Tag Archives: understanding


Daveed Diggs wants to represent “as many aspects of blackness as possible”

Blindspotting, which is in theaters today, stars Hamilton alum Daveed Diggs and celebrated poet Rafael Casal as best friends Collin and Miles. While driving home from work, Collin (Diggs) witnesses a white police officer shooting and killing an unarmed black man in the street. The violent act brings to the surface issues of racial identity and profiling against the backdrop a rapidly gentrifying Oakland, California.

The fact that a film that hinges on police brutality is just as relevant today as it was 10 years ago when the idea was initially conceived is a telling indicator of society’s glacial pace toward racial equality.

“We just didn’t write a movie about issues,” Diggs says of his real-life friend, co-writer, and fellow Oakland native Casal. “We tried to write a movie about people and to portray them and the city of Oakland as honestly as possible, and to make people as complicated and human as we possibly could.”

The concept for Blindspotting started around 2010 when producer Jess Calder came across some of Casal’s poetry, specifically his video for “Monster.” Calder was curious to see how this type of poetic verse would translate to film. Casal brought on Diggs and, over a single pirated copy of Final Draft, the two began to flesh out what would become a hybrid of a script.

“What we realized we wanted to do was to be able to use heightened language in a way that’s a little more practical and a little more grounded than we normally get to see it in a musical or in a story that is about guys who are growing up to be musicians,” Diggs says. “We wanted to highlight the way that language is used in the Bay Area, which is kind of hyper expressive, really metaphor dense–even in conversation.”

There are subtle moments of this in the movie, like when Collin and Miles are freestyling about their changing city. There are also intense, almost surreal verses that serve an even deeper purpose, namely the film’s climactic scene involving a pointed gun, justified rage, and barrage of lyrical truth.

“That final scene, that’s one of the oldest things in the script,” Diggs says. “We were reverse engineering from there. We had to sprinkle in little moments to build the world out to justify somebody speaking like that.”

[Photo: Daisy Korpics for Fast Company]

There’s a line in the movie where Miles says you have to make something sound sweet in order for people to pay attention. It’s a meta concept, given that Blindspotting is pertinent social commentary wrapped in what’s essentially a buddy dramedy. But Diggs says walking that line wasn’t a challenge, because he and Casal were operating from the space of telling stories as authentically as possible.

“By just trying to be honest about the world we’re living in and to make a film that’s really dealing with people’s capacity for empathy, those things will come across,” Diggs says. “We’ve allowed everybody else to affix the necessary headlines for this film, but for us it was about people really trying to understand each other in the exact world that we live in now, specifically the Oakland, California, that exists right now.”

Thinking within the context of localized storytelling and also zooming out to the larger conversation of diversity in Hollywood, Diggs says he feels the responsibility “to broaden our mainstream understanding of blackness.” It’s something he says he only started to think about when he was cast on ABC’s Black-ish. Show creator Kenya Barris noticed there was a generational gap with his characters: There were the kids, the parents, and the grandparents, but not the mid-to-late-millennial voice, which Diggs filled with his character Johan Johnson.

“I would like to represent as many aspects of blackness as possible. That’s such a beautiful thing to do to me,” Diggs says. “It’s really that mindset that is equal parts conscious and creative that is something I’m striving to participate in as much as I can. We need to champion difference, particularly as we display blackness. Everybody should be comfortable with all kinds of blackness, so the more we can telegraph that in people’s living rooms, the better.”

Air pollution in national parks may keep visitors away

Poor air quality in national parks may put a damper on visitation, according to a new study.

As reported in Science Advances, the researchers studied ozone levels in 33 of the largest national parks in the US. The researchers found that from 1990 to 2014 average ozone concentrations in national parks were statistically indistinguishable from those of the 20 largest US metropolitan areas—conditions that previously sparked federal legislation. To protect parks, the Clean Air Act (CAA) Amendments of 1977 and 1990 designated national parks as Federal Class I Areas.

