Works and Days

A Long Overdue Reflection

The author, Sunny Yang, holding a microphone and being the MC for the closing ceremony of the summer pre-service training.

Me being the MC for the closing ceremony of the summer pre-service training.

The past two months have been a whirlwind of events, feelings, and encounters. Quite different from my original imagining of this summer internship, yet equally as fantastic, or even more so.

Originally, the plan was to spend half of my time doing a field research project in rural regions in Taiwan for the organization Teach for Taiwan, and the other half of the time would be spent assisting the organization in finding mentors for Teach for Taiwan's pilot cohort teachers. Well, plans don't always work out, especially independent internship projects like this.

The playground of an elementary school in Taitung

Take Me Out to the Ball Game...

For the first decade of my life I was raised, shall we say, sports-agnostic. My family didn't hate sports, we just paid almost no attention to the usual lot of them—basketball, football, baseball. We were a remote island from the great continent of American sporting life, and those bits of scandal-ridden sports news that did float our way were enough to keep us distant and disinterested—even disapproving.

When I was about ten though, an unexpected bridge to a wholly different continent—and a totally different sport—opened up and my family stumbled upon badminton. The truth is my dad had a Chinese girlfriend at the time and she introduced the sport to him.

As the story goes, my dad, knowing that his girlfriend liked the sport, bought a cheap two-racket-plastic-bird-volleyball-net badminton set and presented it to her one summer day. She promptly laughed. “That's not real badminton,” she said. Wondering what she could have meant by this, my dad decided to bring her to our local junior college, knowing it offered open-gym play for just a few dollars. There my fit, well-coordinated dad proceeded to get clobbered by girlfriend and company. He took big hammer-swings at the bird, but it was no use—he looked like a fool to the delight of his more skilled opponents. But he relished the challenge, committed to playing at least once a week, improved his technique, and soon brought myself and my brother along to play as well. In no time it was our weekly tradition.

Green Molecules and Green Chemistry Labs, Part III

Picture of two people in a lab.

Johnny and Cindy.

It’s been two weeks since my last day at the lab. The time I’ve spent away has given me a different perspective on how I spent my summer.

The things I learned have made me fall in love with chemistry all over again. Solid-state synthesis, gas-phase-synthesis, ionic liquids, phase-transfer catalysis, macrocycle synthesis, these terms have gained new meaning since I had first read about them in a textbook in May (it seems so long ago).

The Aldol condensation is already a green organic chemistry reaction: it has high atom-efficiency and produces water as a byproduct.

Slim to None: the Eritrean Exodus: Part 1

Smiling baby with grandmother.

Grandma meets grandbaby for the first time!

Quoting from Winta's President's Summer Fellowship proposal: This summer, I will make a film about this tragedy and the plight of the Eritrean refugees in general. I will interview Eritrean refugees in Uganda, Italy, and the United States. Being an Eritrean immigrant myself, I will explore the diaspora within my own family and demonstrate how film can be a medium for promoting social justice.

Last October, a boat holding 350+ Eritrean refugees capsized off the coast of Italy and rocked the Eritrean community, forcing me to confront questions about who I am and where I come from. While the basic story is that conditions inside of Eritrea are so terrible (indefinite mandatory military service, extrajudicial killings, president turned dictator, etc.) that people will risk everything to flee, I wanted to hear first-hand accounts of what was actually happening. I also aimed to gather first-hand accounts of what happened in Lampedusa when that boat carrying over 350 Eritrean asylum seekers capsized. Among other specifics of the event, I wanted to know if there were Italian witness who didn’t help the drowning Eritreans (as some news outlets have reported) and what effect that has had in the Italian political scene. Most importantly, I wanted to be able to share the stories I encountered with a much broader audience to finally illuminate tales of the Eritrean exodus.

