Tag Archives: UW

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.


Book Review: Where the Conflict Really Lies

I don’t normally write book reviews, for a time I gave it a shot, but it turned out to be incredibly tedious for both the writer and the reader; however, over the past 4 months I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in a faculty/graduate student luncheon here at UW discussing Dr. Alvin Plantinga’s new book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, & Naturalism and I thought it deserved a bit of discussion here.




Starting out, I had really high hopes for this book. I had heard from many sources that it was one of, if not the best, apologetics books of the 21st Century. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to the hype. To begin with, it’s important to point out what this book is not; it’s not a book about the rationality or compatibility of Christianity with science. At its core, it’s a juxtaposition of theism with naturalism and pointing out key points of conflict and harmony. The central tenant is:


there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic religion, but superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism.

– pg. 3 (emphasis added)


A reader picking up this book and looking for a rigorous defense of Christianity will be sorely disappointed as the religion purported by the author is one quite different then modern day Christianity. What Plantinga describes is a religion that may in fact be merely the product of evolutionary development and have only enough value to provide comfort in times of distress, or give us social norms to cling to. The god of this book is one with only limited interaction with the world and who, once setting the world in motion, seems to have been content with letting things transpire as they will, baring some rare exceptions. While it’s true that many of the trappings of modern religion have developed out of tradition and without a firm link to scripture, there are many elements (such as God’s divine action, or universal moral law) that are not merely peripheral fillers but key to what many (including myself) would call Christianity, to simply wave them away seems at best disingenuous, and at worst deceptive.


Of course, I don’t want to imply that Dr. Plantinga has sold out his faith, or abandoned its central tenants, what he’s attempting to do is argue that the central concept of theism is a better fit with science then raw unguided naturalism, so while it may in fact be that religion is simply an evolutionary spandrel, that has little to do with his underlying premise. To the average reader though, this is a cold comfort. Most people don’t live in a world of rigid naturalism, or have the ability to take the base arguments for theism and extrapolate them to encompass ‘working’ religion. Instead, most people find themselves in the position of justifying the personal faith that they hold. A faith where God is not only present but continually acting in the world, a faith that is more then simply an archaic shield against uncertainty and fear but a hope for redemption and a moral law that all men are held accountable to. The end result is that by stripping religion down to its bare theistic elements Dr. Plantinga has been able to claim ‘superficial conflict’ but unfortunately in doing so has abandoned most readers to fend for themselves.


However; it’s not all bad news. The logical consistency displayed throughout the book is truly exceptional, Dr. Plantinga has an incredibly deep understanding of a myriad of religious, philosophical, and scientific topics. Not only that, but the book is incredibly well referenced with both books and scientific papers, a reader looking to delve deeper into any of the mentioned topics will have plenty of directions to choose from. Dr. Plantinga has taken exceptional care to ensure that each argument, premise, and counterpoint is well thought out and carefully explained, the result is a comprehensive book accessible to a wide variety of readers.


In conclusion, if you’re a potential looking for resources in explaining theism and the pitfalls of unguided naturalism, look no further then this book. If, on the other hand, you find yourself in the position of defending Christian faith and explaining reasons for why you believe what you do this is probably not the best book to consult.

Unfortunately, at this point, I don’t have a ton of great resources to recommend to readers.  A number of years ago I often referenced J.P Moreland’s Scaling the Secular City  as a go-to resource for philosophical points. John Polkinghorne has some great books such as Quantum Physics and Theology and Belief in God in an Age of Science which are similar to Plantinga’s book, but a little different. A lot of people that I know rave about Tim Keller’s The Reason for Godthough I haven’t read it and can’t speak to its content. Finally, Alister McGrath’s Glimpsing the Face of God is absolutely phenomenal, though quite different from the preceding resources.


If there are any books that you’ve found to be especially insightful for helpful, please leave a link in the comments.


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.





(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





One month. I’ve been here for one month. It doesn’t seem like that. It seems like I just arrived, the list of things that I’ve accomplished in this period of time is alarmingly short, though a part of me chalks that up to the fact that classes still haven’t started (8 more days).

Am I a Washingtonian now? Legally, but probably not in spirit yet, I’m officially no longer a hoosier and I have the metal encased ID card to prove it (you have to shield the cards due to the RFID chip, that’s just how fancy we are). I’m slowly becoming a Seattleite, I know my way around my part of the city. I still haven’t figured out the buses yet, but I know how to get on and off without eliciting stares, so that’s a plus.

