also brought up the issue of scientific integrity and how you tell good science from hack science, which I think about a lot, and I'm going to try to blog on that issue in a bit.
I actually saw this one on the plane on the way back from Ecuador. I didn't really like it at first, because I didn't know what it was and couldn't tell if it was going to turn into a corny Disney movie or an existential indie-film. It's about a boy who can hear music in everything (kind of like Bjork in Dancer in the Dark - which is an amazing film). His parents are also very musical, but all three of them are separated, so the boy decides to try to find the parents by "following the music". It also has a creepy Robin Williams who gets homeless children to live in a warehouse and play music for money during the day. I won't tell you the end, but I'd say it was a mix of corney Disney and odd indie-film. It was pretty entertaining along the way, and a cute movie overall, but I wouldn't say great. Maybe if Bjork was his mother instead of Keri Russel, it would have been more interesting. ;)
Good Night and Good Luck
This movie was about Edward R. Murrow, a news anchor during the 1950's that decided to take on Senator McCarthy. If you took social studies in middle school, you should know about McCarthyism, but if you weren't paying attention, get a little reminder from wikipedia. Anyway, the movie is well done and interesting, particularly because its based on real events. It also highlights how difficult it is to fight a popular movement, since just by putting yourself against it, you risk everyone disliking and not trusting you. This one is worth watching.
Water is an Indian movie about widows living in a city in India. It is set in the 1940's era when India is on the verge of independence, and Ghandi is traveling the country. It follows the story of one young girl whose (much older) husband dies. She is sent to live in the enclosed area for widows where she will have to stay for the rest of her life. They talk about how the practice is more economic than religious - since a woman could not have a job, she would be an economic burden for the husband's family, so she is sent away. It is a really interesting movie, and is nothing like the big Bollywood films with millions of dance numbers, there is actually no singing and dancing in this movie.
This one is mentioned partly in jest. I actually watched it while on a bus in Ecuador, so it was all in Spanish. (And I don't speak Spanish.) Luckily, in this fast-paced film starring Nick Cage, that didn't seem to matter. Also, whoever did the Spanish translation did a pretty good job on the Nick Cage accent. He is a guy who can see into the future about what is going to happen next, so the government wants to get a hold of him to stop a nuclear explosion in he U.S. For some reason he doesn't seem to be interested until his girlfriend is kidnapped. But then he becomes the action hero we all knew he was. Watch out for the rediculously action/ sci-fi twist at the end.
The Panama Hat Trail
This is a book that I read while I was in Ecuador, because it is about Ecuador. The Panama Hat is actually made in Ecuador, which is basically the point of the book. It was pretty interesting and is mostly a travel journal of all the places this person goes while trying to learn about how the hat is made and shipped all over the world.
Settlers of Catan
My friends and I have played this two weeks in a row, and it's getting a bit addicting. It's a super nerdy board game - the board comes as a series of colored hexagons so that the board is different every time. You build roads and houses and cities and you need these to get materials to build more- it's kind of like a board game version of some of the online games around - but this one came first, I think. Anyway, it sounds complicated the first time you play, but actually becomes clear very quickly and is really fun. I'd recommend checking it out!
Sunday, April 6, 2008
Notes on a Scandal
Today I watched this movie, which stars Judi Dench and Kate Blanchett. It was really interesting, I thought - it's about two teachers at a school, and one of them finds out the other is having an affair with a student. The characters are interesting and complex, particularly the Judi Dench character, who narrates the movie.
This movie is about Truman Capote and his work in writing the book "In Cold Blood" that was about some murders that happened in a small town. Philip Seymour Hoffman was awesome in it, and I'd recommend watching it.
Napola - Elite fur den Fuhrer
This is a German film that takes place at an elite school during the second world war. It's pretty intense, which is standard for German film set in WWII times.
Space Station 3D
Well, not surprisingly, I thought Space Station 3D was a pretty awesome movie. It's an IMAX film that plays at the Air and Space Museum. I thought it might be corny 3D, but actually they did a good job with it.