Posts tagged “berkeley”

Shots in the Dark: The aftermath of Bruce's defenestration

A couple days after our encounter with Bruce, Beth noticed two little marks — seemingly a bite — on her hand. We were in Wisconsin, visiting Vargo, Lauren, Benton, and Leo and attending Pat and Brittany’s (beautiful) wedding. After landing at SFO Sunday night, we took BART home, packed up a little bag, and went to the emergency room at Alta Bates around 11:30 pm.

Rabies is a pretty scary disease. Left untreated, it almost inevitably leads to death. There are very few survivors post-exposure (A google search yielded four. Ever. Anywhere.). Onset of the disease occurs, on average, one to three months after exposure. The initial symptoms are flu-like: fever, tingling, aches. As the virus spreads, two contrasting forms of disease can manifest — ‘furious’ and ‘paralytic’ rabies. In furious rabies, people exhibit hyperactivity, biting-behavior (sometimes), and fear of water. Paralytic rabies leads to gradual, systemic paralysis.

Why all this gloomy talk of rabies? In the US, bats are the source of most human rabies cases.

We learned at Alta Bates that any contact with a bat should be considered a potential rabies exposure unless it can be proven otherwise. Acquitting the bat is no simple task. It involves capturing the bat, bringing it to a local hospital or animal control location, euthanizing it, and confirming via laboratory assay whether the bat was indeed rabid. I can’t speak for others, but my first thought wasn’t to grab some tupperware and snag the lil’bugger. Far from it.

Barring capture (or acquittal within 48 hours), rabies postexposure prophylaxis (RPEP) is recommended. The regimen varies depending on immunization status. If you’re previously immunized, you get two 1 mL shots of rabies vaccine intramuscularly. One on day 0 — the day of the exposure / the day you report to the hospital — and one at day 3. Beth was immunized; this was her RPEP.

I wasn’t immunized, and I paid for it. Non-immunized individuals must receive human rabies immune globulin (HRIG) at a dose of 20 IU / kg bodyweight, and a 1 mL dose of the vaccine on days 0, 3, 7, and 14. HRIG (basically) provides antibodies to protect against rabies during the period in which the vaccine isn’t yet effective. I received 8 mL of HRIG in three locations - 4 mL in my right arm and 2 of the remaining 4 mL in each of my butt cheeks. The vaccine was given to me in my left arm.

No doubt this is a vast improvement from the old method (you know, the one we grew up hearing about) of ~15 shots in the abdomen (this stopped being common practice in the late 70s). It’s still no walk in the park. The shots themselves, while uncomfortable, were not all that painful (save the 4 mL one). The 1 mL vaccination is painless. But vaccines are vaccines and immune responses are immune responses. I’ve felt far from great this week.

Some lessons and recommendations:

  • Window screens are a good and useful thing.

  • Don’t mess with bats. If there’s one in your home, you are exposed to rabies. There’s not necessarily a need to go to the ER, but you need to see a doctor the same day or the next day.

  • If you have reason to get it (for instance, international travel), the pre-exposure rabies vaccination is worth the cost.

Tolkien’s Boromir summed it up nicely: “Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing? So small a thing.”

The Defenestration of Bruce

As best as I can tell, Bruce broke into our apartment well after midnight Wednesday morning.

I should clarify. Bruce is a bat. A small bat. He is of the night, of the outdoors. He broached the boundary between inside and outside through a barely open window.

I turned in around 1:00a after a night of writing; Beth had been asleep for hours. The blinds were closed and the windows were open - a normal night for us in California. I imagine that Bruce flew in, collided with the shutters, and, little claws flailing, grabbed ahold. After catching his breath, he began to explore, to poke around his new environs.

I woke up to that: the rambunctious and clattering aftermath of Bruce’s entrance. He made his way over to the other open window, which had a screen in place. It is unclear whether he perceived this as a way out or was just seeking a cool breeze on his furry belly and wings. Regardless, this is where I found Bruce.

