Category Archives: Lifestream

Seattle and its Seahawks

Seattle is a football town. Yes, on first blush people would probably associate us with a myriad of other things. Espresso, evergreen trees, grunge music, IPAs, pot shops, hipsters, airplanes, technology, brilliant grad students, etc. All those things, but probably not football.

So, in this not-football, football town, myself and nearly three-quarters of a million of my closest friends crowded into downtown Seattle, in the freezing cold (25F is pretty cold for us) to welcome home our conquering victorious heroes. It was a truly momentous occasion and one I’ll probably remember for a long time to come.

There are lots of things to be said about the Super Bowl (World Champions? Seriously?), football in general, and America’s manic heroism of sports culture. All those things can be said, have been said, and will be repeated for eons to come, and yet, over the past few weeks I’ve watched an entire city join together and rally around a common cause. Here, this is something really special; Seattle is a city of many cultures, divided along many lines, and undergirded with a deeply rooted sense of individualism, nothing is easier then finding your own community (for they almost all exist up here in one form or another) and diving in with nary a thought for the wide world around you. It’s not that the city is bubbling under with racial tensions, or open animosity, it’s that people tend to view each other with a kind of cool detachment. You do your thing, and I’ll do mine, everyone wins. But over the last few weeks, I’ve seen the ’12’ flag flown from the Space Needle, and the 787 hanger a Boeing field. I’ve seen the ‘I’m in’ posters hanging in the coffee bars, and sports bars alike, and I’ve heard the call and response of: ‘SEA’ ‘HAWKS’ echo in the University quads, and the bus stops in Belltown. In a city where people ride the transit in solitude, perfect strangers have struck up conversations over what Richard Sherman really meant, or if the Denver line will be completely powerless in the face of the ‘Beastquake’ (spoiler: they were).

This city, united, set the record for loudest crowd ever. Then did it again. This city set off the seismic alarms when Marshawn Lynch scored against New Orleans (Sorry Bressus). And this city, packed 700,000 people (for reference our population is about 620,000) from all walks of life (the Public School system reported that nearly 25% of their teachers were absent along with 30% of their students) onto 4th avenue, broke into chants of ‘Pete, Pete, Pete!’ when Carroll came by, and threw Skittles back and forth with Lynch. All while the 12th man flags waved from fans, players, and National Guard trucks alike.

So, while in the end it may just be football. Ok, it is just football, and when they hoisted the trophy above the crowd I did channel my inner Colbert and shout: ‘Bow before your god Babylon!’ And yes, tomorrow things will largely go back to the way things were, but for a brief moment of time I saw an image of a city united with a common thread that cut across the various sub-cultures of the city and bound it together no matter how loosely. And while it may be a fleeting victory, I think, in the end, I’m going to let them have this one.

GO HAWKS!

Coach Pete

Legion of Boom

New Informatonauts

If you haven’t checked out the Informatonauts podcast yet, you definitely should. We’ve added 3 new episodes since I last posted about this, and they’ve turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself.

If you’re not into technology, that’s OK, we talk about other things. Ok, not really, it’s mostly technology. And science. But you never know, maybe something will pique your interest.

 

You can subscribe on iTunes, then you’ll get each new episode automatically delivered to your i{device} of choice. It’s like a digital drone for your auditory enjoyment!

Happy 2nd Birthday!

Happy Birthday nickrobison.com (yesterday)! Yes, despite my best efforts, we’re still around, albeit, barely. It’s been a quiet year around here, with only a little traffic, and even fewer posts, but I guess that’s ok. For comparison, can see last year’s summary post here.

Without further ado, I present you 2013, in stats.

  • 13 posts (about half of last year).
  • 11 comments.
  • 1,203 visits (a little less then last year at 3.29 visits/day, which isn’t bad considered I had half the new content).
  • 836 unique visitors (much more then the year before, so the audience is growing).
  • 3,354 page loads.
  • 2.79 pages per visit.
  • Average visit time was 2:38.
  • Visitors from 44 different countries (with the US and Canada being the highest).
  • 10 different browsers on 10 different operating systems (I think the 1 Blackberry finally gave up, by Symbian seems to still be a thing).

The pretty pictures:

The world is watching
The world is watching

As usual, most traffic comes almost entirely from the US, with a bit from Canada and Europe.

US Visitors 2013
Westward Ho!

In a surprising shift, the bulk of visitors are now from Washington (specifically Seattle), with Indiana supplying the third most traffic. Apparently I’m more interesting to Chicago then I am to my own family. (Yes, that was me showing my new PNW passive-aggressive side).