As I was preparing to go to Uganda, it occurred to me that indefinite mandatory military service, the main complaint about Eritrea, is also the reason my family has been torn apart. Because my three older siblings were older than sixteen when my mom decided to move us to the U.S., the Eritrean government refused to grant them exit visas because they hadn’t satisfied their national duty requirements. After ten years of forced service, my brother decided to flee and is now a refugee. While I originally intended for him to be only my contact for gathering others’ stories, I realized ours was just as interesting and seemed key for exploring my own relationship with these issues. As such, Uganda also became the location of a family reunion. After fifteen years, I would be reintroduced to my older siblings; my mom would see her kids again and be introduced to two of her grandchildren; and, I would capture all of this on video to humanize the effects of the current Eritrean crisis.

The Siegel Salmon Restoration Internship: Part 3

Some things about the American beaver:

Image of a beaver.Figure 1. The American beaver.

When Doug, the Land Trust’s Big River Program Manager, first proposed the idea to me, I was more than a little surprised. We had spent so many weeks talking about large woody debris, culvert passage, and road decommissioning that it seemed almost impossible for something so cute and furry to help salmon. I suspended my disbelief and delved into research. Lo and behold, beaver reintroduction projects have proven successful throughout the Pacific Northwest, improving salmon habitat and raising fish numbers. It isn’t an easy choice by any means; reintroducing beavers on one property requires monitoring their survival, distribution shifts, and population growth. However, a surprisingly large body of literature exists on the remediation of these issues, and has been used in other beaver reintroduction projects. So, why not try it? 

Off Quad Rule: Part 9

Rooibos

After a week of writing up a precise yet thorough protocol, I am getting to unwind after all the unpacking and driving. It took a few showers and a haircut to really feel like I got that signature ‘wet-lab’ film off, but I am finally back at home grazing and keeping cool.

Old Thimi, Nepal, Potters of the Prajapati Community: #2

Beating pot.

A number of things have happened since my last blog post: I have turned 21, I have left Nepal, and managed to catch and rid myself of (as so many other Americans in Nepal have before me) a bad case of lice. But these lovely little creatures surprisingly turned into a bit of a blessing. By the time I had realized my new hair inhabitants I was in the midst of my final weeks in Nepal. At that point I was honestly quite exhausted, and I had begun to withdraw from both my host family and my project. I had arrived at a place where I knew my remaining time was limited, and I wasn’t sure if chasing new leads in my research could be adequately pursued before my departure. “Bria’s little friends” (as my host mother liked to call them) kicked me out of this slump. I spent about 3 hours a day for one week sitting in sun with my host family as they picked the bugs out of my hair. These lice-finding sessions prompted newfound bonds with the non-English speaking women in my family as well as further consideration of topics regarding my research.

Rooftop room.My rooftop room.

Aside from the lice, there were certainly many other challenges I faced during those last weeks. In an interview with a prominent Buddhist priest/scholar in the Newar community, we argued about what it means to be Buddhist or Hindu. The potters with whom I live self-identify as Hindu, however, all of their life cycle ceremonies (birth, puberty, marriage, death etc.) are conducted by Buddhist priests in the Buddhist way. My interviewee argued that therefore my potter friends were Buddhist. It is important to note that in the Newar community separating these traditions doesn’t always make sense, especially in the context of ritual. Why this is the case is perhaps too complicated to explore in this short blog post but will be addressed in my final project along with its implications on the ceramic vessels I study.

London Part 1: Getting My Bearings

Getting My Bearings or, I assure you, Prof. Virginia Hancock, I did experience London, at least a little bit.

Distance and I have an exceedingly personal and quite visceral relationship. The spring and summer of 2014 saw me spend nine hours traveling fifty miles on foot, a few days touring several hundreds of miles on a bicycle, and five days crossing the mighty North American Continent by rail, among other things. It is in this context that I write that the thirteen hour ~5,000 mile flight across The Lake to London was pleasantly quick.