In the gauzy moments before adrenaline kicked in, my mind cycled through possible origins of the racket: “Moth. Rat. Bird.” It wouldn’t be the first time a winged intruder entered our home. A few years ago, a small sparrow got caught in the blinds, creating a lot more ruckus and pooping all over the place before leaving our home / exiting his toilet.

I woke Beth up, had her turn the lights on (and, in doing so, moved her away from the blinds), and took a look. My glasses were off, so all I could make out was a small black blob, the size of a small child’s fist. My first thought was large spider. But then, the blob moved in mysterious ways. Furry, winged ways.

“Bat,” I said, still half asleep.

“Bat? buhbuhBAT! BAT! BATBATBATbatbatbatbatbat!”, Beth shrieked, her voice a fading echo as she fled the room and shut the door.

I grabbed my glasses and took a closer look. Bruce came into focus, a wee bat, moving a bit and holding tightly to the aforementioned screen. A screen installed to keep pests out… and decidedly keeping Bruce in.

Beth peeked her head in and suggested we leave the room, close the door, and call maintenance. She was now fully clothed in multiple layers, scarves wrapped around her neck, head, and face. Bite protection.

I was keen on a more proactive approach and assumed we could knock the screen out the window, rid the apartment of Bruce, and not kill him. A late night defenestration.

After a few minutes of vacillating between amusement and sheer terror, I got a broom, aimed for the corner of the window shade…. and missed, putting a big hole in the screen. Bruce bobbled around a bit, spreading one wing, but not taking flight. He slowly slinked his way to the opposite corner of the screen. His wings were taut and leathery, his ears tiny, his demeanor fearless and frightening.

I slowly inserted the broom in the hole I made and decreased the width of the screen an inch. I then knocked it - and Bruce - out the window.

We heard the screen hit the ground an eternity later, closed all the windows, and took showers. We escaped unscathed… or so we thought.

Collisions

I stumbled across an article this evening on Twitter entitled, “Google Adopts the Language of Steve Jobs for New HQ” by Bryan Chaffin. Chaffin quotes a Vanity Fair piece about Google’s new Googleplex. One specific goal of the new building is to spur casual encounters, “to create opportunities for people to have ideas and be able to turn to others right there and say, ‘What do you think of this?’”

That sentiment sounded familiar to Chaffin. It’s precisely what Steve Jobs set out to do at the Pixar campus in Emeryville. From Walter Isaacson’s biography:

Jobs “had the Pixar building designed to promote encounters and unplanned collaborations.”

He did so by designing the building around a huge atrium that included all of the bathrooms (two large facilities for each sex), all of the mailboxes, the company’s caf´┐Ż, and the stairwell to get to any other part of the building. Even the screening theaters empty into this atrium, guaranteeing unplanned meetings.

“There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat,” Mr. Jobs said. “That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”

He added, “If a building doesn’t encourage [encounters and unplanned collaborations], you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity. So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.”

I went to a workshop bright and early Saturday morning called “Supporting Data Science” that embodied this general thought, except at the level of the university, with its many scales of sacred silos. The meeting drew a varied group of academics, staff, and (a few) students from across the University who came together to discuss challenges and opportunities in working with “big” data (which, in the end, was decided to be any data bigger than you’re accustomed to working with. A little cheeky… and wholly true).

The group of folks who gave ‘lightning talks’ were impressive and included Josh Bloom, Charles Marshall, Henry Brady, Fernando Perez, Ion Stoica, Bin Yu, Cathryn Carson, Dave Dineen and Cyrus Afrasiab, Lee Fleming, and Marti Hearst. The whole thing was moderated and kept moving and interesting by Saul Perlmutter (yup!) and David Culler.

Brady’s comments, in retrospect, honed in on the same essential idea that Jobs shared with Isaacson. Brady discussed how, prior to the advent of personal computers, students and researchers would meet at mainframes, waiting in line to get access to the machine. During those long waits, they’d converse — true and fruitful cross-disciplinary conversation that spurred creativity and built strong bonds between researchers. He lamented the silo’d nature of the academy these days and, perhaps rightly, saw the cross-cutting nature of big data and the challenges associated with managing and interpreting it as a prime area to spur this kind of collaborative exploration moving forward.

