Sunday, April 27, 2008

earth week and me

it was a busy but productive earth week for me. lots of things happened at berkeley. last semester i worked with a group of students to help identify areas where the campus could improve energy efficiency and lower its greenhouse gas emissions (see our report here). last monday, i presented those results at the chancellor's sustainability summit. you can read about the summit here, but let me tell you one story that really resonates with me.

the doe library reading room is a beautiful place to study on campus. here's a picture:

notice the skylight at the top of the picture, it's a bit hard to see. what's harder to see is that there are actually lights all around the skylight. and those lights, until very recently, were on, 24 hours a day. why? well, the switch for those lights was up a ladder, through a room, and behind a locked cabinet. would you want to be the one to turn them on and off?

that just shows you how different a time it was, even only a few years ago. the completely needless waste of energy just wasn't important. but that has changed. a campus group fixed the library lights by installing wireless controls that made it very easy to turn the skylight lights on and off. similar measures are popping up all over campus, not just for lights but for all kinds of energy inefficiencies.

TGIF Grant

in other news, me and my friend sam borgeson won the flagship grant from the green initiative fund at berkeley for our project titled UC Berkeley Campus Dashboard. we're going to make a centralized store for consumption data, broadly construed, for all the berkeley campus. electricy, water, steam, waste, etc.. all in one place! don't you want to get your hands on this data? then we will create some compelling person-facing applications that use the data. we're very excited!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

finally updated my academic page

i've had a filler page in place for my academic page for quite a while. i finally threw something together on the plane back from boston. see here. let me know if there are little things you'd do that would drastically improve it. NOTE: little things! i know lots of big things could be done :)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

undulating hand skin

last night in boston i encountered the most power hand drier i have ever used. the way it man-handled my skin made me want to film it. and i did! WARNING: the video is a bit disturbing.

after making this video i realize i need more powerful video editing software. there were things i wanted to do that just aren't easy or possible in windows movie maker. i'm learnin..

the paradox of choice

the trader joe's in back bay is ridiculously tiny. it has 2 full aisles and then two sort of half aisles. but i would choose to go to that trader joe's almost always over any other one, or any other grocery store. why? because it has mostly what i need, and because of the paradox of choice. before getting into this, let me tell you what inspired me to write this post. neha and i were walking back from the trader joe's and she told me that she had tried the shaws grocery store, which was also nearby. she said it was huge and had everything but it took her over an hour to navigate all the aisles and she just became so miserable with all the choices. she said she thought that was strange, but in fact it's not strange at all, and it's well-known in psychology that if you give people "too many" choices they can become overwhelmed and paralyzed, and may not make the best decision or any decision at all.

this leads to barry schwartz, the author of the book "the paradox of choice," a layman's guide to the problem described above. here's a short blurb from the intro to his ted talk:
In Schwartz's estimation, all that choice is making us miserable. We set unreasonably high expectations, question our choices before we even make them, and blame our failures entirely on ourselves. His relatable examples, from consumer products (jeans, TVs, salad dressings) to lifestyle choices (where to live, what job to take, whom and when to marry), underscore this central point: Too many choices undermine happiness.
if you find this topic interesting, i highly recommend that you watch either the ted talk (which is short) or the google tech talk given by barry, which is much longer and embedded below:

i also recommend an nytimes article describing some of the basic research in this subject.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

omar to the duomo

i took pictures along a small street as i approached the duomo in florence. then i quickly put it together with my favorite song of the moment, crimewave by crystal castles. check it out. notice that the duomo, the large red-domed building, approaches and falls back to the music (or, at least that's what i wanted!)

now i should go to sleep :)

Friday, April 04, 2008

food and fun in london

bea and franz had the idea that szechwan food was in order for friday night. so most of the staff and me went out to eat. the food was fantastic! but there was one dish that was pure torture, pictured below:

if you're wondering what those red things are, they are red chilis. this was a dish labeled chicken with red chili but more accurately would be chili with chicken. the chili were strong, and you couldn't help but eat at least 5 during the meal. the NZ sauv blanc really helped, but i'm still a bit smoking.

to give you a sense of how serious szechwan food is, consider this fish in broth dish. before delivering this dish to our table, the server scooped out hundreds of red chilis. i guess they add flavor.. the peppercorn-like spices in this dish numbed my face, but the flavors were well worth it.

here's bea and franz, looking happy after a happy meal :)

and here i am, happy and blurry after a tasty meal and drinks out. i wish i could come to london more regularly
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Thursday, April 03, 2008

jet lagged, but well-fed, in london

i am in london and so happy to be back. it was so vibrant last night that despite my jetlag i felt the energy. as i lie awake in the hotel room, here are some pictures:

being tax season, i was amused by the name of this small cafe. i definitely need coffee, and usually something stronger, when i deal with amt.

but now onto eating. i thought i'd be doing my best eating while in florence, but bea certainly knows how to make someone feel welcome after a long flight. she brought me all this food, and i dipped into all of it. oh, and the food included the famous cupcakes, but i ate that before even thinking about taking a picture :)

here's the spread. quiche, sandwich in plastic wrap, fruit salad, some meaty tasty thing, and a muffin!

i really felt quite upside down when i was eating -- topsy turvy with both joy and jetlag.

more food hiding in the bag. it doesn't want to be eaten but it knows it will be!
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justice department lawyer dismissed because she's gay

i listened to this NPR story about leslie hagen, a lawyer with the justice department who routinely performed outstanding work, was widely lauded by her colleagues, and was ultimately sacked for dubious reasons. anyway, it has recently come out that the likely reason for her removal was a rumor that reached her superiors: hagen is a lesbian.

what! what grounds is that!

this story made me angry in a way i wasn't when katrina happened. i just felt much more emotional. i think there's two reasons for this: first, it's much easier to get emotionally caught up in a single story, rather than the plight of untold numbers. this seems to be a a quirk with our minds that doesn't let us emotionally scale up with the numbers, at least not easily. in fact, without a face on the tragedy, we lose interest.

but it's not just that. there's something about an individual injustice where the individual really appears alone. in addition, while discrimination based on sexual orientation happens every day in this country, this was a somewhat unique confluence of discrimination, our federal government setting a very bad example, and an invasion of a private space.

first i wanted to hurt george bush. then i wanted someone to ask him point blank how he'd approach this situation -- but what would i expect to get from this line of questioning?

oh my blood is just boiling, i need to infuse it with some tea leaves, calming leaves, maybe lavender.