Education

#NPRBlacksInTech - Continuing the Conversation

Me, at CES 2012

Me, at CES 2012

From December 2nd to December 20th, NPR's Tell Me More program hosted daily twitter chats under the hashtag #NPRBlacksInTech.  Techies from all over the world, including yours truly, shared our experiences as minorities within the tech space and discussed ways to improve our experiences. Sharing serious stories was often balanced with seeking humor in some of the situation that we could all relate to being one of the few minorities in our respective fields. 

One of the key messages was that we need to continue the conversation.  My next series of posts will be expanding on some of the tweets that I shared during this conversation.  Starting tomorrow, I'll feature one of my tweets and discuss the intricacies of it. Buckle up!

For background, check out NPR's Storify discusing the reasoning behind #NPRBlacksInTech, as well as its successful implementation.

Mandela's Vision for Science

Image Credit: Len Sak (via Nelson Mandela Foundation)

Image Credit: Len Sak (via Nelson Mandela Foundation)

Nelson Mandela passed away this week. He's one of the few that could truly be called a  legend, despite the criticism he received for most of his life. He's done so much for the world for his revolutionary role in taking on a country system built on hate, being imprisoned for 27 years of his life, and coming back to lead that same country. He's stood as a champion for education, and the The Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) supports his vision of cultivating leaders to keep Africa on a consistent path of improvement.

According to a 2009 presentation by NM-AIST alumni Burton LM Mwamila, World Bank Group President Jim Wolfensohn met with several African leaders in 2001 and 2002. It was there where Mandela suggested that one of Africa's greatest needs are science institutes in the vein of the Indian Institutes of Science and Technology (IITs), MIT, CalTech, etc. NM-AIST schools were thus created in Western, Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa.

The official vision and mission are listed below:

The Vision of NM-AIST is to become a world-class institution of higher learning dedicated to the pursuit and promotion of excellence in science and engineering, and their applications for economic growth and sustainable development in Africa.

The Mission of NM-AIST is to deliver and promote high quality and internationally competitive teaching and learning, research and innovation, and public service in science, engineering and technology for enhanced value addition to people and natural resources, emphasizing entrepreneurship with a view to stimulating, catalyzing and promoting economic growth and sustainable development in Africa.

I love the focus of the vision and mission - it's not just to churn out great scientists, but to apply their knowledge in South Africa, a country that has been exploited over and over again by external powers. HIS country. Mandela was committed to improving his country and making it self-sustaining by developing its own crop of talented scientists.  It's refreshing to see that instilled in the documented vision of an educational organization.

Make sure to check out the Nelson Mandela Foundation for great info on the man. RIP.

To Hell With The Space Race

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Space exploration was hugely influenced by the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. It became a sense of national pride to launch artifical elements, and then people, into space.  It really came down to a race for military and ideological supremacy. Anything else was a bonus.  

That was then. In current times, this space race mentality is no longer necessary. We shouldn't be comparing ourselves to China, India, or other countries.  Especially since space exploraiton is a great example of international cooperation (the International Space Station, and the science projects which take part on it, wouldn't exist otherwise).

I watched a great panel this weekend with former astronaut Bonnie Dunbar, chief astronomer Derrick Pitts, Dr. Nina Khrushcheva and aeronautics professor Wesley Harris. It's rare to see a nuanced, in depth discussion about space on television - check it out!

(If you can't see the video below, click here)

Interestingly, Melissa Harris-Perry's experience with the Challenger explosion made her hate space. I had the opposite reaction - it made me dig into my resources to see what went wrong and how our scientists worked hard to improve the safety aspects of space travel.  Science is about exploration, which unfortunately means learning from mistakers

The second video is on the privatization of spaceflight with the same panel - check it out!

(If you can't see the video below, click here)

Space Is Not Friendly to Myopic Idiots

"You don't get to go live on the space station because you're a myopic idiot. So you don't need to treat the people that are speaking on behalf of the program as if their myopia and inherent idoacy will constantly cause them to say bad things."

Successful communication of your ideas can be just as important as the idea itself.

There is a stereotype that scientifically inclined people have communication problems. Scientists are seen as folks that can only speak with other scientists, either because they lack the basic communication skills or because they view themselves as above other non-scientific people. I've definitely seen both cases of this, but it's a small minority. Part of the mission of this blog is to eliminate this stereotype.

The above quote about myopic idiots by Chris Hadfield, former International Space Shuttle (ISS) Commander, speaks to the importance of opening our space research to all. The scientists and others involved with getting machinery and humans into space and back again should be trusted to share the awesomeness with others.  Astronauts in particular are trained to do incredible things - why not share it to as many people as possible? 

It's so funny to see Hadfield participate in a video chat from Earth. He's been a prolific fixture in audio and video chats during his time in space, so I'm used to seeing him in a spacesuit.  Check out the Google+ hangout below where Hadfield speaks about the space program and the need to be open and communicate the value of NASA and other government organizations.

 

Les Paul Is a Science God

I recently attended the Time Warner STEMFest at Discovery World here in Milwaukee.  I was floored by the museum's Les Paul exhibit.  Since he is a Wisconsin native, the exhibit is a vast exploration of his life and how his inventive mind literally transformed music.

I knew Les Paul's name from his Gibson guitar line, but I had no idea that he was a true scientific inventor at heart. He grew up learning about sound by using the family piano, studying the rumbles from the nearby train station, and analyzing a record player (phonograph). He built most things that he used, from his original guitar idea that he shared with Gibson to his own recording studio.

 Distortion, reverb, and delay were all terms that Paul mastered within the musical lexicon.  He also helped launch multitrack recording, which enabled him to put different vocals / instruments on different tracks and mix them together.

Check out the pics below from Paul's exhibit and make sure to swing by if you're in the Milwaukee area! 

My turntables might wobble but they won't fall down

My turntables might wobble but they won't fall down

Les Paul was an inventor at heart.

Les Paul was an inventor at heart.

From wikipedia: Les Paul  , a friend of Crosby's and a regular guest on his shows, had already been experimenting with overdubbed recordings on disc. He received an early portable Ampex Model 200A from Crosby. He invented   Sound on Sound  recording using this machine. He placed an additional playback head, located before the conventional erase/record/playback heads. This allowed Paul to play along with a previously recorded track, both of which were mixed together on to a new track.    

From wikipedia: Les Paul , a friend of Crosby's and a regular guest on his shows, had already been experimenting with overdubbed recordings on disc. He received an early portable Ampex Model 200A from Crosby. He invented Sound on Sound recording using this machine. He placed an additional playback head, located before the conventional erase/record/playback heads. This allowed Paul to play along with a previously recorded track, both of which were mixed together on to a new track. 

 

Basic hardware behind a recording studio

Basic hardware behind a recording studio

One of Les Paul's mixing boards

One of Les Paul's mixing boards

Make 8 bit music after the Les Paul exhibit

Make 8 bit music after the Les Paul exhibit