Immediately after clearing customs at Heathrow I collected my bicycle from the oversized luggage bin and made my way to a Transport for London ticket counter to purchase an Oyster Card—essentially, a swipe card that would enable me to use London’s buses, overground and underground trains. From there, I hopped a Piccadilly Line Underground train, “The Tube,” and made my way to central London.Interior of train car I had arranged to rent a room in a boarding house that catered specifically to researchers staying in London and afforded ready access to the National Archives, Kew Gardens, and the Natural History Museum. I found that such establishments were surprisingly common and much more affordable than hotels and even many hostels. The more you know.

Landing Your Dream Job Right Out of College: Persistence Pays

This story was originally posted on Jessica's blog at Medium.com.

This is a story about how I got my dream job after graduating from college with a BA in English. I’m hoping that it will give both ideas and some realism to recent grads and other job seekers.

I graduated from Reed College with a degree in English and decided not to enter a PhD program. I loved our local paper Willamette Week, but I didn’t think I had the skills to work there as a reporter. I decided that I would sell advertising so I could have a cool job at a paper that I loved and be part of the scene. They often advertised for advertising sales people, so I figured it wouldn’t be hard.

I sent in an application and got no response. The paper used to run dating ads attached to a voice mail service before Internet dating took off. I designed a “Woman Seeking Job” ad and sent it over. No response. Then I cold called the hiring manager and he spoke to me briefly about my lack of experience.

“他们打比赛,你做步法” (“They'll play games, you do footwork.”)

Bas-relief of badminton player.

Those words more or less capture the story of my life for the past several weeks.

I am here at Beijing Sports University, staying in the international students dorm, waiting and writing as my clothes dry. I have no drying rack and the dorms have no dryers, so I've improvised a little bit with the curtain rods hanging around the window.

The room is nice. And the conspicuous absence of a dryer in these otherwise well-outfitted dorms is normal for Chinese colleges and households—where clothes hanging outside rooms is the rule and not the exception. You can bet that even if a Chinese person had a dryer, and all the money in the world to use it, many of those clothes would still be stubbornly hung up for Mother Nature to do her thing. Call it frugality mixed with convention, plus a dash of environmentalism
Dorm room and hanging clothes.for those looking for it.

Through the window I see the red-brick, white-trim facade of the adjacent student dorm block. In a way almost reminiscent of Reed, these red bricks adorn most all of BSU's buildings, giving them dignified uniformity. But unlike our Eliot Hall's Gothic crown, these buildings are garnished with everything from Greco-Roman colonnades (a nice nod to the school's Olympic enthusiasm, I thought!), to elaborate futurist super-structures, to the traditional Chinese roof, with its signature corner-curl. Gymnastics hall. Overall the campus sports a comfortable ambiance and beauty, and I've come to love it here. Huge trees and nature diversions line the university's main roads. Outside tennis, volleyball and basketball courts abound. Bronze statues of athletes in-the-act are dedicated outside training halls (although much to my chagrin, I have yet to find the badminton statue). And of course, a great white Statue of Chairman MaoChairman Mao greets all those who enter.

The Devil is Made of Plastic

There are over 2,500 miles of coastline in the Kodiak Archipelago, and there are about 3,000-3,500 Kodiak brown bears that call their island namesake home. This means that if all those salmon-stuffed ursas were lined up along the many beaches and bluffs of their Alaskan archipelago each bear would pretty much have its own mile of coast. There are only about 1,300 miles of coastline in the entire west coast of the United States of America, from Bellingham, Washington to San Diego, California, and not nearly that many bears. Think about that one. In July, a team of eight people, myself included, went to Tugidak Island on the southern end of the Kodiak Archipelago and walked a mere 2.5 miles, or one one-thousandth, of Kodiak’s coast, picking up marine debris. Eight to ten THOUSAND pounds of marine debris in three days. Now wrap your head around that number.

bags of plastic on a coastWhat is marine debris? It’s nothing more than a fancy term for trash. Garbage. Waste. Junk. And on top of whatever your word of choice is for human carelessness, you can also be sure to call it totally destructive and 100% preventable. 100% preventable, really? Yes, friends, as powerless as we all have been conditioned to feel by the forces of destruction themselves (albeit while they are disguised as “clever” advertisements and enticing packaging) this is an environmental problem that we can all stop squarely in its tracks.