I’m starting to build a spiritual community, I’ve been attending Blue Sky Church in Bellevue and  Emmanuel Anglican Church in Ballard. Blue Sky has more young people and a vibrant small group network, but Emmanuel’s pastor is a Renaissance art scholar who goes to pubs and can’t read the whole of the liturgy without crying. At Blue Sky I know people, at Emmanuel I grow. I’ve taken to going to both for now.

I walk a lot, usually at night. I’ve always loved campuses at night, even when I was back at Purdue I used love working late and walking back to my house because the lights used to cast this really yellow tint over everything making it feel to warm and inviting. On the 3rd night I was at Purdue I went running with one of the seniors, we jogged through campus and I saw the lights for the first time, and the shadows, such dramatic shadows, for the first time I felt connected to the place, and that feeling’s never left. Now I walk to try and find connection, to get a feel for the place where I’ll spend the remainder of my 20s. I like to walk down to South campus, by the Oceanography buildings, and look out over the Lake Washington-Lake Union ship channel. I can see the 5, busy as always, towering on my right, to the left is the 520, with its sporadic traffic and sweeping curves disappearing around the bay. Straight across are a collection of houses staunchly detached from the city  sprawling behind them. I wonder who lives there, and how on earth you extract a car from the mess of transportation bridges and underpasses and get it to one of those buildings. The water, it’s always moving. It’s never still, it always seems restless, like somehow it knows it can get to the ocean if it just tries hard enough. The ‘drains to the river’ warnings on the sewers are probably a real thing. I like standing there and thinking, standing on the barrier between two worlds.

There are geese everywhere, they get into the fountain at the top of Rainier Vista and swim around with the ducks, it seems to be a much needed break from scattering poop all over the sidewalks. I’ve traded ginko tress for geese, both emit smelly byproducts that cling to your shoes. I think the raccoons have had it, I came across them chasing the geese in the fountain the other night. I wished them luck, if I was a raccoon I would chase them too.

North campus (written with that tone of derision reserved only for graduate students towards undergrads, and professors towards graduate students), see us Med School kids don’t think about North campus unless we have to, alternates between trying to channel its inner Harvard and trying to set the standard for campus architecture for the next 40 years, it succeeds admirably at both, though judging some of the buildings this is a change from a concerned effort in the late 70s to set the new design metrics, which did not succeed. I’ve really only seen it at night, the lights aren’t as yellow as they are at Purdue, but the shadows are just as dramatic, it’s also confusing, the roads like to take their time getting from one point to the other, not sharp and efficient as good road should be, and with the campus secluded by trees, it’s hard to get your bearings right. So I walk, and keep walking until I know it like the back of my hand.

I’ve started working on a new project, it may or may not turn into my dissertation, I’ve talked with a professor about it, he seems excited, he gave me a list of people to talk to, I still need to email them, hopefully I keep excited about it too. I’ve got another project I’m toying with, trying to figure out a way to connect people together during worship, a sort of collective prophetic experience, I don’t know how else to describe it, so I’m calling it Word for the Herd. I’m supposed to be working at Brotherhood again, I need to finish what I started, which will be new for me.

I’ve been cooking, or trying to cook. It’s been an adventure, nothing I make is really ‘good’, but it tastes like a version of what I was trying to make, so I eat it. I don’t eat very much food, of course, I don’t really expend that many calories either, we’ll see if it gets better once I have a more normal life and schedule.

I’m getting more used to the quiet, I can go long stretches without interacting with people and not feel discouraged, but fortunately those times are starting get fewer and fewer. The other night I was pretty down, so I went for a walk, and I was trying to figure out if I chocked on some food in my apartment how long it would take someone to realize I was gone, I figured it would be at least 3 days, maybe 5. That’s probably not a normal or healthy thing to think about, but I did anyways. The LORD very gently reminded me that he would know, that he sees me. He also asked me the question ‘do you think that I have called you to so little, that I would let you pass away in the middle of the night?’ I don’t really know that answer to that, but I’m assuming it’s no.

I’ve been reading a lot of books, I’m readying one about the 6 Day War, one about ex-Soviet pilots flying illicit cargo around the world, one about a fictional data haven, and one about pain, I read a lot of books at once. So far I’ve had a lot of time to read, we’ll see how that changes starting in a few weeks.