So that’s the state of the website, we’re but a small blip in the world of the internet, but it’s still my little blip, and I love it very much. If you’ve been trolling around here you’ve probably noticed that some images aren’t loading correctly, and that the site can take FOREVER to come up. Yeah, I need to fix that. I’m trying to get to it this week, I just haven’t had the time.

So thanks for sticking with me for another year, hopefully things will only continue to get better.

Another year old, and maybe a bit wide
Another year older, and maybe a bit wiser

On Cooking

The worst part about cooking, is the actual process of learning to cook. Specifically, the resultants of learning to cook, which consist primarily of largely unappetizing creations, this then destroys any desire to cook again, less you end up with something even worse then before. This vicious spiral is extremely difficult to overcome, and best rectified by aligning yourself with another person who doesn’t suffer from said spiral.

 

At least, that’s how I’ve been approaching it.

 

New Project: Informatonauts

There comes a time in very man’s life, when he looks at his buddy and utters one simple phrase ‘we should do a Podcast’. That time, my friends, has come.

 

Informatonauts Logo

 

The story of this project is simple. My friend Nikhil and I, like most friends, often find ourselves in various coffee shops and restaurants talking about all manner of interesting (at least, interesting to us) topics and ideas. With some regularity people around us will chime in with a thought or comment, or snicker at something one of us says. So we reached the most natural of conclusions. Let’s fuel our narcissism by recording our conversations and posting them online for all to revel in and enjoy. And thus, Informatonauts was born.

 

You’re probably thinking, that’s not even a word! To which, you would be correct. It’s less a word and more an assertion. It’s the conjunction of two ideas, information, and exploration. Traditionally, people in information science have been known colloquially as informaticists, which conjures up images of test tubes and network cables. But in reality, it’s so much more then that. It’s about exploration, about mapping the uncharted regions of knowledge. To go where no nerd has gone before.

 

Or, it’s just an excuse to design a cool logo with astronauts on it. Cool logo is forthcoming.

 

So, take a listen, let us know what you think. In this first episode, we discuss evidence of time travel on the internet, NASA approved plants, the best books of 2013, and how to keep your data from crapping out on you. All in all, a great way to spend 1:03:14. We’re still getting the hang of things, there are bugs to sort out, and awkward pauses that need to be obliterated. There’s also one host’s annoying habit of dominating the conversation, which needs to be rectified.

 

We submitted the first episode to iTunes, it should be approved shortly, and the 2nd episode should be live by early next week, at the latest. Until then, you can hear the first episode (appropriately called Unbounded Narcissism) on our website, and follow us at @informatonauts.

 

Until next time, never stop exploring.

 

Three Minute Thesis

This quarter I’m taking a Teaching Methods class, which requires me to give a series of different presentations as well as teach an undergraduate level class (just one though, no need to torture the kids more then is absolutely necessary). This past week we had to present our dissertation research (or proposed research) to the rest of our classmates in under three minutes, or in my case, under 3:32. That’s not really an easy task, especially when at this point my research is pretty much all encompassing. As in, encompassing all of science, but I gave it my best shot.

 

In case you were wondering what it is I do all day, this should answer some questions.

 

 

Note: That breathing sound is not me sucking in a huge amount of oxygen, it’s the compressor on the audio channel. Just thought I should clear that up.

 

He is Risen

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
18 I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
so that you will no longer suffer reproach.[c]
19 Behold, at that time I will deal
with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
20 At that time I will bring you in,
at the time when I gather you together;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes,” says the Lord.

 

– Zephaniah 3:14-20 (ESV)

 

 

Updates

Dear all,

 

I have not forgotten you, it’s simply the fact that it’s the end of the quarter and I’m pretty well swamped under with papers and such. Fear not, next week is my spring break and I have a few things I’ve been thinking about and I may spend some time elucidating them here. I’ve also been working on a few projects, some of which are pretty cool, so look forward to that.

 

In the mean time, here are a few things to keep you satiated.

 

1. This awesome video:

 

 

2. This cool paper (23354052)

 

3. This innovative idea

 

4. The new share buttons at the bottom of the posts, you can even send directly to your Kindle for later reading. What will they think of next?

 

5. This great song

 

 

6. This picture of a cat

 

ddmcdn.com

 

 

 

Until next time.

 

Bibliography

Lent

Today marks the beginning of the Lenten season, a time of surrender and self-reflection. A time to purposefully create space to allow for the Lord to speak to us and to deepen our relationship with him.