So what’s the source, you ask, genuinely curious. I recycle (when I can) you say. I don’t live by the ocean and I’ve even adopted a manatee! Well have you ever drunk out of a plastic water bottle? Ever? Even as you gave yourself the excuse that it was only because you left yours at home? Have you ever bought anything that when you turned it over you could feel, in little bumpy letters next to the seam of the plastic, said “MADE IN CHINA,” “MADE IN KOREA,” or “MADE IN TAIWAN”? Have you ever stopped to think about how strange it is for something that originated in a foreign country to have English lettering on it, as clear as day?

Updates and Gratitude Practices

Female MMA fighters facing each other.

Going toe to toe with Hadley Griffith.

Emily Corso '10, Religion, is an MMA fighter who recently turned pro after a stellar amateur career. This is a re-posting of a post that originally appeared on Emily's blog, which can be found here.

Last week things were going pretty damn good.

It started out when I beat “Relentless” Hadley Griffith at CageSport 31 last Saturday. Coach called while I was on vacation and talked me into fighting a 5’11” seasoned pro on July 19th — meaning I would jump straight into the hardest part of our fight camp as soon as I got back to Portland.

Summer Internship at the World Health Organization in Uganda

Picture of the JUPSA team.

This summer has wrested from my grasp all familiarity I previously had with the word comfort. Since my arrival in Uganda, I have broken my nose (don’t tell my mother), been left in the middle of nowhere by a bus driver gone rogue, woken in the middle of the night to what seemed like a whole family of lizards throwing a party on my bed, and briefly battled a monkey who attempted to make off with my clipboard. My time as an HIV/AIDS policy intern with the World Health Organization has had little semblance to any internship I have had before. Life and work here is a bit of a free-for-all, dictated in part by constantly changing health crises (the recent Ebola outbreak and refugees from South Sudan, to name a couple), but also by a particular, somewhat enviable, easy-going-in-the-midst-of-chaos, East African way of living. Whenever I ask my colleagues how long it will take me to walk somewhere, they ask if I mean in African time or in Muzungu (a Swahili word for someone of European descent) time.

countryside and buildings.

This summer has dictated that I do a lot of things that I would not normally be “comfortable with”. The very top of this list includes keeping my views and thoughts to myself during discussions of Uganda’s recently passed Anti-Homosexuality Act, which has been difficult, but also taught me a lot about how to listen to and try to grasp what is happening around me even when I stand (or sit quietly) in profound disagreement. The recent turmoil caused by the law has shifted the balance of many things in Uganda, especially the roles of NGOs and the UN. It has been eye opening to observe those agencies scrambling to reconcile their duty to comply with the decrees of local governments with their commitment to disseminate unbiased and discrimination free care and health information. Unfortunately, since the ratification of the law, entire research operations have been shuttered because of the threat that the law may pose to some researchers. It is grim to watch such acute intolerance hinder the progress of decades of work in the health sector.

Off Quad Rule: Part 8

picture of computer monitor screen.

Tehina and Pita
There it is, no mouth pipetting… Sorry Makotes. After a good lab evaluation and fresh samples coming in, the few let downs stemming from the cannabinoid project are hardly felt. At the moment there are some technical difficulties being sorted out since I have been getting a signal of cAMP production when I don’t think I should be. Now I’m investigating a cAMP baseline for the lymphocytes I’m testing for comparison. The good news is that this is somewhat expected since I’ve moved on from the forskolin curve to also running the full agonist drug simultaneously with the forskolin and ATP, a new element to the complicated mix. One step forward, three or five back.

Ful Medames
This week has been super busy, the consequences of the power outage are slowly surfacing as I go about trying to use machines that have switched back to their manufacture default settings. They still work, there’s just a touch more tinkering around that adds up as the day passes along. This week more mouse brain samples arrived for tissue collecting and homogenizing. I finally got a clear picture of them to show you all, the worker making the extractions was excellent.

preserved mouse brainsFigure 1. Mouse brains – 4 count. Don’t they look like candy? They’re also hard as rocks from bathing in liquid nitrogen. My thumb for scale, which is already small.