“The US has spent billions of dollars over the last three decades to improve air quality,” says David Keiser, assistant professor of economics at Iowa State University. “Given the popularity of national parks, as well as the fact that people go to parks to be outside, we believed it was worth better understanding air quality trends in these areas and whether people, through their actions, respond to changes in air quality in parks.”

…air quality in many national parks remains unhealthy for sensitive groups on average for two-and-one-half to three weeks per year.

The study found that ozone levels improved in metropolitan areas starting in 1990; however, national parks improvements have only been apparent since the early 2000s, corresponding to the passage of the Regional Haze Rule, a 1999 EPA regulation that strengthened air quality protections for national parks and wilderness areas.

The authors first compiled data from extensive ozone monitoring efforts led by the National Park Service and the EPA. Data show that since 1990, national parks have seen only modest reductions in days with ozone concentrations exceeding 70 parts per billion, levels deemed unhealthy by the EPA.

The researchers then matched the pollution data to monthly park visitation statistics at 33 of the most heavily visited national parks and found that visitation responds most to ozone during months with poor air quality. Unsurprisingly, this response is largest in summer and fall, the seasons when park visitation is highest.

They also explored two potential causes for this result: air quality warnings (AQI) issued by parks and poor visibility. They found that the visitation response is more strongly associated with potential health warnings and less correlated with visibility.

Does air pollution lead to more unethical behavior?

A recent survey found that nearly 90 percent of respondents had visited a national park area in their lifetime, with one-third of respondents anticipating visiting a park in the coming year. Despite improvements over the last two decades, air quality in many national parks remains unhealthy for sensitive groups on average for two-and-one-half to three weeks per year.

Indeed, despite the decrease in visitation that the authors found during months with poor air quality, an estimated 35 percent of all visitor days occurred when ozone exceeded the 55 ppb “moderate” AQI threshold, and nearly 9 percent of visitor days when ozone levels exceeded 70 ppb. Exposure to these elevated ozone levels has important health implications—visitors have an increased chance of adverse health outcomes, including hospitalization, respiratory symptoms, and mortality for sensitive individuals.

The number of park visits suggests potentially large human health benefits to further air quality improvements at national parks and elsewhere.

Coauthors of the study are from Iowa State and Cornell University.

Source: Iowa State University

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general design discussion • Re: What determines the exact size/tolerances of a product?

There are a ton of factors. with something like a phone, there are industry standards on screen sizes usually driven by the LCD fab sizes and how to cost effectively split them up. Deviation is possible but costly. Then there are a bunch of other factors like module stack up (chips and board, and usually sensors) necessary antenna placements and clearances (usually there are 4-6 different kinds of antennas, some duplicates, and they usually can’t be near each other), battery size, I/O port size… yada yada yada. A lot of these things are defined by the product manager’s specs and the engineering constraints. When I’ve worked on smartphones a lot of what I’m doing is negotiating placement of these things. For example I worked on a phone about 10 years back that had a particular cross section to the back which was a direct response from the product brief, so there was a lot of working with the engineers to push and pull internal components to make that work.

The best analogy I can make to this is that it is like dancing with another person. You have to pay attention to what the other person is doing and create some kind of back and forth. When design is doing its job we are understanding all of the parameters and influencing the others in the dance (engineering and product management) to follow along, and we are doing that for a specific resin that will benefit the end user.

Cleaner air could cut infant deaths in sub-Saharan Africa

Even modest improvements in air quality could lead to substantial reductions in infant mortality in developing countries, a new study shows.

Exposure to particulate matter in sub-Saharan Africa led to 400,000 otherwise preventable infant deaths in 2015.

“Many wealthy countries have recently used legislation to clean up their air,” says coauthor Marshall Burke, assistant professor of earth system science in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences at Stanford University and coauthor of the study in Nature.