 

Over the past few years I’ve taken the approach of instead of giving something up directly (like coffee, or TV, or sinning), I’ve added something to my schedule, usually in the form of spending more time in the word and reading religious writings. It’s truly been an incredible process and I look forward to it every year. It’s amazing what God can do when we work every day to spend time reflecting on him and on his truths.

 

In the past some of the books I’ve read have included such masterpieces as:

 

All of those come highly recommended and have been absolutely foundational in my faith and life. This year, I’ll be focusing on a single book, and I probably still won’t finish it:

 

tower.com

 

You’ve probably noticed this pop up from time to time in the ‘Currently Reading’ tab as I’ve been working through it (extremely slowly) for the past few years (Thanks Bob Harvey for burdening me with this!). It’s a monumental book and the summation of 40 years of Dr. Kass’ class on Genesis. Each chapter is mind blowing and challenging, continually refining my perspective of purpose, knowledge, sin, etc. Though Dr. Kass himself isn’t a Christian, more of a theist, there’s still a ton to be gathered from not only his reflections, but those of his sources, and the insights of his many students.

 

My current process is reading for 40 minutes, followed by 20 minutes of journaling and praying; journaling is a really new thing for me, and something I’m quite terrible at, but hopefully getting better. A number of years ago while I was in undergrad, my Pastor’s mother-in-law (Grandma Hickman) talked about leaving a legacy for her children and grandchildren in the form of 60 some years worth of journal entries and crafted prayers; that really struck me, leaving a written account of dialogues with God, maybe that’s something worth doing.

 

I know I probably won’t do a great job with keeping my Lenten commitment but that’s what grace is for! I’m praying that the Lord will assist me in keeping my routine and being faithful to what he’s teaching me, I’m praying for answers, and new questions. For guidance, and peace.

 

My the Lord bless you also in this coming holy season with new insights, new revelations, new mercies, and new joy.

 

Global Burden of Disease

On Thursday I had the opportunity to attend the annual report of the UW School of Medicine by Dean Ramsey, you can see the powerpoint and videos here and it’s probably worth your time. It’s truly an honor and a blessing to be apart of a community as dynamic and innovative as this one, the sheer amount of scientific output and the impact of that output is pretty incredible.

 

As we entered the auditorium we were handed a piece of history, for the first time in its history The Lancet devoted an entire issue to a single research project, and not only a single issue, but three issues combined into one. That project was The Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 lead by the UW Institute for Health Metrics and EvaluationNeedless to say the University is extremely excited about this and given the institute is only a few years old, it’s a pretty big deal. One of the articles they mentioned particularly stood out to me and I thought warranted discussion here.

 

The article is titled A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990-2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 (1). After all, it’s not a real academic paper unless it has a ridiculously long and wordy title (the article also has a crazy number of co-authors).

 

The purpose of this paper was:

 

[to] calculate the proportion of deaths or disease burden caused by specific risk factors—eg, ischaemic heart disease caused by increased blood pressure—holding other independent factors unchanged.

 

As the title states, they looked at 67 different risk factors (e.g. Lead exposure, Residential radon, Drug use, Suboptimal breastfeeding, etc) across 21 global regions and attempted to determine how much each factor contributed to various diseases using the DALY metric. DALY, or Disability Adjusted Life Years, is a common public health measure used to look at a disease, like lung cancer, taking all the factors that contribute to said disease (tobacco inhalation  environmental carcinogens, genetic abnormalities, etc) and quantifying which contributes most in terms of disability or loss of function. For a better introduction, look here. The last time a study like this was performed was 1990 and at that time the 3 biggest contributors to disease worldwide were childhood underweight (contributing 7.9% of worldwide disease burden), household air pollution from solid fuels (7.0%), and tobacco smoking including second-hand smoke (6.1%).

 

For clarification, childhood underweight comes from malnutrition and poverty in both breastfeeding and early (up to 5 years) development, it also includes nutritional deficiencies found in native diets (such as rice). Household air pollution largely comes from burning waste indoors to cook food, most developed areas don’t have this type of pollution, it’s primarily found in poverty stricken areas. Tobacco smoke speaks for itself.

 

In 2010, the findings were different, here the 3 leading factors were: high blood pressure (7.0%), tobacco smoking including second-hand smoke (6.3%) and alcohol use (5.5%). That’s a pretty significant difference and I think really shows that we’ve begun a shift from death by poverty to death by prosperity. In looking at the percent change of various risk factors the 6 with the greatest increase are:

 

  • Lead: +160%
  • High Body-Mass Index: +82%
  • High Fasting Plasma Glucose: +58%
  • Drug use: +57%
  • Low whole grain foods: +39%
  • High Sodium: +33%

Of those, 4 could be classified into the upper tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy (2), and are strongly linked to an overabundance as opposed to an absence of supply.