Chasing Bluegrass: Festival Time

The first two festivals I attend this summer are a study in contrasts. The first, the Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival, is a hyper-traditional “Mecca of Bluegrass.” The countryside surrounding Bean Blossom, in Brown County, Indiana, is filled with rolling hills, big forests, and small towns. A permanent wooden stage sits in the middle of the music park, and an American flag hangs behind bands playing on the stage. People set their lawn chairs in the field in front of the stage at the start of the ten-day festival and leave them there for the entire festival; since people wouldn’t watch every act, you could take a seat in somebody else’s lawn chair until the owners came back.

People performing on a stage.

Around the stage, dirt roads with names like “Ralph Stanley Road” and “Jimmy Martin Drive” circle through the campground, which is mostly dominated by trailers and RVs. Tent camping is mostly in a back corner of the campground, in a part of the park that Bill Monroe once christened “hippy hill.” There’s a pond on the property, and mules and goats are kept back behind the pond.

PSF Project Campus Within Walls, 2

Washington Monument, summer 2014

     It’s been an amazing last few weeks. I’ve learned and grown more than I would have thought possible in the short time I’ve been here. I’ve come to learn what a tenuous position this college program is in, and to so admire all the people behind the scenes who fight tooth and nail to keep it funded and alive to serve. I have learned that the philosophy I see embodied in the Campus Within Walls administration is one that must be practiced in whatever course my own life takes: To fight for the underserved, and to give without requiring any initial proof to pass a judgment of “worthiness.” There is a need, and they are ensuring it is met. It’s that simple.

            Undertaking this project has been scary at times. Not for the reasons one might expect from a project conducted in a prison, but from the experience of being personally challenged. I love going to the prison class, but I will admit, there have certainly been times when I’ve wished I was at home, spending a carefree summer exploring the great Northwest with family and friends. I am very aware of my own expectations for this project. I want it to be great. I want it to do justice to the inmates’ experiences, humanity, and strength. It’s terrifying to think that I might not be successful. Were I not even trying, I wouldn’t have the discomfort I do, because I would not be creating the opportunity to fail. My limits are being tested. This grant has allowed me the chance to translate my lofty words and big dreams into actions. There’s no stopping now. Not only do I have myself to answer to, and those who placed confidence in my abilities by funding me, but I now also feel obligated to all the students and administration at the Campus Within Walls program. These students have lodged themselves irremovably in my heart and in my life. Although their lives and their college experiences are restricted behind fences and razor wire, there is no way that their impact on me will remain contained. Their needs don’t disappear when I do. My experience this summer has placed in me a sense of obligation to continue to work with prison justice and inmate rehabilitation programs. In my original thinking, I believed the PSF award was granting me the opportunity to  “complete” my summer project. I am now realizing how limited that perspective was. Rather, what my PSF summer has done is awaken a passion and deep sense of loyalty and lasting obligation to this small, scrappy community college prison program. There is no way I will be able to close the door on this experience, and walk away from the dedicated students and administration. My work with Campus Within Walls is light years away from “complete.”

Defense Mechanisms of a City Under Water Siege

Children painting a bench.

While parts of the country battle wild summer fires and far lands such as the Darfur region and Southwestern China make headlines in the news for want of water, one city is doing everything it can to rid itself of this important element of classical thought. This summer I am in New Orleans. And I must admit I was in part lured to this Southern princess by five star reviews of its rich culture and cuisine by Dana Lawson. After exploring as much of the city as I could during my arrival weekend, I turned my back on bustling Bourbon street, buckled my work boots, rolled up my sleeves, and began toiling under the sweltering sun with a team of other volunteers to fight water in this city. I am interning with Groundwork New Orleans, an environmental non-profit organization, this summer to lead a group of volunteers to construct rain gardens in the lower ninth ward of the city to minimize the risk of future flooding.