Eat estrogenic plants and become more aggressive, have more sex, and stop grooming.

UC Berkeley News Center:

Eating certain veggies not only supplies key nutrients, it may also influence hormone levels and behaviors such as aggression and sexual activity, says a new study led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, that could shed light on the role of diet in human evolution.

The research is the first to observe the connection between plant-based estrogenic compounds, or phytoestrogens, and behavior in wild primates — in this case, a group of red colobus monkeys in Uganda.

The more the male red colobus monkeys dined on the leaves of Millettia dura, a tropical tree containing estrogen-like compounds, the higher their levels of estradiol and cortisol. They also found that with the altered hormone levels came more acts of aggression and sex, and less time spent grooming — an important behavior for social bonding in primates.

Don’t get too excited and plan a weekend tofu binge.

The study authors cautioned against overinterpreting the power of phytoestrogens in altering behavior, however. They emphasized that estrogenic plant consumption is just one of multiple factors influencing primate hormone levels and behavior. Notably, the primates’ own endogenous hormone levels were the stronger predictor of certain behaviors, while phytoestrogens played a secondary role.

Michael Lewis at the Berkeley Public Library

Beth and I attended Michael Lewis’s lecture at the Berkeley Public Library in late October (thanks to Zoe Chafe, who let us know about the event). The talk focused on Lewis’s profile of Obama from Vanity Fair; Lewis was remarkably frank about his interactions with and around President Obama and open about how he interpreted the man and his motivations and how they were shaped by the office.

He ended with some great reflections on Obama, both as an individual and as a President. Worth the 70 minutes of your time. And if you haven’t read the piece, read it now.

On October 17, 2012, author Michael Lewis met with Linda Schacht Gage at the Berkeley Public Library to talk about his recent Vanity Fair article, “Obama’s Way.”

The evening was a program of the Berkeley Public Library, sponsored by the Berkeley Public Library Foundation and the family of Harry Weininger. With support from the East Bay Media Center, the entire program was recorded and is available for all. Enjoy! Special thank you to Michael Lewis and Linda Schacht Gage.

The YouTube videos are embedded below.

Assessing Willingness to Pay for Environmental Health Interventions

Attended a great lecture today by Isha Ray and Jack Colford as part of a new BERC IdeaWorks series. It was a discussion of "Water resources for sustainability and health", focusing mainly on water quality issues in the developing world. A number of interesting studies were described (amazingly clearly, given the complexity of them on the ground) by Dr. Ray and Dr. Colford - both masterful professors. Dr. Colford's undertaking a multi-country assessment of water, sanitation, and hygiene interventions (individually and combined) to see their effects on height, weight, diarrhea. The challenge of doing this kind of randomized trial is not to be underestimated; they plan a year of pilots before the full study begins. A heady undertaking.

Dr. Ray described a couple studies that try to understand how people use these services, how they pay for them, and how they weigh options for water and sanitation. The most striking example she gave is a study kicking off shortly in Tanzania. Her research team is assessing how willing people are to use and pay for six commercially available point-of-use water treatments (like chlorine, a safe-water bucket, a UV filter, a biosand filter, etc). Her approach is novel. As with all studies of this sort, intervention devices will be given to participants. At the end of the study, she'll try one of the following two things: (1) randomly give participants an envelope with a cash amount her team will pay to buy back the point-of-use device or (2) plan the study so that at its conclusion all devices are returned to the researchers; participants are given the option to buy the device back, again at a randomized price. Its an elegant solution to figuring out how much a person would be willing to pay for a technology that is available on the local market.

Our work in the stove world needs to look towards these kinds of assessments to help us frame the issue of poor uptake and compliance of cookstove usage. Both of these types of environmental health interventions often run into the same issues - the technology is poorly designed for the target population, or the population doesn't perceive a need for it. Trying out locally available technologies and helping NGOs and governments figure out which ones people are willing to pay for -- which we hope is a proxy for willing to use -- is one step in the right direction.

This discussion ignores the impact of the devices on the market -- it assumes they work. That's a second, additional wrinkle that plays into the technology adoption.

