Lifesavers

As an environmental engineer, a huge issue to tackle is getting clean water to people in other countries. So many people do not have access to something that most Americans take for granted. It seems like an issue that is impossible to solve, but Michael Pritchard is his Ted talk (link below) talks about how he has solved this problem. He has invented a Lifesaver water bottle that would enable people to clean their own water, instead of delivering the water to them through expensive and inconvenient means.

 

This Ted talk is from 2009, and over three million people have viewed it. My first thought was why doesn’t everyone have one of these yet? It would cost money to make and distribute, and it is still not understood that this is a problem that could be fixed with a little bit of help and coordination.

He stresses the use of this during times of disaster, but I think that it could really be useful for everyday and long term usage. Even water in America has been found to have lead (Flint Michigan? Woburn Massachusetts?) and been harming people here. Clean water is a world-wide issue, one that affects all of us, and one that is within our ability to solve.

 

 

Corn on the Cob

So today I basically became aware of the fact that everything in the world is corn. That burger you ate last night, yeah, probably some corn in it. Chicken nuggets? Mhmm. Even some soda’s contain that lovable little yellow vegetable.

Why do I want you to care about corn? Well, I’m less concerned with the fact that we are eating vegetables and more concerned about how this vegetable came to be. Back in the earliest days of people corn was minuscule. So how did corn get to be to the delicious size that it is today?

Presumably, one day someone decided to eat a piece of this tiny corn. Like all corn, he failed to completely digest it, and that little hunk of corn was planted in a pile of “enriched soil”. Over the years, people continued to snack on the larger hunks of corn and the smaller pieces slowly faded away. Fast forward a ridiculous number of years and poof, corn on the cob.

However, this new corn suffers from a fatal flaw. In all our efforts to create the David Hasselhoff of corn, we overlooked something significant. It’s only one vegetable. One crazy bug or insect could severely damage corn production and leave us in a very bad, very awkward situation.

It seems that in many cases with advances in technology (in this case corn technology) we don’t always think in the long term. Sure, eating an entire large pizza from Dominoes seems like a chance to achieve Nirvana. Yet, I’m almost certain you’re stomach will be throwing a tantrum the next day. When will we stop looking for short term answers to long term questions? maiz-y-teosinte1

Unmodified picture from: http://lacienciaysusdemonios.com/2009/10/06/el-huerto-evolutivo-4-del-teocinte-teosinte-al-maiz-la-evolucion-es-la-repanocha/

The End of Reality

For the next thirty seconds I’m going to pretend to be the host of a wildly successful game show and you will be my honored guest.*Ahem*

“Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome back to ‘would you rather?’ the best game show of 2016. I’m your host, Dan the Fantastic, and standing beside me is <insert your name here>. Will you all please greet our guest of honor?”

*Massive amounts of loud clapping ensues*

“Alright, I think that’s enough. Let’s get this started. As you know I’m going to ask you a question and you have ten seconds to answer it. During this time, the crowd will also select their answer and if you agree with them you win a brand new <insert generic car brand name here> ! Doesn’t that sound wonderful?”

*More frantic clapping*

“Without further adieu, here we go. ‘Would you rather: spend your days toiling about in a generic office setting, filing paperwork, or *pause for dramatic effect* would you like to pilot a spaceship into the heat of a battle where the fate of the known galaxy relies on your skills, and your skills alone?”

–End Game Show Section–

Now, that was a bit excessive, I’ll admit it. Yet if you stuck with me and answered that question, you probably chose the latter of the two options. Now sure, working at a desk and having a steady job is incredibly respectable, so if you chose that, you probably made the smart choice. Yet, there is a growing number of people who would pick the second choice simply because of a desire to escape mundane reality.

I recently became aware of the existence of something called the Oculus Rift. This new gizmo is placed over your eyes, like a large awkward pair of glasses, and pulls you into a pseudo-virtual world. It’s not perfect, but from my experience, the visual sensations are pretty convincing. As much as I love technology and this new advancement in general, I once again find myself hesitating slightly.

In my experience, I’ve found that there are a growing number of people who dedicate a significant portion of their lives to certain video games. They’re the people who will spend weeks living inside a game. They will spend days cultivating relationships, friendships,
and even romances in the virtual world with computer generated characters. Now, there isn’t really anything inherently wrong with this. The problem arises from a fact that I find indisputable for a person like this. At a certain point, this person is more living their virtual life than there physical life. Doing so undoubtedly throws there perspective on reality into question. So what will happen to these people when a new technology exis
ts that allows for an even more immersive experience? Trying to live in this world is hard enough. Trying to live in two… well… I don’t know if it can truly be done. When the lines between fantasy and reality become indistinguishable, what will our world look like?

The Oculus Rift headset is tested by attendees at the Eurogamer Expo at Earls Court in London.