People constructing benches.

The start of the project had been delayed by a week pending paper work from the New Orleans’ Redevelopment Authority and the city’s Water and Sewage Board. So I spent my first week helping working with Global Green USA, a sister organization of Groundwork with a similar project on Andry Street. This gave me the first idea of the construction challenges I would be facing in the proceeding weeks. After two weeks of teasing grey clouds masking the resilient furnace of the sun, the clouds finally showed some potency by spewing down the long overdue rains. There were sighs of relief on the sweating faces digging the rain garden with shovels.

What's Going Around Wind Turbines: Turbulent Vortices

A wind turbine.

I am researching how wind flows behind wind turbines by analyzing experimental and numerical data. The experimental data has been collected around the turbine that is pictured at right, and the numerical model is based on this turbine.

I’m specifically analyzing the structure and evolution of the vortices that are created at the blade tips. The vortices are caused by areas of low pressure around the turbine. Turbines’ blades rotate because the aerodynamic shape of the blades guides incoming wind into creating a pressure difference that, in turn, drives the blades. Another difference in pressure is due to the fact that the blades block wind, so behind the blade there are fewer air molecules and thus, there is a lower pressure. Objects feel forced to move to lower pressures. Both the blades and the wind are forced into the lower pressure. Some wind wraps around the blades in order to get to the low pressure area.

A vortex forms where the wind curls because the low pressure applies a centripetal force — like how a hurricane is a vortex where wind wraps around the hurricane’s low-pressure eye. Vorticity quantifies how much the fluid rotates around a region. In math terms, the vorticity is the curl of the wind velocity. Strong vortices are created at the blade tips because here the wind can radially bypass the blade, which provides the path of least resistance in the pursuit of lower pressure. This vortex is then pushed downstream by the wind, away from the blades’ low pressure region; the wind continues to curl due to a law of angular momentum conservation. The tip vortices are major sources of turbulence that damage downstream turbines. Consequentially, tip vortex research can lead to improvements in the longevity of turbines in wind farms.

Off Quad Rule: Part 7

A dirty filter.

Alecha

The picture to the right is a PSA to remind people to always use protection and filter. Gross, am I right? This week has been filled with me fiddling and peddling around the lab, sometimes in the dark due to the power outage that plagued the research labs and hospital facilities. There is a lab evaluation next week so I won’t have as much time to work on my project and write out as many quick notes and passages to you. It seems that when you need everything to work perfectly it breaks down and throws a tantrum. The HPLC and GC-MS, gas chromatography mass spec, machines are having quite a fit. It’s like the power outage woke up a bunch of cranky toddlers, and believe me, dear reader, they are not crib happy.

 

Green Molecules and Green Chemistry Labs, Part II

Summer snuck up behind me. Before I knew it, high school graduation was here, school was out, and with it, most of the students and teachers who normally populate the Bard Queens hallways I’ve roamed and reacquainted myself with.

One of the first things I was told to expect about the PSF project was to be ready for surprises, and to be ready to take things in stride. Even so, when the end of June approached, I panicked. I knew I couldn’t work in the lab without a supervisor, and knew that Julia would be leaving for China come the last week of school. I hadn’t begun working in the lab until the start of June, since working here required permission from the NYC DOE (bureaucracy has a funny way of stifling creativity). School duties (proctoring, chaperoning, etc.) kept Julia and Cindy busy for a few days, and migraine attacks kept me from the lab once they were back and ready to go. After working in the lab for two weeks, and a cumulative one-week absence, I found myself with a notebook full of ideas but no time left to act them out. I performed what I could and got ready to say goodbye, disappointed that June had come and gone with the wind.

Right before she left, Julia mentioned that Cindy, the lab teaching assistant, was willing to work with me over the summer. Still, she admitted that this rested on its acceptance by the powers that be. I gave her a gift, hugged her, said goodbye, and thanked her for all she had done for me. I waited. Then, ecstasy! Cindy said she would be in the lab, and that I was welcome to pass by anytime.

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