“We find that if countries in Africa could achieve reductions in particulate matter exposure similar to wealthy countries, the benefits to infant health could be larger than nearly all currently used health interventions, such as vaccinations or food and water supplements.”

“…we don’t yet know how big a threat poor air quality is relative to other common health risks like poor nutrition and infectious disease.”

Led by Sam Heft-Neal, a research scholar at Stanford’s Center on Food Security and the Environment, the research team combined 15 years of survey data on nearly 1 million births across sub-Saharan Africa with satellite-based measurements of particulate matter, an important contributor to poor air quality. The mixture of microscopic particles in the air can cause serious health effects when inhaled.

“We know that breathing dirty air is bad for your health,” says Heft-Neal. “But in developing countries in particular, we don’t yet know how big a threat poor air quality is relative to other common health risks like poor nutrition and infectious disease.”

Understanding the impact of poor air quality in developing countries has traditionally been difficult, as most do not have on-the-ground pollution monitors or vital registration data recording birth outcomes.

To overcome these constraints, the researchers compiled data from 65 household surveys across 30 sub-Saharan African countries spanning from 2001 to 2015. Using new satellite-based measures of ambient particulate matter, they then compared the particulate matter each infant was exposed to while in utero and after birth. From this, they could relate exposure to particulate matter with health outcomes.

“The results were sobering,” Burke says. “We find that mortality rates are substantially higher for infants exposed to higher levels of particulate matter.”

The findings show that high particulate matter concentrations were responsible for 22 percent of infant deaths from 2001 to 2015. They also found that this number has not decreased over the past 15 years and remains unchanged even in wealthier households.

The group’s estimate of the effect of particulate matter exposure on mortality is about three times larger than existing estimates, suggesting poor air quality is an even bigger problem than currently believed.

The main explanation for these larger estimates, the authors say, is that exposure to particulate matter can lead to a range of negative health effects, including lower birth weight and impaired growth in the first year of life, beyond those typically considered in health analyses.

Air pollution tied to higher risk of abnormal fetal growth

One of the study’s most important implications is that relatively small decreases in particulate matter concentrations could result in major reductions in mortality.

The researchers conclude that finding cost-effective ways to reduce particulate matter exposure should be a research and policy priority.

U.S. lags behind peers in fighting child mortality

“We now have a better sense of the immense benefits of air quality improvements for infant health,” says Heft-Neal. “Next we need to establish how these improvements can be achieved.”

Additional coauthors are from Stanford and from the University of California, San Diego. The Stanford Environmental Venture Projects program and the National Science Foundation funded the work.

Source: Stanford University

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Spin dynamics suggest 2 exoplanets really are Earth-ish

Two exoplanets thought to be similar to Earth apparently are, at least when it comes to climate, research into spin dynamics shows.

Kepler-186f is the first identified Earth-sized planet outside the solar system orbiting a star in the habitable zone. This means it’s the proper distance from its host star for liquid water to pool on the surface.

The study, which appears in the Astronomical Journal, used simulations to analyze and identify the exoplanet’s spin axis dynamics. Those dynamics determine how much a planet tilts on its axis and how that tilt angle evolves over time. Axial tilt contributes to seasons and climate because it affects how sunlight strikes the planet’s surface.

Researchers suggest that Kepler-186f’s axial tilt is very stable, much like the Earth, making it likely that it has regular seasons and a stable climate. Further, they think the same is true for Kepler-62f, a super-Earth-sized planet orbiting around a star about 1,200 light-years away from us.

Unstable Mars

How important is axial tilt for climate? Large variability in axial tilt could be a key reason why Mars transformed from a watery landscape billions of years ago to today’s barren desert, the researchers say.

“Mars is in the habitable zone in our solar system, but its axial tilt has been very unstable—varying from zero to 60 degrees,” says Gongjie Li, assistant professor of physics at Georgia Institute of Technology, who led the study together with graduate student Yutong Shan from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “That instability probably contributed to the decay of the Martian atmosphere and the evaporation of surface water.”

As a comparison, Earth’s axial tilt oscillates more mildly—between 22.1 and 24.5 degrees, going from one extreme to the other every 10,000 or so years.

The orientation angle of a planet’s orbit around its host star can be made to oscillate by gravitational interaction with other planets in the same system. If the orbit were to oscillate at the same speed as the precession of the planet’s spin axis (akin to the circular motion exhibited by the rotation axis of a top or gyroscope), the spin axis would also wobble back and forth, sometimes dramatically.

Mars and Earth interact strongly with each other, as well as with Mercury and Venus. As a result, by themselves, their spin axes would precess with the same rate as the orbital oscillation, which may cause large variations in their axial tilt.

What about moons?

Fortunately, the moon keeps Earth’s variations in check. The moon increases our planet’s spin axis precession rate and makes it differ from the orbital oscillation rate. Mars, on the other hand, doesn’t have a large enough satellite to stabilize its axial tilt.

“It appears that both exoplanets are very different from Mars and the Earth because they have a weaker connection with their sibling planets,” Li says. “We don’t know whether they possess moons, but our calculations show that even without satellites, the spin axes of Kepler-186f and 62f would have remained constant over tens of millions of years.”

Kepler-186f is less than 10 percent larger in radius than Earth, but its mass, composition, and density remain a mystery. It orbits its host star every 130 days.

According to NASA, the brightness of that star at high noon, while standing on 186f, would appear as bright as the sun just before sunset here on Earth. Kepler-186f is located in the constellation Cygnus as part of a five-planet star system.

Dust and starlight shape future exoplanet exploration

Kepler-62f was the most Earth-like exoplanet until scientists noticed 186f in 2014. It’s about 40 percent larger than our planet and is likely a terrestrial or ocean-covered world. It’s in the constellation Lyra and is the outermost planet among five exoplanets orbiting a single star.

That’s not to say either exoplanet has water, let alone life. But both are relatively good candidates. “Our study is among the first to investigate climate stability of exoplanets and adds to the growing understanding of these potentially habitable nearby worlds,” Li says.

Zippy exoplanet burns hotter than most stars

“I don’t think we understand enough about the origin of life to rule out the possibility of their presence on planets with irregular seasons,” Shan says. “Even on Earth, life is remarkably diverse and has shown incredible resilience in extraordinarily hostile environments.

“But a climatically stable planet might be a more comfortable place to start.”

Source: Georgia Tech

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Big data reveals how corn reacts to stress

A new study describes the genetic pathways at work when corn plants respond to stress brought on by heat. The findings could lead to crops better capable of withstanding stress.

The research, published as a “large-scale biology” paper in the academic journal the Plant Cell, maps the stress response detected by the endoplasmic reticulum, an organelle in cells of corn seedlings.

The research was a multilevel study in which the scientists analyzed massive datasets to account for the expression of tens of thousands of plant genes.

A better understanding of how corn plants cope with stress can help plant breeders engineer crops that can better tolerate and continue to produce under stressful conditions, says senior study author Stephen Howell, a professor of genetics, development, and cell biology at Iowa State University.

The endoplasmic reticulum plays a key role in this stress response, because it is the subcellular location where many proteins are folded. Proteins acquire their function based on the shape in which they’re folded, but stressful conditions such as high heat cause proteins to be misfolded, and misfolded proteins can be toxic to cells.

“Protein folding is a very delicate process that’s easily upset,” Howell says. “We want to understand the mechanisms of the stress response to find ways in which we can intervene to promote survival.”

The researchers applied a chemical to corn seedlings to mimic stressful environmental conditions and then tracked the activity of around 40,000 genes using several high throughput technologies. This is one of the first studies on maize stress to be carried out at this level, says Renu Srivastava, an assistant scientist in the Plant Sciences Institute at Iowa State and a coauthor of the study.

The scientists exposed the plants to persistent stress and found the plants could adapt—at least for a time. However, with persistent stress the cells eventually “give up,” which quickly leads to cell death, Srivastava says.

Higher temps could slash global corn yields

Mapping that transition from cell survival to death could lead the way to methods of prolonging or strengthening stress adaptation, she says.

The research parallels similar work in human health, Howell says. Protein misfolding also occurs in humans and can result in neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Howell says studying protein misfolding in plants may illuminate how other organisms respond under similar circumstances.

The National Science Foundation and the ISU Plant Sciences Institute funded the research.

Scientists at Iowa State, Michigan State University, and the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, also contributed to the work.

Source: Iowa State University

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Water gets weird at extreme pressures and temps

When exposed to unimaginably high temperatures and pressures, water exhibits all sorts of weird phases and properties, from remaining a liquid at temperatures 10 times higher than the boiling point to existing as a liquid and a solid at the same time.

This strange world is still not fully understood, but scientists ran quantum simulations to develop a new model of the behavior of water at extremely high temperatures and pressures.

The computational measurements, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, should help scientists understand water’s role in the makeup of the Earth’s mantle and potentially in other planets.

“It’s surprising how little we know about water below [Earth’s] crust.”

“Subtle physics at the molecular level can impact properties of matter deep inside planets,” says Viktor Rozsa, a graduate student at the University of Chicago and first author of the paper. “How water reacts and transports charge on a molecular scale affects our understanding of phenomena ranging from the movement of magma, water, and other fluids to the magnetic field of the entire planet.”

Under the conditions considered in the study—more than 40 times hotter than our everyday conditions and 100,000 times greater than atmospheric pressure—water is regularly ripping apart and re-forming its own chemical bonds. The result is that it can interact very differently with other minerals than it does on the surface of the earth.

Scientists have been trying to pin down exactly how these atoms interact for decades: It’s extremely difficult to test experimentally, as water can react with the instrument itself. “It’s surprising how little we know about water below the crust,” says lead author Giulia Galli, professor of molecular engineering and professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago and a senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory.

But water in these conditions exists throughout the mantle—it’s possible there may be more water distributed inside the Earth than there is in the oceans—and scientists would like to know exactly how it behaves in order to understand its role in the Earth and how it moves through the mantle.

Galli’s group built a model by performing quantum mechanical simulations of a small set of water molecules at extremely high pressures and temperatures—in the range of what you need to synthesize a diamond.

Their model, built with the aid of simulations performed at the Research Computing Center, provides an explanation for some of water’s more mysterious properties at such pressures, such as the connection between bizarrely high conductivity and how its molecules disassociate and re-associate.

It also predicts and analyzes a controversial set of measurements called the vibrational spectroscopic signatures of water, or fingerprints of molecular movement that lay out how molecules are interacting and moving.

How water gets from the blood to the brain

In addition to furthering understanding of our own planet, Galli says, “the ability to do the kind of simulations performed in our paper could have important consequences on modeling exoplanets.” Many scientists are narrowing the conditions for distant planets that might have the conditions to create life, and much of this search revolves around water.

While water is everywhere and intensively important to us, Galli says, it is notoriously difficult to simulate and study: “This is one step in the long journey to understanding.”

Additional coauthors are from the University of Chicago and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Funding came from the National Nuclear Science Administration Stewardship Science Graduate Fellowship, National Natural Science Foundation of China, Hong Kong Research Grants Council, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and Midwest Integrated Center for Computational Materials.

Source: University of Chicago

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Everyone suffers when you apologize for asking questions

I was teaching a class recently when somebody raised his hand to ask a question. After I answered it, then he asked a follow-up, which I responded to as well. Both times, he apologized for asking those questions, despite my assurances that questions are important.

How often do bosses and managers issue these reminders? “There are no stupid questions!” “Please ask as many questions as you need!” “I’m always on hand to answer questions.” Yet when people take advantage of these invitations, they often do so apologetically: “I’m sorry, just wanted to ask . . .” “Sorry, but I’m wondering whether . . .”

So let’s get one thing straight: You should never apologize for asking questions. It doesn’t just reflect badly on you, it can weigh down everyone else on your team. Here’s why.

It hampers collective intelligence

The questions that typically get asked in meetings (or any group setting) are meant to get clarity on a difficult concept. One of the most dangerous limitations in any organization is what psychologists refer to as the “illusion of explanatory depth,” which simply means that people tend to overestimate how well they understand things when they hear others explain them. It’s typically only when someone tries to explain a concept to themselves, and comes up short, that they realize the gaps in their own knowledge.

When you apologize for seeking clarification, you reinforce the illusion of explanatory depth that others is the room are likely to be under. “Sounds like Katja doesn’t get it, but I do,” some of your coworkers may falsely tell themselves. Others will be silently grateful for your question but discouraged from asking their own the next time they need to. Ideally, your question provides an opportunity for everyone else to recognize and fill the gaps in their knowledge, but you risk cutting off that opportunity by prefacing it with, “Sorry!”

But ultimately, even if you are the only one in the room with this question, your understanding still matters, because you can’t use knowledge that you don’t have to solve future problems.

It conceals the faulty assumptions behind proposed solutions

A second crucial type of question tries to uncover the assumptions behind a recommendation or instruction. A suggestion for a given course of action may seem quite reasonable on the surface until you start to think about how to implement it. Getting insight into navigating these operational details matters a lot, but by apologizing before asking this type of question, you risk making yourself seem like the impediment (“Ugh, if only Peter weren’t such a naysayer!”) rather than the idea you’re questioning.

Few suggestions are categorically great–bound to work under any circumstances. Often, the success or failure of a given course of action depends on a lot of different factors, and only when you delve into its underlying assumptions can you start to weigh those contingencies. (This is particularly true when you have a better grasp of the details than the person leading the meeting or throwing out proposed solutions.)

It makes it harder to chase the same goals

It’s natural to worry that your question might sound disruptive, and risk slowing down a conversation that could move smoothly ahead if only you didn’t interrupt. It’s one reason why people avoid asking questions, even when they and everyone else would benefit from the answer.

Ample research on so-called “goal contagion,” though, suggests that people automatically adopt goals that they see others pursuing. In other words, your questions will free others to ask their own–all of which are likely to be geared toward achieving a shared objective. But if you apologize for asking your question, you send the message that asking questions is actually the wrong thing to be doing, which in turn can limit the team’s ability to pull together in pursuit of the same goal.

Ultimately, the worst way to learn anything new is to have someone lecture at you. Information washes over you, and you’ll only remember a small amount of it. The more you actively engage with material, the more likely you are to learn it. When an entire room is full of people asking questions–unapologetically–the odds go up that something valuable will come of their pooled efforts.


general design discussion • Prep a file for a stratasys J750: wrap a high res image to o

Good Afternoon,

I’ve gotten answers here before so I’m back at the well of knowledge with a puzzle.

I work with bent sheet metal. Our products are anodized, silk screened, and then laser etched. Samples are getting expensive and I’d like to try and print a prototype.

Since the artwork consists of 3 colors and is relatively complicated (including text and images) my understanding is that a “Color by Texture / UV Mapping” is my best choice for this Stratasys J750 printer.

I’ve created my part in solidworks and I’m using blender to wrap the image to the outside of the part and export it as a .wrl file. From what I can tell, blender does not export to the 97 format, it seems to only export to the 1.0 format. And the printer seems to only print UV maps from the 97 format.

So, are there any of you out there that are doing something similar to this? And is there another software package that could be better than what I’m doing? I’ve heard of Materialize Magics and Rhino. But I’m sure there are other tools out there I could use to create my final WRL file to send to the printer – one that includes my wrapped image on the model.

Love to hear you thoughts :)