Interesting Internet

As always there is a lot of great and interesting articles out there on the tubes if you know where to look, so I thought I'd share some of my favorites.

The author of Everything Everywhere had an interesting piece in The Atlantic about the myth of the authentic travel experience.  I especially enjoyed his comparison to a cultural zoo.  It's fascinating to learn about new cultures and different people, but we shouldn't be so surprised when they happen to be a lot like us.

Do Mi's post about how having One Thing wasn't enough blew me away.  In many ways I can relate to this.  There are so many activities I've started and never stuck with such as scrapbooking, sewing, knitting to some extent, and the eight different instruments I played between the ages of 9 and 18.

As an adult (or someone nearing an adult) it's easy to discount children's books as childish and silly, but Jonathan  Fields has a great list of seven children's books with important life lessons.  We all should have paid more attention to these, and I'm definitely going to check the library on campus to see about re-reading them.

This next article Steve found and it absolutely cracked me up.  Go read about how scientists are searching for life on Earth by looking at photographs!  Yup, the European Space Agency is now searching for life on Earth.  In reality, if we can figure out a way to know if there's life on Earth when it takes up less than 1 pixel, then we can do that for other planets.

Finally, a link to a youtube video (or two).  Steve first introduced me to Molly Lewis's music when he sent me a link to her cover of Poker Face, which I promptly fell in love with because it rocks and Poker Face quickly became our spring break anthem as we drove out to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.  Several years later, she wrote a serenade to Stephen Fry and nary a week later ended up performing at his Harvard lifetime achievement award celebration.

So go feast on the glory that is the internet, because seriously when in our lives have we ever had so much greatness at such easy reach?

Freshberry Froyo vs. Baskin Robbins

Over the winter break, a new frozen yogurt shop opened on campus.  Steven and I checked out Frozen berry tonight on our way back from Maria Zuber's lecture about Mars.  The lecture was excellent, but the frozen yogurt was underwhelming.

They've got a huge number of toppings; 15 or so different dry toppings, which surprisingly includes Fruity Pebbles (my favorite cereal that I haven never seen for sale here in SA) and about 12 different wet toppings (mostly fresh fruits).

The prices though, are somewhat underwhelming.  The smallest froyo is 16 SAR ($4.25) with 2 toppings or 10 SAR ($2.66) with no toppings.  This seems to be similar to the Baskin Robbins (the ice cream shop on campus) regular size, which is 14 SAR ($3.75).  The largest size is 24 SAR a whopping $6.40 and is hugely over sized.  It's hard to believe the claim that froyo is part of a healthy lifestyle, when the servings are so large.  Sure, it might be fewer calories than ice cream, but it's a big stretch to call it healthy.

Sadly, the flavor was pretty bland.  I got vanilla froyo with Oreo and Reese Pieces toppings.  Steve got strawberry froyo with white chocolate and raspberry toppings.  The one redeeming quality was the decor.  It was super cute, colorful, and modern.  I'll probably go back just to take pictures, and the light fixtures were so fun!

One of the main reasons I wanted to try it is because I was hoping it would surpass Baskin Robbins as our go to treat location.  The ice cream is tasty and delicious, but they refuse to post an English menu, and have recently increased prices.  The primary excuse for the menu was a basic, duh it's Saudi Arabia from the guy working, but somehow, despite this fact every other dining or shopping establishment on campus has managed to put up English signs.

Sadly, froyo won't overtake Baskin Robbins as our go to treat location, but I'm not convinced that Baskin Robbins is worth returning to either.

Beginning of WEP

Athens updates have been sparse around here simply because the Winter Enrichment Program (WEP) has started here on campus.  To those who don't already know what this is, it's a 2 1/2 week period of short courses, lectures, symposiums, and various fun events that is intended to expand our learning beyond the scope of our specialized engineering curriculum.  While I applaud the intention of the program and imagine that it has been successfully implemented at other universities, it has so far seemed to fall short of it's desired goal.

While in my opinion, the selection of topics in the last few days hasn't done much of a job expanding the general knowledge of students, due mostly to some pretty specialized courses, the biggest flaws still seem to be on the organizational side of the program.  There have been various schedules floating around campus since December, and in the past week alone three different schedules have been emailed or mass distributed.  Along with this inconvenience, is still a significant possibility for last minute changes to the scheduling, so each day we have to check the official white board listing the courses and times offered.  Today alone, one of my courses has changed three times!

The organizational problems behind the program would be a minor inconvenience if we only had to show up to lectures at our pleasure, but since this is a graduation requirement, we're required to attend 40 hours of lecture.  So if the schedule changes on a near daily basis - and sometimes multiple times daily - how can students ensure the hourly requirement is met?  It's been stressful to say the least, but so far the two great lectures I've been to have almost made up for the three mediocre ones.

Looking forward, tomorrow is definitely going to be the highlight of my WEP.  Snorkeling in the Red Sea the morning as part of my Marine Science class, Jay Shafer's Size Matters lecture in the afternoon, and Hans Rosling's Fact Based View of the World will no doubt impress.

Fame above Science

Needless to say, ethics in science is a big deal.  When scientists claim a conclusion has been reached, there is a lot of power of persuasion behind that claim.  So when it was reported that vaccines and autism were somehow linked, the number of people who took that science and made it part of their beliefs was quite large.  There have been entire movements that try to persuade against infant vaccines.  Only now, we find out that the data was altered to support the desired finding, and the primary author was paid by an accident attorney looking to make some money.

It's turned out that the peer review process, despite it's reputation, doesn't always cut the muster.  Bad science ends up published and even worse, ends up in the mainstream media, which may or may not take findings out of context.  It seems like the only thing more prevalent on late night news than local crime is all of the new medical findings that should be a huge concern to the general population.

Having already been sternly lectured about the importance of ethics in scientific research when I started grad school, and then to still have face the ethics/plagiarism issue when working with other students, I really don't know how this can be fixed.  If you can't convey to a twenty-something the importance of ethics, how do you do it for a grown adult?

The obvious solution, which involves everyone acting in a way they know to be ethical, really isn't practical, but I feel any other possible solution is incredibly pessimistic and displays a feeling of mistrust to fellow scientists.  So for now, man up I say.  Do better science, not for fame or tenure, but for the fact that people listen and take to heart the conclusions we reach.

Field Trips are Fun even in Saudi

For my membranes class this fall, we had the opportunity to take a tour of the Desalination plant and the wastewater treatment plant.  I think it's pretty cool that we get to drink the same water that we can go swimming and boating in.  It's a pretty big win for science and the desert.

The plant just opened last year and it was so sparkling clean.  The plant I worked in this past summer has been in operation in various forms since the early 20th century, so a lot of it was filthy dirty, even though they were making soap!

Exterior pumps!

View of campus from the RO plant

Large strainers inside the plant.

Membrane units in the plant

Exit side of the membrane modules.

Since membrane units are modular, it's really easy to expand in the future.

Exterior of the Wastewater Treatment Plant

Sinky poop water being aerated.

Aerators, seen because this tank wasn't being used.

Cooling towers off in the distance.

All in all, my membranes class was pretty interesting, and I learned a lot about something I didn't really know much (anything) about.  Sadly that wasn't the case for most of my classes.  I'm not really sure if anything I learned will be directly applicable in the future, but you never know right?

We're leaving tomorrow for Greece, but we'll still have some posts that will go up automatically while we're gone.  Since they'll go up automatically, we won't necessarily be posting links to them on Facebook.