 

Now, a good question would be, is it just that more people are dying in wealthier countries and thus obscuring deaths from poverty stricken areas (as if some sort of perverse form of privilege)? Looking at the 6 factors with the biggest percent decrease and coupling with their raw death numbers we find:

 

Disease Percent Change (DALY) 1990 Deaths 2010 Deaths Percent Change Ratio of Change
Childhood Underweight -61% 2,263,952 860,117 -163% -0.09
Suboptimal Breastfeeding -57% 1,275,024 544,817 -134% -0.10
Household Air Pollution -37% 4,579,715 3,546,399 -29% -0.48
Iron Deficiency -7% 168,084 119,608 -41% -0.35
Ambient PM Pollution -7% 2,910,161 3,223,540 10% 1.44
Global Deaths 74,508,614 86,669,105 14%

Note: The ‘Global Death’ numbers are my own calculation based on data provided in the article, they are not part of the original study.

 

3 of the 1990 chief burdens are on this list, and we can see a definite upwards trend in the numbers of raw deaths globally, yet the number of deaths related to these factors are decreasing by a significant margin. This indicates that we’re seeing a true decrease in these types issues, not just a confounding shift. It’s important to note that for the sub-Sahara regions of Africa childhood underweight and household pollutants are still the leading disease burdens, but in areas such as Southern Latin America and Eastern Europe these issues have largely shrunk.

 

So what does this mean? I think there are 2 major takeaways from this data, but it’s important to note that what follows is a high level abstraction. It don’t have the space or the energy to fully elucidate on mechanisms for improving low-income healthcare, nor from this article can we find causative factors, merely trends, which I’ll try to address.

 

  1. Over the past 20 years we’ve seen definite fruit of anti-poverty and global health initiatives around the world. There are a myriad of reasons for this, but the data shows that globally poverty is on the downward slope. Just the other week The Gates Foundation announced that we’ve accomplished the goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015. Granted there’s still an incredible amount of work to do, and things are not bright and sunny in all quadrants of the globe, but things are improving, and noticably so. Even more encouraging, discussions can now shift towards building sustainable health care systems and improving not only quantity of life, but quality. We’re now starting to see regions with the ability to make decisions that extend beyond the immediate and into the near and long-term future. And that’s extremely exciting.
  2. Prosperity is killing us, literally. In as much as we now have choices in how we live our lives, we’re beginning to show that we’re really not all that good at making healthy choices. We need to work towards teaching people how to take ownership of their own lifestyles and wellbeing, encouraging and incentivizing healthy living. Unfortunately, these new issues don’t lend themselves particularly well to large scale, ‘government style’ interventions. Resource problems can be solved by providing resources, but issues of lifestyle and choice can only be solved through direct intervention into the lives of the individuals. It will be really interesting to see how the NGOs and Sovereign governments respond to the changing needs of the next 20 years. The same methods we’ve used in the past will most likely prove insufficient in the future, it’ll take new thinking, new initiatives, and new methods.

 

Overall, I think this study is extremely exciting, it’s encouraging to see real results that have a measurable impact on the lives of real people. This isn’t just some random statistic or obscure factoid, this is the truth that 163% less people died from malnutrition in the past 20 years. That’s 1,403,835 brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, moms, dads, best friends, who are now alive and being. I’m optimistic that the next 20 years will see similar improvements in lifespan and quality, and now the fight has come to us. As citizens of the ‘1st world’ it’s a little embarrassing that we’re leading the world in deaths, and deaths due to things like lack of exercise, overeating, and smoking, death by luxuries. But now we have the opportunity to change that, we can lead the change in our own communities and families to truly save lives.

 

So go forth!

 

I’ve attached the citations for the articles mentioned, unfortunately they’re not Open Access, but maybe you can be sneaky and find them.

 

cardiobrief.files.wordpress.com

 

 

(1)  Lim, S. S., Vos, T., Flaxman, A. D., Danaei, G., Shibuya, K., Adair-Rohani, H., Amann, M., et al. (2013). A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990-2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet, 380(9859), 2224–60. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61766-8

 

(2) Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–396. doi:10.1037/h0054346

 

More reading: Wang, H., Dwyer-Lindgren, L., Lofgren, K. T., Rajaratnam, J. K., Marcus, J. R., Levin-Rector, A., Levitz, C. E., et al. (2012). Age-specific and sex-specific mortality in 187 countries, 1970-2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet, 380(9859), 2071–94. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61719-X