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.

 

 

Unveiling Pluto

New York Times article on Pluto

I remember sometime during my childhood being told that Pluto was no in fact a planet, and that what I had been taught my whole life was simply not true. Since then not much has really been said about Pluto, and as time has gone on I’ve realized that they really don’t know all that much in depth about any planet in particular. Each one brings challenges to scientists with differing atmospheres and geographies and orbits etc. Each planet is interesting and unique, and that’s only talking about the ones in our solar system. How many more planets are out there that have circumstances that we could never predict just knowing from our experience here on Earth? Pluto surprised us, and its practically right in our backyard compared to the rest of the Universe.

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The New York Times, NASA/John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

The above link shows what has been learned about Pluto and about its surprising composition. Its weird that we had to wait so long for this information, and weird that we will have to wait a while again until any further questions can be answered. It is still amazing to read about, and to think about what else lies out there for us to discover.

Technology and the Public

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Look out your back window. What if I told you that the house just down the street- yeah that one- was actually a nuclear reactor? How would you react? If you have any sense of self preservation, you’ll probably freak out a little bit. In fact, you’d probably try to move as far away as possible as quickly as you could. Hello Tahiti. Yet, for as long as that house had been there, you’d been living safely in blissful ignorance.

This brings up an interesting question, should the “public” be aware of everything that is going on around them? On the one hand, through popular culture and movies we seem to be ingrained with this fascination for government conspiracies. Basically, we are trained to hate when the government doesn’t tell us something. Yet, how do you explain to a single mother of four children both the danger and benefits of a nuclear reactor?

As a budding engineer, I hastronaut-11050_960_720.jpgave this ingrained belief that ultimately the expansion of the technological universe will benefit human kind. To achieve this, we have to keep experimenting, taking risks, and learning from our failures. Sadly though, if you tell someone that they could erupt into flames at any minute, they instantly want to shut down whatever threatens them; and they are most certainly right to do this. But are they? At the other end of the spectrum, does the end justify the means? Maybe the answer isn’t as black and white as it seems.

 

 

 

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

Writing of Tomorrow

The other day I was having a conversation with one of my friends. Someway or another we found ourselves discussing the book she was working her way through, and she mentioned that she was reading about how computers were beginning to write journal articles.

I found myself unnerved by this idea. Sure, the concept of having computers being able to take data and assemble well written articles is a huge step for A.I. (artificial intelligence). However, once again we find ourselves in a situation where computers and automation are beginning to threaten human jobs. The replacement of humans in the workforce is always a dangerous prospect. Pretty soon we all may find ourselves “out of the job”. So what do we do? Do we stop trying to advance technology?

At the moment, these computerized journalists are only working on articles that otherwise wouldn’t be written. The vast majority of the “big league” writing still falls into the arms of flesh and blood people. Yet, how many times in the past has something started small, but eventually grew to uncontrollable proportions… *cough-cough* -smartphones- *cough-splutter-cough*. Do we have the capacity to say “no” to something that could potentially put us all out of the job in the long run? I guess we will find out.

Wouldn’t it be funny if I actually took the day off today and just let my computer back-up write for me today? Haha… yeah…

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*Unmodified picture from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gleonhard/ 12875607484

 

Lusi- Result of Corporate Negligence?

In discussing “A Civil Action” in the First-Year IDEAS seminar, we talked about the result of corporate carelessness on human life and their responsibility they have from the place of power that they are in. The case in the movie was on water cleanliness in Woburn, Massachusetts. This article “9 Years of Muck, Mud and Debate in Java” by Rachel Newer at the New York Times discusses a similar debate in eastern Java where a mud volcano has been spewing for nine years due to an eruption with an unknown cause. There has been debate and study over this through the years, trying to find out if the cause was due to an earthquake or a company’s carelessness while drilling for natural gas.lusi_volcano

Twenty lives were lost due to the eruption, and multiple complications have arisen since that time. “This almost certainly could have been prevented if proper safety procedures had been taken,” says Dr. Tingay, an earth scientist from the University of Adelaide who is a lead author of the paper on the recent data on Lusi that supports the hypothesis that the event occurred through the fault of the company. The workers and scientists responsible for the technology in use are also responsible for the effects of this technology, especially when something like this catastrophe is possible. Instead of covering up the mistakes that they made, the company could have exercised more caution and been sure that no negative effects would come from their negligence. This is especially pressing when human lives are at risk, and when the results of this will carry on for many years after.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/22/science/9-years-of-muck-mud-and-debate-in-java.html?action=click&contentCollection=science&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront