Posts tagged “school”

Introducing HAPIT

I’ve lead recent efforts to create a web-based tool to estimate the impacts of household air pollution interventions (like stoves, gas dissemination, etc) using methods based on what’s known about household air pollution and its contribution to the Global Burden of Disease. The project began as an Excel-based spreadsheet before moving to the web leveraging Shiny, R, and a fair amount of javascript. From the site:

HAPIT estimates and compares health benefits attributable to stove and/or fuel programs that reduce exposure to household air pollution (HAP) resulting from solid fuel use in traditional stoves in developing countries. HAPIT allows users to customize two scenarios based on locally gathered information relevant to their intervention, which is the recommended approach. This will normally require preliminary field work at the dissemination site to demonstrate pollution exposures before and after the intervention in a representative sample of households. If no local information is available, however, HAPIT contains conservative default values for four broad classes of household energy interventions based on the available literature — liquid fuels, chimney stoves, rocket stoves, and advanced combustion stoves. As each country’s health and HAP situation is different, HAPIT currently contains the background data necessary to conduct the analysis in 55 countries — those with more than 50% of households using solid fuels for cooking and China, which has a lower percentage of households using solid fuels for cooking, but a high number in absolute terms. See the drop down list on the left and the Info tab for more details.

HAPIT also estimates program cost-effectiveness in US dollars per averted DALY (disability-adjusted life year) based on the World Health Organization’s CHOICE methodology (see Info tab for more detail). It takes a financial accounting approach in that it 1) does not take into account the household costs such as fuel and health expenses or time spent cooking or acquiring fuel and 2) assumes that programs are covering the cost of fuel-based interventions (such as annual LPG costs per household). For custom scenarios, users can adjust the per-household maintenance or fuel cost based on the characteristics of their programs. All program costs should be entered in current US dollars.

There are a number of nice features of HAPIT, but one I’m particularly fond of is the customized, session-based pdf generated by clicking “Download Report.” HAPIT’s a work in progress and will continue to evolve in the coming months.

David Foster Wallace's 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon

Robert Krulwich, at his blog, points to a dramatization of DFW’s commencement speech to the class of 2005 at Kenyon college. Excerpted below (read the full transcript).

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.


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�, 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.

Welcome to the new UC (brand)

The University of California system undertook a substantial rebranding effort, highlighted in the video above. It is a dramatic shift -�and without a doubt feels more modern. The impetus for the change as described by Vanessa Kanan Correa follows:

Previously, the UC system only used its seal as its primary visual identifier, where it was abused with impunity. We feel it is an important component of the university’s visual ecosystem. But it is a non-distinctive symbol which serves an important bureaucratic function. Now we limit its use to formal systemwide communications, diplomas, official regental and presidential communications, and other official documents. Many of our campuses, and other universities across the country have limited use of their official seals in similar ways.

From this perspective, this is less of a rebranding exercise, but instead the creation of a coherent, consistent, and relevant brand identity where before there was none.

Jury’s out on whether that’s a good thing or not — or how much it will actually impact design choices at each of the separate UC campuses. Probably minimally, at least initially.

The typographic choices are pretty safe — modern, but not too showy or strong. The designers chose Kievet, a sans-serif humanist typeface in the vein of Source Sans or Droid Sans. Kievet has a number of weights and a corresponding web font.

The initial work on FF Kievit began in 1995, as part of a school project. The concept was finished several years later for a corporate client of Method Inc., a design firm in San Francisco. The openness of the characters and their proportions makes it an ideal typeface for use in small print. The clarity of classic sans serif faces (Frutiger and Univers) and the humanistic characteristics of old styles (Garamond and Granjon) were the inspiration for this contemporary design that is equally at home in a headline or a body of text.

The new UC badge itself I’m not particularly fond of. It took me five or ten looks to realize they’re trying to make the background approximate a U through use of negative space. And that C is really, really round. I’ll grant that it looks really modern and catchy — as does the rebrand of the University’s “let there be light” tagline. The problem - and my fear - is that you want to go for a timeless design for properties like this and not capitulate to what’s trendy now. The whole thing looks hip and cool — and could feel dated in six wee little months. We’ll see what happens.

Indolence as virtue

I’ve found myself falling into “The ‘Busy’ Trap” as described by Tim Krieder in the NYT far more often since I’ve moved out West. Part of it, I think, is the atmosphere in my department, which is more pressured by the urgency of the work at hand than other places I’ve been (and, as a result, has made more contributions to the field than many other places). Another part is crushing, self-induced pressure to keep on top of myriad obligations. Regardless, Krieder’s exposition rings true — and is entertainingly written, to boot. He makes a strong case for checking our tendency to default to busyness and embrace more leisurely, somewhat indolent behavior.

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. “Idle dreaming is often of the essence of what we do,” wrote Thomas Pynchon in his essay on sloth. Archimedes’ “Eureka” in the bath, Newton’s apple, Jekyll & Hyde and the benzene ring: history is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments and dreams. It almost makes you wonder whether loafers, goldbricks and no-accounts aren’t responsible for more of the world’s great ideas, inventions and masterpieces than the hardworking.

“The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.” This may sound like the pronouncement of some bong-smoking anarchist, but it was actually Arthur C. Clarke, who found time between scuba diving and pinball games to write “Childhood’s End” and think up communications satellites. My old colleague Ted Rall recently wrote a column proposing that we divorce income from work and give each citizen a guaranteed paycheck, which sounds like the kind of lunatic notion that’ll be considered a basic human right in about a century, like abolition, universal suffrage and eight-hour workdays. The Puritans turned work into a virtue, evidently forgetting that God invented it as a punishment.

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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