So far, I’m waiting, waiting for reality to start, waiting to feel like I’m doing something, waiting get back on a normal schedule. Waiting for friends, waiting for community, waiting to feel like I belong. I’m not afraid anymore. I’m not afraid I’ll starve, I’m not afraid I’ll be lonely, I’m not afraid I’ll spiritually shrivel. I’m excited. I’m excited to start doing things, I’m excited to learn, I’m excited to become a part of something cool, to be from a place as dynamic and vibrant as Seattle. I’m ready. I’m ready to embrace this new stage of my life, I’m ready to start being an adult, I’m ready to be my own person, I’m ready to introduce the Northwest to a healthy serving of Midwest. For now, I’m planted, my roots are still young and shallow, but they’re getting deeper everyday.

One month down 83 to go.


It seems appropriate to start off this new blogging season in a new city with an obligatory photo of the Space Needle, which has the joint purpose of both giving a visual overview of the area in which I now live and inspiring begrudging jealousy from those who are not party to such a landscape. Thus:


Be jealous all you from afar.


With that out of the way… no wait, one more:

Microsoft Atrium in the Paul G. Allen Building

The Microsoft Atrium in the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science and Electrical Engineering where I am currently enjoying a coffee, scone, and some riveting discussions on using the new AMD APUs to drive 6 Kinect cameras in a joint surgery/underwater exploration project to do some sort of advanced motion tracking. These are my people.


It’s been just over 2 weeks since I rolled up with the 3 best friends that anyone ever had, in Deer Bane, loaded down to the point of damaging the suspension. It’s been a great couple of weeks that alternated between sheer terror and utter boredom, along the way I’ve learned a few things that should make the future much more pleasant:

1. The Walmart in Renton is the definition of rachet (thanks Daniel for that new phrase), imagine a dark, dingy maze designed to reward rats for their cleverness, but instead of cheese what awaits you is the equivalent of a mosh pit with 500 of your not closest friends.

2. An effective way to earn money is to sit on the side of the street with a sign hung by a string on a pole that says ‘Fishing for Beer Money’.

3. Some cities, in lieu of roosters, wake up their neighbors via a young man walking down the street shouting ‘F*** you! F*** you, you stupid B****!’ at the top of his lungs. It’s actually quite effective.

4. The amount of food required by 1 person is significantly less then the amount required by 7, especially if 1/7th of the consumers are Nathaniel Robison. Thus, opening the fridge should not automatically result in the thought ‘Oh no, I have no food’, though it often does.

5. Comcast is evil. (But you already knew that)

6. The hospital shuttle busses will take you downtown for free, it saves $4.75/trip and only adds 4 miles of walking.

7. Life is a lot quieter then I’d previous believed, which is probably the result of living with the Robisons for all those years and my time at Fairway.

8. Old apartments have bugs, though I’m still trying to figure out the optimum spider-to-termite ratio.

9. In a small apartment not setting off the smoke detector is nigh impossible, even with the overhead fan on, especially if the chef is myself.

10. Refusing to stock non-local, non-organic food in the groceries and charging $0.05 per paper bag may be a sign of a socialist revolution, but it enables me to have immense moral superiority over the ignorant masses. ‘Wait, you still use paper bags? Philistine.’

11. Seattle Churches are currently suffering from a dearth of qualified drummers.

12. Sometimes streets are actually stairs, and that’s ok.

13. You can freeze milk.

14. Libraries are awesome, especially when you have many hours in the day with which to read. Though, Purdue’s libraries seem to be far superior.

15. Going from a place where you are known and where you have purpose to a place where you are unknown and trying to establish who you and what you’re called to do is hard. Maybe when the dust settles a little I can expand more on this.


So that’s where I am, I’m starting to establish a routine, find places I like to hang out, and the hidden treasures around me. It’s been a fun process to determine things that I really like to do and things that I’m no a huge fan of (you’d think after 23 years I’d know myself pretty well, but you’d be mistaken). I’m working on using this time to become more open to Christ and to listen to the things he’s trying to teach me. I’ll try and post a few photos of my new habitat, once it becomes picture ready, which may take some time.

I’m off to my office (yes I have an office, in a trailer) to start getting up to speed on some new stuff.


Until next time


(I couldn’t resist)