This Unmodified Picture is from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bagogames/13944710577

Walking in a Winter…

January 24th, 2016.

You walk outside only to be instantly greeted by the cold sting of winter on your face. You pull your hat further down over your ears and start to walk down the steps deeper into a world comprised completely of white. Every which way you look, tiny specks of white fill your vision as they cascade downwards towards the ground. Step by step you continue on your journey enjoying the puff of white smoke that dances around your face as you exhale.

There are other people, you nod your head curtly as you pass them. They too are tightly bundled and look strangely misplaced in this fragile and delicate landscape. Without warning the world around you starts to spin, your feet suddenly flail out in front of you wildly. In an instant you are on your back, cocooned in a gentle layer of snow, staring at the brilliantly gray sky.

January 25th, 2016

It’s a Monday, and lo and behold, you don’t wake up to the sound of an alarm clock. You grumpily roll over and look at the clock beside your bed. 10:37. Much to early to wake up still. You pull your bed sheets over your head and gingerly drift back to sleep again.

Snow picture

Yes, what I just described are the exact events leading up to my snow-day this previous Monday. I may have embellished slightly, but ultimately the core intent remains intact. It was perfect. My first day back at Lehigh is a snow-day, who would have thunk it?

 

 

 

 

 

Volkswagon Scandal

A large part of our discussions in the IDEAS seminars is on engineering ethics, and what it means to be an engineer in our present time and to stick to a moral and ethical code at the same time. We talked about this topic in relation to Challenger and  Woburn (water contamination in A Civil Action), along with other works.

Along with this discussion goes the question, “When will we learn?”. People have written about and known about engineering ethical failures throughout history ,and yet they continue to happen today. This is shown plainly in the Volkswagen diesel engine scandal that just erupted recently. Individuals at the company knew of the faulty emission systems and how they would not have been approved by environmental regulators.

Instead of doing what is best for the customers, and taking maybe the time and extra cost to make sure that the software was functioning correctly, they took an easy way out, to try and deceive others instead of practicing ethical engineering. Now, they are dealing with an aftermath that will affect their sales and reputation, when it all could have been avoided.

Article from the New York Times on the scandal and investigation:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/09/business/international/vw-diesel-emissions-scandal-congressional-hearing.html

The Circle of Life

You wake up to the sound of your Oh-so-lovable alarm buzzing in your ear. The clock reads 9:10 A.M. as you tumble out of bed. When you finally wipe the sand from your eyes, you experience a moment of déjà vu.

I’ve been at Lehigh for over two months now. In that time I’ve changed a lot. The high school-er I used to be has vanished off the face of the planet. Now I’m a bonafide college student which is really a whole different beast. One thing that hasn’t changed though, is the monotony of repetitious daily activities. I don’t like getting into the same boring routine… it’s… well… boring. With that in mind, I’ve been trying to come up with a list of things I can do while I’m here to spice up daily life.

Objective 1: Go track down the Bethlehem Star- I’ve heard it’s a thing… but never actually seen this thing.

Objective 2: Next time it rains, sit down and eat popcorn whilst watching the storm pass by. I can’t help it, nature is pretty awesome.

Objective 3: Successfully slide down a railing. Sure, this has the potential to be a bit dangerous, but hey, what’s life without a little risk?

Objective 4: Learn how to juggle. *drops mic.*

Objective 5: Rent a car, take some friends on a road trip, hopefully to a waterfall. It’s been far to long since I’ve sat in a waterfall.

Now you’re probably wondering how this relates to IDEAS. Well, it doesn’t really but maybe that’s the point. In IDEAS we spend hours basically debating things until we’re clinically insane. Sometimes it’s nice to step back and just remember to live our lives.

This unmodified picture is from: https://www.sketchport.com/drawing/6353855952453632/the-lion-king
This unmodified picture is from: https://www.sketchport.com/drawing/6353855952453632/the-lion-king

Lecture on Ethics

Dr. Francesca Grifo gave a lecture on ethics this past Monday as part of the annual P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science lecture. She is the Chief Scientific Integrity Official at the EPA and ensures that scientific integrity is being upheld, for the benefit of the scientist’s work and the American people’s health. She discussed the political policies and the efforts that they are making to change the way that things are run. It was great to hear someone “from the inside” discuss the new and developing policies toward science in politics.

This brings to light issues relating to the role of the government in dealing with the environment, and how they are responsive to the ideas and opinions of the people. It also brings up the question of who then is responsible for the health of the American people? We talked in the seminar about how scientists deal mainly with facts, and engineers deal more with judgment, and so are their ethical responsibilities different? What are the ethical responsibilities of the government? And as new issues arise and as the world around us changes, do we need to define a new ethical code? The issues that we deal with in the IDEAS seminar are ones that Dr. Grifo has to deal with everyday at her career.