Stata Bundle for TextMate

This link is as much for me as for anyone reading this thing. I'm beginning to learn Stata, a statistics software package, as it is broadly used at the School of Public Health at Berkeley [along with a fair amount of SAS and R, just to keep things interesting].

I was looking for and found an updated Stata bundle for TextMate, which works nicely and can be quickly updated and customized.

Thanks to Dan Bylr.

Things are afoot.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today announced a public-private partnership called the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. Click here for a transcript of her speech.

The speech was almost completely spot on, exciting, well-said, and well spoken. She hit a ton of the salient points - she said exposure; she talked about small, poorly ventilated kitchens; and outlined the US vision for the way forward. More on this in the next couple of days.

 

Queue head explosion

… the effect of JSY on health-system outputs and outcomes using district-level differences in differences that controlled for differences between treated and untreated observations, and differences in treated observations that might have resulted from underlying changes over time…

athabascan tar sands = "energy insanity"

Classes started today. Began my return to academia in what I'm told was true doctoral student fashion -- I missed my first class because I was on a conference call about a potential project :). It was completely worth it. Its fun to glean and interact [even minimally, at this point] with brilliant, engaged folks.

I made it to the second class, in a big theater filled to the brim with an eclectic smattering of students - undergrads, masters, doctoral, the works, from every discipline across the board. The class is out of the Energy & Resources Group and is titled "Energy and Society." Its going to be awesome and cover a breadth of topics pretty quickly.

We concluded today's lecture with a brief discussion of fossil fuel stores, much of which was enlightening to me. I knew about some of the general environmental issues surrounding tar sands and the rampant destruction producing crude from tar sands entails; I had little clue about the complete energy inefficiency of the process. The prof noted that if we include shale and oil/tar sands in our peak oil calculations, the notion that we've hit 50% capacity becomes moot -- we've hit something like 2.5% capacity. That said, he mentioned that if we assume sweet crude to require environmental/energy inputs equal to 1, tar sands is 30 or 40% higher. The process for refining tar sands [which i'll revisit as I learn more] goes something like the following:

Dig a deep-ass pit. Around 100m down, you'll hit tar sands, or as the Canadians like to call it, oil sands. Mix with water and separate the oil. There's a lot of sulfur in tar sands, and we don't like sulfur. So we take CH4, strip the carbon off, and bubble this hydrogen through the tar sand slurry. This'll form H2S. Precipitate the elemental sulfur in an ice bath, release the hydrogen into the atmosphere. You waste natural gas, you throw hydrogen away, and you get all of this goodness:

Sulfur Stockpile

Apparently there's a glut of sulfur in the market, so that just sits there in all its inimitable yellowness. Piles upon piles of sulfur cakes.

This process above is over-simplified, but that doesn't change the fact that its completely f-ing insane. The size of the Athabascan tar sands hellhole is equivalent to Saudi Arabia's oil field before it was pilfered. The government of Alberta thinks it can push production beyond 3 million barrels per day. Hard to imagine a world in which we're not reliant on oil when we keep finding ways to extract it.

Berkeley Graduate Student Instructor Teaching Conference

Today was my first real foray into Berkeley academic culture — an 8:30a - 3:30p Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) teaching conference. For those in doubt, it made apparent the serious nature of pedagogy at Cal. There were seven hundred first-time instructors in attendance. That’s a hard number for me to wrap my head around — 700 first time instructors. There are probably two or three times that number who’ve already been through the first-time instructor rigamarole.

I’ve got a sense from my limited interactions on campus that the academic environment here is more serious than other places. This could be a function of a bit of anxiety about the program; the seemingly epoch-long two years its been since I’ve been in a formal academic environment; or just the way it is. Regardless, its radical.

I was going to write about the skull-crushing anxiety about returning to a rigorous academic environment, my doubts in my own mental capability to deal with such academic environment, blah blah yadda yadda. That’s all there, and true. But more importantly is a massive rebirth of wonder and excitement. This place is awesome and I can’t wait to be mentally taxed and learn some rad new stuff.

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